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Dr. Kestner: Lessons learned from Ellie and her Papaw

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This week we celebrate the second anniversary of my daughter’s birth. Ellie has brought more gifts to our home than I could possibly enumerate.

Two-year-olds are special. Ellie has learned so much during the past 24 months. Since I am at the office during much of her day, she often surprises me in the evening when she demonstrates knowledge that I didn’t know she was acquiring.

To my amazement, she is able to count to 10. I say to my amazement because I don’t know exactly when she learned this. As a result of the efforts of my wife Ginny, our nanny Sue and First Methodist Mother’s Day Out program she is learning about all kinds of things.

She knows most of her ABC’s, but skips a few letters occasionally to get to her favorite part, “A,B,C,D,E,F,G … “ellem-enno-pea”… . I’m sure she will keep working until she perfects the sequence. That’s what kids do … they keep persisting at a task until they eventually get it right.

That’s the first lesson that we adults seem to have forgotten at times … keep trying. Most things we would like to accomplish require persistence. Think about how successful you were early in life. At first you couldn’t walk, and when you tried, you fell. But the desire to be mobile was so strong that you doggedly kept trying until you got it right! In fact, you even learned to run, skip and hop!

What if we all applied that same persistence to the things we would like to be able to accomplish as adults? Wouldn’t there be more celebrations of achievement and less excuses about why we never did something.

This week we also said our final goodbye to my father, known to Ellie as Papaw Kiss. I remember a story he told me about applying for a job after he returned from military service in World War II. Like many young men of his era, he had quit school at 16 and gone to work. When he was later applying for a job, the employer asked if he had graduated. My dad explained that he had quit school, but that he could have obtained a Graduate Equivalency Diploma (GED) if he had wanted to. The employer looked my dad straight in the eye, then sternly responded, “Then why didn’t you?” The interview was over.

Instead of being bitter about the event, my dad was chastened and inspired. At that moment he came to the acute realization that results are much more valuable than excuses. From that day forward he placed a much greater value on education and learning. He not only obtained his GED, but also completed college courses and professional studies to further his career. My brother and I grew up watching Dad study at night just as we were. He demonstrated that learning doesn’t stop when you graduate. I can attest that it is hard to come up with excuses for not doing homework when your dad is doing his.

The second lesson is that learning can be and should be enjoyable. Ellie loves to learn new things. It delights her to be “tested” by prodding her for the new discoveries she has made. All kids love to learn. Some need more interaction than others, and each one has their own pace. Want to see your kid’s grades improve? Ask them daily about what they are doing in school. Celebrate each victory as they progress.

I believe all adults love to learn as well. We all learn new things everyday. We don’t all necessarily choose to learn the things that will be the most beneficial for us. For example, last week most people learned more about Tiger Woods than we wanted to know. What would happen if we were learning more positive things instead?

My dad would tell you that your mind is more fertile than the richest garden, and whatever thoughts you plant in it will grow and multiply. Therefore, use wisdom to choose what thoughts you plant in your mental garden! Spend your time learning things to benefit yourself and others.

Myth or fact: Alcohol is actually good for your health? Next week’s answer may surprise you.

Dr. Mark Kestner
Read more from:
Dr. Mark Kestner, Living Well, Voices
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