We Choose Our Own Role Models

role models, mentors, how role models shape, impact of role models,

Image courtesy of s2-s2.deviantart.com

There’s no predicting who we choose as our role models. Teachers, coaches, and religious leaders are held out as exemplary choices and for good reason, since mentors are linked to greater success in adulthood. Despite adults’ well-meaning efforts to foster or even assign mentors, each one of us is drawn to people we find inspiring. It’s only in looking back that we can see more clearly how our childhood role models play a part in shaping who we become.

This is obvious looking at my husband’s growing up years. He wanted to understand how the world around him worked, and like most children, he wanted to find out by getting right in the midst of what fascinated him rather than play with plastic hammers and screwdrivers. So he sought out neighbors who let him fix cars alongside them and who welcomed his help running their small businesses. What he gained from these experiences still benefit him.

It’s not as obvious in my life so I have to strain to make those connections. I had plenty of freedom to ride my bike and play without too much parental supervision, but seeking out other grown-ups never occurred to me. In fact I can only think of a single adult outside my family who made a lasting impression. Her name was Mrs. Dosey.

I met her during a criminal investigation. Well, sort of.

When I was around eight, my older sister developed a brief infatuation with espionage. She deemed herself a private investigator and permitted me to be her sidekick. We practiced sidling around without being seen, took notes on people’s behavior, and looked for a mystery to solve. My sister hit the jackpot when she discovered bones in a field across the street. Bones! This could be dangerous. My sister identified the house in closest proximity to the bones. It seemed like a strange place. The yard had almost no grass. Instead the front was crowded with strangely cropped trees and the back sported a clothesline (unheard of in our suburban neighborhood) and a jumble of fenced-in areas—sinister indeed. We practically trembled with fearful anticipation.  My sister instructed me to remain completely silent, she’d question the suspect.

When she rang the doorbell it was promptly opened by a sturdy middle-aged woman wearing an apron and orthopedic shoes, her hair mashed down by a hairnet. When she invited us in I noticed she had a trace of an accent. Against all parental advice about strangers, we walked meekly inside.

Mrs. Dosey was busy in the kitchen but gladly welcomed two girl detectives. She didn’t raise an eyebrow when questioned about bones. She explained that she raised ducks, which she slaughtered for meals on special occasions. Although it wasn’t the murder we anticipated, it was death nonetheless. My sister and I shivered.

Mrs. Dosey talked to us as she went back to her culinary project. We learned that the cropped trees in her front yard were an apple orchard and the back yard was crowded with vegetable gardens, berry bushes, and poultry pens. She served us milk and homemade cookies. We stayed quite a while, curiously watching her work.

Mrs. Dosey was assembling a wedding cake she’d made from scratch. She showed us how she was separating the layers using tiny soda bottles between them, to be covered by flowers from her yard. Finally she said we could come back another time, she had a few more things to finish before her daughter’s wedding that was taking place the next day. My sister and I weren’t even disappointed that our murder case had collapsed. We’d met someone who seemed like a different creature than the frosted hair moms of our generation.

It didn’t occur to me till years later that Mrs. Dosey was completely matter-of-fact about two little girls sitting at her kitchen table, inches from this towering confection. She was entirely unruffled on a day most mothers of the bride are harried, even though she’d made the dress, the cake, and if memory serves, was making the reception food as well.

I never knocked on Mrs. Dosey’s door again. My sister and I dropped the private eye business to become girl scientists. We waded into the pond in sight of Mrs. Dosey’s house observing duck behavior and slogged home covered with what we optimistically called “duck muck.” My mother, who began buying apples from Mrs. Dosey every fall, seemed to regard the woman as an oppressed version of her gender. She pointed out Mrs. Dosey’s heavy labor around the house and yard, noting that this woman rode a bike with a basket to the store every few days for groceries. The emphasis seemed to rest on evidence that Mr. Dosey didn’t share those burdens. To me, Mrs. Dosey seemed remarkably happy. And savvy as well. She waved when my sister and I were out but was wise enough to spare us that social indignity if we were waiting with friends at the school crossing near her house. I saw her on that bike for years after I left home. She never looked any older or any less cheerful.

I credit my husband’s role models for helping him grow up to be capable, positive, and wonderfully open-hearted. But not for a single moment have I ever linked my own life choices to Mrs. Dosey’s example. After all, I planned to change the world by elevating peace, ecological harmony, and justice. If I had time I hoped to fit in writing novels. And parenting. Okay, I also wanted thick hair and thin thighs.

