Summer is over: children are weeping in their classrooms, teachers are tacking up new bulletin boards, and moms are dancing in their kitchens. Forget about the crystal ball on Broadway: for families with children, this is the real start of the new year.
Every year, my favorite English teacher (hint: the mother of my grandchildren’s parents) greets returning students with assignments that incorporate summer activities into a series of papers, projects and essays. One year she had her young writers turn their summer treks and tricks into magazines, complete with cover stories and opinion pages. Another year her wards prepared scripts for plays about what they did over the summer.
Each autumn the “welcome back” project forces the returnees to think about what they were assigned to read before they left for the summer vacation, review their notes from their vacation activities, and then convert one of the books into a project that combines their summer experience with the story of the book.
One fall, when the assignment was to develop a product that presented both the book and a vacation experience, a young person created a can of paint with the label “Tom Sawyer Paint” above a picture of three kids from the student’s neighborhood painting the fence in front of the youngster’s home. Her product sat on a table in front of a large screen television showing a video of her with a friend in a low-floating raft, both of them in straw hats, with the slogan “Tom Sawyer Paint Brings Friends Together” printed on the side of their raft.
Mark Twain would have been impressed.
After several decades of hearing praise for the stellar efforts of her students, our master teacher finally shrugged and shook her head. “It’s just a question of writing a plan and following through with it,” she explained. “That way the kids learn how to set the stage for success in the classroom and in life.”
Based on the success of her students, both measured by the colleges they attend and the careers they enter, our English Teacher’s efforts to teach planning as a way of life have yielded constant dividends over the last forty years. While some wonderful things in life may occur by random chance (such as meeting a beautiful future English teacher in college), consistent success is rarely the result of luck.
As with the story of students who succeed by scheduling their summer activities to culminate in a successful school project after school starts, parents who set goals for their families and take the steps to ensure their completion set the stage for the survival of their families. Success is not the product of chance.
Equally important as setting goals for college and for spectacular vacations is the need to create the documents to manage a family’s estate in the event of an unexpected passing of a parent. Health care directives, durable powers of attorney, wills and trusts: all are needed to assure the survival of a family in the midst of tragedy, but many families have not taken the steps necessary for these basic family protections.
While success is almost never the result of luck, failure is almost always the result of people neglecting to plan. Families whose loss of a member does not cause a catastrophe for their loved ones almost always have one thing in common: they
have planned like an English teacher. M