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By Sheila Zanghi
contributing writer 

I remember my aiti


May 13, 2023

Sheila Zanghi.

Thoughts of my "aiti" (Finnish for mother) are always with me. She was an immense influence on how I see myself. I learned from my parents how to be empathetic, fair and encouraging. From my mother I leaned to love poetry, humor and developed the confidence to tackle almost anything. My parents worked together to discipline us with calm fairness, with the purpose of improving our behavior.

I could always count on mom to listen to my problems, and she was helpful to all who asked. Mom was the neighborhood grandma. The neighbors used her as a source for all kinds of information from crocheting to health advice. She was better than Google. She always had a sympathetic ear and could keep secrets. One of mom's neighbors told me that when her little girl was very sick, she had failed to make the girl feel better. Apparently, the little girl thought her mom was lacking and said, "I think it's time for you to ask Grandma Hagel what to do." The neighborhood kids loved to visit mom and sometimes scored freshly baked bread or cookies.

Mom taught me the love of poetry by relentlessly reciting poems as my sisters and I cleaned on Saturday. We would scrub and polish so surgery could have been performed in any room without fear of contamination. Mom especially loved Kipling, Burrows and the epic poems of Longfellow. She would sometimes recite, "By the shores of Gitche Gumee, by the shining big sea waters..." and all three of us would recite along. I even spent time memorizing passages of the "The Song of Hiawatha" (word length 46,250) just to try to outdo my sisters. I must admit, I now recite Longfellow to my grandkids. Mom also loved jokes and would often try to tell one. It was excruciating because she would start with the punch line and then spend time trying to explain why the punchline was funny.

"Spare the rod, spoil the child" philosophy was not my parent's approach to discipline. They employed a Finnish method. There was no physical punishment, which was the usual punishment many of my friends endured back then. Instead, if we misbehaved the first thing was the "look." Second was to be ignored. Third was the quick tug on three little hairs on the nape ... very effective. Fourth is what is now called "time out," separation to sort out what we had done and how we should behave. Mom's ultimate punishment was making us tell dad what we had done. I remember having to do that only once when I was young. I don't remember what I did but I felt terrible. His look of disappointment was more significant than any other kind of punishment. Dad would discuss only the immediate issue. As a result, we learned how to behave and take responsibility for our actions. This type of discipline allowed us to develop verbal skills to handle situations that we would face as we got older.

I am so grateful mom and dad worked together to give us a good upbringing. On this Mother's Day I will think of the good times and reread some of her favorite poems like "If" or "Waiting" but maybe not "The Song of Hiawatha."


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