Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Take Time by the Toes

I have long loved the books Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on their Toes. They are full of true stories of a gregarious big-hearted man and his 12 children at around the turn of the 20th century. Frank Gilbreth was a pioneer in motion study and used the results of those studies to minimize the amount of effort it takes to get a job done. He worked in factories all over the world to teach how to use time and energy more productively, joined up during WWI to help increase military effiency, and develped processes to rehabilitate handicapped soldiers (among many other things). These two books, written by two of his adoring children, tell of careening around in his "Tin Lizzy" (he would yell out to enquiring by standards that his children came "cheaper by the dozen"), listening to French and German language records while getting ready in the morning (to waste less time), pioneering the touch type system, and all the blessings and foibles of a large, happy family. Belles on their Toes emphasises the girls in their teen years and the time old tale of a relationship between old fashioned parents and their teenage daughters. Both books will make me laugh outloud and are hilarious for family reading, yet so sweetly and honestly portray the strengths and weaknesses of their parents that I've cried a few tears over each book. They are a part of my permanent library and look forward to reading them to my children someday.

A week ago, I discovered another Gilbreth book in the adult biography section of our Eagle River library. Time Out for Happiness switches it's focus from the boisterious, red-headed man of the family and focuses on Lilith Gilbreth, his soft spoken, but powerfully effective wife and the mother to those 12 children. Like the other books written and co-written by their son Frank Gilbreth Jr., this book was easy to read and often quite funny. Lilith grew up in a weathy German family in California and was so shy that she avoided going to school until she was nearly eleven. Her mother taught her at home until then and when Lilith did enter school, she quickly excelled to the top of her class. She believed that she was plain and would never marry, until an energetic red-headed engineer changed her mind. They decided on their honeymoon to have a dozen children -six boys and six girls- and did!

I found many reasons to respect Lillie Gilbreth:

1. She was truly her husband's help meet in his work and at home. No matter what crazy schemes and creative child rearing ideas Frank applied, she provided the loving support and gentle humor to keep everyone from taking things too seriously.

2. She was a dedicated mother. Although she went on to do many things in the male dominated field of engineering, she did not consider herself a feminist or a carreer woman, but a mother first. Everything she did while she had children at home was for their benefit above all else and graduating all 11 surviving children from college was her goal in life.

3. She was a hard worker. She kept a business and full household running after her husband died when her youngest was still a baby. She traveled, taught, and worked to help, encourage, and further educate people in the methods she and Frank had developed until she was 90 years old. She "did not eat the bread of idleness" and when she no longer had need to work for financial stability, she used her work and skills to help others without payment.

4. She loved to read and would fall into bed after an exhausting day and read stories to her children gathered around her. She considered reading to be one of the highest pleasures of her life and tried to instill a love of books and reading in all of her children.

5. She listened to people, noticed the details in other's lives, and made them feel special.

I do not want her life. I pray that I am never put in a position where I am forced to support a family without a husband, but I have a lot of respect for the morals and values expressed in this woman's life and hope to take a little bit of her grace and grit with me in mine.

1 comment:

  1. Andrea,
    I remember my mom reading Cheaper By the Dozen to me when I was young. I don't remember it well, but might have to look it up and read it again now that you mention it! Just wanted to say hi. I bet you all still have snow on the ground, even though we don't! It is warming up here and we have had several days of sunshine! It is so nice. Hope you all are doing well.


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