“The Little Engine that Could” is a classic picture book, first published in 1930. It has been a favourite of children for generations and I’m sure thousands of parents have used its words to encourage their children to learn Persistence.
In the story, the little blue engine hears the pleas of some stranded toys.
“Just over the mountain”. “Please, please help us. ” “Oh, my,” said the Little Blue Engine. “I am not very big. And I do not pull trains. I just work in the yards. I have never even been over the mountain.”…
At last the Little Blue Engine said, “I think I can climb up the mountain. I think I can. I think I can.” Then the Little Blue Engine began to pull. She tugged and she pulled. She pulled and she tugged. Puff puff, chug chug went the little engine.
“I think I can. I think I can,” she said. Slowly, slowly, the train started to move. The dolls and toys began to smile and clap. Puff Puff, chug chug.
Up the mountain went the Little Blue Engine. And all the time she kept saying, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…” Up, up, up. The little engine climbed and climbed.
At last she reached the top of the mountain. Down below lay the city. “Hurray! Hurray!” cried the dolls and animals. “The boys and girls will be so happy,” said the toy clown.“All because you helped us, Little Blue Engine.” The Little Blue Engine just smiled.
But as she puffed down the mountain, the Little Blue Engine seemed to say…”I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could.
The killer of optimism and persistence, in my view, is doubt.
The moment doubt creeps in, we start to question. What if? Can I really do it? What will happen if I fail? Am I worthy? Will I upset someone? Will they hate me for it?
Famously (and here’s my “Bible bit” for the day), Jesus’ disciple Peter climbed out of a fishing boat and walked on water, with Christ’s encouragement. Just think on that for a moment. Actually defied the laws of Physics and miraculously walked on the very surface of a lake. And was doing well too. Until he looked down. And realised exactly what he was doing. And maybe thought: “Man, I’m walking on the water! But how? It’s not possible! I’m just an ordinary guy! I should sink!” And he doubted. And so, he did sink.
I was fortunate to be brought up in a loving household with parents who encouraged my two sisters and me to be the best we could be.
That our potential was limitless.
We had good footsteps in which to follow. My paternal Grandfather was a self-made businessman. Family folklore recalls that, in the (then) small country town of Murray Bridge (80km from Adelaide), he “borrowed” a sheep from a farmer friend. Grandpa Gus carefully prepared it into cuts of meat, which he then sold. Then his first task was to pay the trusting farmer for the original sheep. And he had enough money left over to purchase two more sheep. From this modest start, Grandpa gradually established a shop in the High Street and a faithful clientele and he was the Murray Bridge Butcher for many a year.
My Father, Ken, in turn, graduated from Murray Bridge High School but was not content to settle for small-town life. He ventured to the “Big Smoke” Adelaide as part of the 1948 class of “Technicians in Training”. To study communications and electronics. These young men, once graduated were sent out in twos and threes all over Post-war Australia – and as far away as the Australian Antarctic Territory – to establish telecommunications and to build infrastructure for the future.
Dad and his best mate Jim spent periods of time in Darwin and Broken Hill, both towns just beginning to take off. Later Dad returned to Adelaide to study an Engineering Degree at University. He didn’t let his World War Two era youth or humble country town beginnings limit his horizons.
Our own family lived a relatively frugal, and I guess fairly routine day-to day existence of work, school, homework, music lessons, music practise and so on. Mum made all our “Good” clothes on her trusty Janome Sewing machine, while otherwise we wore hand-me-downs from friends and perhaps our slightly older cousins. Or the fruits of Mum’s bargain-hunting at local “Op shops”.
But, as Dad expressed it in a note many years later: “We used all the money we saved by not smoking, drinking or eating out in restaurants, and living simply, to enjoy wonderful overseas holidays”.
As a family we took many special trips locally and interstate, as well as a number of exotic locations including India, Nepal, Fiji, Noumea, New Zealand, and throughout South East Asia: Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, The Philippines. Hong Kong was a particular favourite.
But Dad was irritated when colleagues and friends commented, somewhat enviously on these travels saying: “You are So Lucky!” Dad’s response to us was “The harder you work, the luckier you get”.
My three most important roles in life now, as a middle-aged blondish female are as a Mother, Wife and Teacher. Often my little students express wonder at my skill when I pick up a musical instrument and play (not necessarily something very difficult – the young ones are easily impressed). “Wow! How can you do that?” they ask. “Because I’ve been playing the violin since before you were born” is my standard reply.
Many a student is frustrated when they don’t get something right “first time” or at least in the first few minutes. I have had a good few who then give up and proclaim that it’s “too hard.” In the fast-paced world of the 21st century, they have little tolerance for such frustration.
But the path to success isn’t necessarily getting it right first time. As my Mum used to preach, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”.