None of that happened. I’m not a UN peace negotiator, my activism is local and my writing is gentle. I’m not blocking whaling ships with my fellow Greenpeace buddies, instead I tend to vegetable gardens and haul buckets of kitchen scraps to our livestock. My choices look more like Mrs. Dosey’s, although I can’t pretend for a moment that I’ll ever have her patience. I was raised to believe I could be accomplish anything if I worked hard enough but I’m learning that we can save the world right where we are. In part, that means opening the door on our busiest day ever to welcome the questions of little girls.

Who in your growing years made an impression on you and how do you see their impact in your life today?

About Laura Grace Weldon

Laura Grace Weldon is a writer and editor, perhaps due to an English professor's scathing denunciation of her writing as "curious verbiage." She's the author of "Free Range Learning," a handbook of natural learning and "Tending," a poetry collection. (lauragraceweldon.com) She's working on her next book, "Subversive Cooking" (subversivecooking.com). She lives on Bit of Earth Farm where she is a barely useful farm wench. Although she has deadlines to meet she often wanders from the computer to preach hope, snort with laughter, cook subversively, talk to chickens and cows, discuss life’s deeper meaning with her surprisingly tolerant offspring, sing to bees, hide in books, walk dogs, concoct tinctures, watch foreign films, and make messy art.
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8 Responses to We Choose Our Own Role Models

  1. Jules says:

    I loved this piece. I could almost see Mrs. Dosey! Thank you for sharing.

  2. You know, I really don’t have any idea who my role-models are – contemplation coming up, I feel! I love Mrs Dosey though. Another lovely post. :)

  3. Hannah says:

    Interesting article.
    I acquired a patchwork of ideas and skills from various people, who were (I just realized, after thinking about your question) mostly eccentric and creative. They didn’t seem to worry what other people thought; they were busy doing their own designing or inventing or artwork, and their homes reflected this joie de vivre. Very heady stuff for a young girl, especially losing the peer pressure.
    Another inspiring thing they had in common was an attitude of unconditional acceptance towards others. I think that you are correct, that we choose our role models.

    BTW, I also really liked your story, The Boy with No Toys. I tried to post a link to it on Reddit, but something wierd happened with their their spam filter, and the site blocked my submission. Strange, eh?

    • Laura Weldon says:

      I like the common theme of your role models Hannah. Bet you share a lot of that creativity, joy, and unconditional acceptance. I hope that today’s kids have the same opportunities to find role models when so much of our culture is age-segregated.

      Thanks so much for linking (or trying to link) any of my posts on Reddit! Would love to expand my often tiny readership.

  4. Nancy says:

    I love this post! I’ve been thinking about how off track I got from my childhood. I really don’t think I had enough quirky, self-confident role models to follow. Now, at 40, and with two young children, I see myself going back to my values as a child. My mother did live some of these values, but I needed someone else to emulate. This post reminds me that, even now, I need to seek out independent thinkers who seek value and wholeness outside of our consumer-driven society. I have found a few, including my mom. I credit her for even having something to go back to. Now to develop that network of people who have stepped off the beaten track, for myself, my husband, and my children. We need that influence! Reading your blog posts are part of my creative network. Thank you.

    • Laura Weldon says:

      You’re so right Nancy, we need those role models at any age. That’s why I was somewhat disheartened to look back and realize I that only one adult (outside of my family) stood out in any way. I need more quirky, self-confident role models too! What’s funny? I’ve been learning from my kids the whys and hows of role models.

      When my daughter was 11 or 12 she started reading up on forensics. When her questions still weren’t answered she contacted the authors of those books, many responded. They answered her questions and assured her that she was already reading the books used in college courses. When her interests took her into other areas she developed lasting friendships with women several generations older than her. My daughter became a co-moderator of a forum dedicated to raising cows naturally along with a woman in her 80′s, and she’s been volunteering for years at a wildlife rehab center where the director and other volunteers have become dear friends and mentors.

      My sons reach out in the same way. They connect with all sorts of interesting people in the nearby community as well as online. Their mentors include their bagpipe instructor (in his 70′s), a group of auto restoration enthusiasts (men and women of all ages), nearby farmers, and online friends as far away as New Zealand and Finland.

      They inspire me!

  5. Sandra Dodd says:

    I’m glad Bob Collier linked this, because I would have missed it and that would have been a shame. Curious verbiage is WAY better than writing to sound like a textbook. :-) People don’t read college textbooks for fun, but your writing is transporting and sweet.

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