The son and I years ago on our hike up Wheeler Peak in New Mexico

Do you ever wonder if your children even listen to you? I often thought every carefully-selected kernel of wisdom I shared with them wormed its way in one ear only to wiggle out the other—often leaving their minds quicker than entering. Then I think back to what I learned from my own parents.

Growing up, I had the distinct pleasure of knowing beyond all reasonable doubt that I was the smartest person in the entire world by the time I entered high school. Twenty-nine years later, my son took over that role. He even told me so.

In my reminiscing, I discovered that I did learn something from my parents: the application of elbow grease. Whenever my sisters and I were told to clean something, we moaned and complained that the grease smudges or streaks of dirt were too embedded into the fabric of reality to be effectively removed. Typically with a huff of frustration, our father would take up a sponge or steel wool and say, “There is no magic cleaner. It just needs a little elbow grease.”

And he would lower his head and apply the aforementioned non-magical cleaner. He would clean just one little spot and then hand the sponge or steel wool back to us, saying, “Now, you do it just like that.”

To my surprise, my own children suffered from this inability to wipe grease smudges or clean dirt streaked across the kitchen floor when the dog came in after the rain. To my near-horror, I found myself repeating my father’s words and mimicking his tone and examples. Even the frustrated huff when I took up the sponge or mop.

A few weeks ago, my son called me to complain about some former co-workers. Some days or in some conversations between the two of us, he sometimes displays hints that I may not have been so dumb after all, that he might still be able to learn things from me.

He was grumbling about his co-workers’ inability to clean things properly. The next words that came across the phone, nearly brought me to my knees: “Good grief. All it takes is a little elbow grease. How can they not understand that?”

It seems I did learn something from my parents. And apparently our children will learn something from us. What they learn is what we say out of our mouths and back up with the application in our own lives.