Did you know, for example, why the fix-almost-anything spray WD-40 has its name?
Working in a small lab in San Diego, California, it took the inventor’s team 40 attempts to get the water displacing formula worked out. But they must have been really good, because the original secret formula for WD-40® -which stands for Water Displacement perfected on the 40th try—is still in use today.
WD-40’s website goes on to explain: “The uses include everything from silencing squeaky hinges and removing road tar from automobiles to protecting tools from rust and removing adhesive labels. But they get a lot crazier than that. Some of the more interesting stories include the bus driver in Asia who used WD-40® to remove a python snake, which had coiled itself around the undercarriage of his bus, or when police officers used WD-40® to remove a naked burglar trapped in an air conditioning vent.”
In 1879, Thomas Edison tested the electric light he’s famous for. His light bulb was the first that proved practical, and affordable, for home illumination. The trick had been choosing a filament that would be durable but inexpensive, and the team at Edison’s “invention factory” in Menlo Park, New Jersey, tested more than 6,000 possible materials before finding one that fit the bill: carbonized bamboo.
I’ve had a whirlwind of a week. Over 160 performers and 10 different groups took to the stage in our school Ensemble Concert last Thursday (10th September), which featured Beginner Band, Novice Strings, Mezzo Strings, Rubber Band, Senior Concert Band and Senior String Orchestra. It was also exciting to feature our Middle School Choir for the first time at such an event.
It all went off amazingly well, considering some of it was quite under-rehearsed (there have been a lot of kids absent on camps, excursions, with illness and so on, and the older ones with exams and tests) and so some bits only JUST held together. It was, however, a classic example of being “All Right on the night”.
Then in the last week of term, my Band teacher colleague and I had arranged to try out the Year 3 students on all the instruments, with a view to recruitment for next year. Previously we have done this in Term 4, but it was just too busy. So using last week seemed a good idea at the time – until, with local storms, we had a power outage all day Wednesday.
So we had dozens of excitable Year 3 kids coming up with no light, no air-conditioning, we discovered that we could not find the keys to the locked windows (as we usually turn on the Aircon when it’s hot), no Internet – and even had to race down half the school to the bathroom! And the kids were all extra lively as you can imagine. We completed the task on Thursday, amazingly, but 120 Year 3’s in 3 days was a big ask. (Especially with the unforeseen issues caused by power on Wednesday).
The final aspect in the emotional week was the confirmation of some news I’d been expecting, but will mean a number of changes for me, some of which are unsettling. Like most people, I guess, I like to know where I am in my own little world and can be anxious when I don’t know where I’ll quite fit.
Apparently one of the most dangerous sentences in the English Language is “But we’ve always done it this way”. There are, however, a few figures of speech counter to this, including “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” and, from our American friends: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”
The coming changes have caused me to take stock, and to doubt. Doubt what I have done in the past. Doubt how things may work in the future. Wonder if I can indeed make it work.
Being an optimistic and passionate person, I love to throw myself into what I do, and do it to the best of my ability. I love to say, “YES” and make things happen. And to try and encourage, even push others to do the same, too. But I understand that some can find this overwhelming. In my quest for “aiming high” I can be impatient and want things done now, and to an extent, in my own way. Having learnt that this is one of my many faults, I try to curb this tendency. I am blessed that people I am close to appreciate my intentions and largely overlook my foibles.
But how to get the balance right?
Now there is a wonderful woman I know, Katinka, who is one of the driving forces of our school Parents and Friends Association. She is the most positive person with an incredible can-do attitude. She gives the impression that nothing is too hard, nothing is impossible. Even given difficult situations, or very tight timelines, she just assures you that something will be done, and it is done. And if Katinka says she will do something, you can be sure that you don’t have to worry about it any more. Because she just has the knack of making things happen.
Now I don’t know this marvellous woman’s secret. (I suspect she doesn’t sleep). I also suspect she may on occasion carry off some of her magic by perhaps pulling the odd string or favour behind the scenes. But if so, she gets away with it because she is hard working to a fault, and utterly dependable.
And I love her to bits.
I was explaining some of my current “issues” and concerns to a mutual friend who thought for a moment and then suggested: “When in doubt, think to yourself: What Would Katinka Do?”
So now I have two weeks of School Holidays. In theory, some time for reflection and recharging the batteries.
Thus far it has heavily rained, the normally active child has pulled a leg muscle and is taking it gently, the normally hard-working husband has a nasty tooth/sinus infection and has been forced to rest, the normally switched-on assignment-writing other child has embraced teenagership and sleeping-in.
And me? I’m learning to breathe.
I think I can, I think I can, I think I can… Puff, Puff, Chug, Chug….
I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could…