When I think about the legacy I received from my parents, I think about loading the dishwasher.

Now, this mundane chore was something I’d done as part of my contribution to the family chores. In my childhood home, there were not so much rules as conventions as to how this was done. Pots were not allowed, forks went in prongs up, etc. If you didn’t do it right, it would be re-arranged and your errors pointed out so that you could load it “correctly” the next time.

duck and duckling
My final year of high school I spent as an exchange student in Tours, France. Early on during that year, my host mother asked me to load the dishwasher.

“Put the pots in,” she said, defying principal tenants I’d been taught at home. And so I did.

Miraculously, the world didn’t end, the dishes weren’t destroyed, but they were clean the next morning when I put them away.

The year I spent in France was the first year I had to navigate life without my parents to help me through the day-to-day parts of living. And although they had taught me many useful things about being polite, being a good guest, and, of course, how to pitch in on household chores, I think, most importantly, they prepared me to be in unfamiliar situations and rely on myself to listen and learn a new way to be in the world.

The generation of my parents lived a different experience than their parents; I lived a radically different experience than my parents; and who knows what the next generations will experience.

Perhaps a dishwasher that loads itself?

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Next week, Barb shares some of the heart-wrenching do’s and don’ts of becoming a widow.

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