Getting a bachelor of chemical engineering and master’s in business degrees helped me in my life and career. However, some of the most important lessons I learned were from my mother when I was a child. Building a sound foundation on some simple principles can enable someone to learn, grow and accomplish while relating to and working with others. While I learned a lot more from Mom, the following are some of the most useful lessons. They provided a framework for growth, enrichment and consideration for me and many others.
Show everyone love and kindness. — Mom was a genuinely nice person who liked others and was liked by almost everyone. She took the time to show kindness and concern for the people she came in contact with. She worked in a challenging New York City school cafeteria with some nasty, tough and difficult kids. While these kids would cause all sorts of trouble, they were always nice and polite to her as she was to them.
Make sure everyone has enough to eat. — My family was not rich and when I was young we did not have a lot. We lived with my grandfather and Mom was always took measures to ensure no one went hungry. Mom died of a long and debilitating cancer. When she knew the end was near, she made nearly a year’s supply of food for my Dad to have after she was gone.
Always arrive with something — Mom was well-liked and had lots of friends. So, my parents and our family were often invited to people’s homes. She always made sure she brought a gift or some food to show her appreciation for the hospitality. I think this is also a good reason she was invited back.
Put family first. — While Mom loved everyone, she treasured her family. She only went to work when she found a job in a school cafeteria that allowed her to send my sister and me off in the morning to school, yet be home by the time we returned. There was nothing she would not do for her husband and us no matter what we did. Even suffering the late-stage debilitating cancer, her first concern was the family. Her selflessness and caring was a virtue that I will always treasure.
You are better. — I do not know if I was better than other kids, but to Mom, I was the best. At about the age of 3, I spent the next two years away from home in hospitals and a nursing home. Fortunately, after this I recovered from my illness. Mom always said I was special and could do a lot of great things as long as I tried. This warm, loving support goes a long way not only in childhood but also would carry me through difficult times in adulthood.
Take care of Dad. — While she loved me and my sister, she loved Dad with all the heart. She was the ever-present companion, supporter and helper. She would do everything she could to make Dad’s life better as he did for her. She worried over him more than he needed, but that was her way. Dad passed at a young age, not many years after Mom. I always believed he died of a broken heart.
Work first, then play later. — When I was in primary school, the kids in the neighborhood went out to play after school. I could not go out with them until my homework was finished. While this was no fun, it taught me discipline and an ability to work very quickly for a goal.
Education will make a better life. — My parents had a limited education. Mom finished the eighth grade while my Dad finished only sixth grade to work and support the family during the Depression. My parents regretted the opportunities they never had and drummed into my head not to miss out also. They preached that a good education will enable you to learn, grow and achieve, and likely have a better life.
Make measurable and achievable, timely goals. — Mom was not a big disciplinarian and, as a matter of fact, she was pretty easy-going. But she wanted me to say what I was going to do and then do it when it was supposed to be done. She was not a taskmaster, but someone you did not want to disappoint. Even though the goals were small and short in time, the discipline and habit this created became more powerful than I could have ever imagined as I grew up.
Break big problems into small problems. — One of the punishment lessons from school was to write something repeatedly many times. On one occasion, I said to Mom, I could not do this — it would take forever. She divided the number of times I had to write into a fraction of the work and said to see how long this took. I did this and it did not take that long. Then she said all you have to do is, repeat this correct number of times and you are done. Making big problems into smaller problems works
Don’t start trouble, but finish it if you have to. — I grew quickly and was a big kid – nearly 6 feet and 200 pounds before high school. Mom warned me that if I got into a fight, I would be the one to get in trouble as the bully who started it. So her advice, which I used, was not to start a fight, and try to avoid one. Nonetheless, if it could not be avoided, let the other kid start and do not hold back anything.
Keep at it until it is really over. — Even after numerous operations and dashed hopes, Mom lived in faith. She was always optimistic and never gave up fighting. She hung on for years because she wanted to see my sister happily married and to see me graduate from college. I recall coming to the hospital from another state just before she passed away, and hearing the doctor say she should not be alive but guessed she was waiting for me to arrive so all the family could be together at the end.
I know Mom was not perfect and neither am I. I also know that, because of her, I am a better person, and that she helped make a better world for those she met.
G.A. Ben Binninger is a Valencia resident.