That's No Way To Mentor a Child

GeorgeRobinsonJr      So, I remember when I was about 3 or 4 years old, I wasn't allowed to do many chores around the house. I couldn't try new things without my mom, my dad or an older sibling by my side. I remember being very young, and my brother Lorenzo, who was about 18 months older than me, took the responsibility of fixing my milk bottle while telling me how to do it. Was he mentoring me?
      I was the fifth of six siblings and still asking momma to find my other sock. Whether my needs included fixing me a sandwich or pouring me a glass of juice or pulling a splinter out of my foot, there was always momma or a sibling there to help, whether they wanted to help or not.

       In 1955, when I was about five years old, my parents bought a new iron and I wanted to use it. This was a very special iron, it was electric.
      Our old iron was just a piece of iron with a handle. I had only used it once when no one was watching and I ruined several pieces of clothing. My dad made it very clear to me that I wouldn't do it again without help. Yes, he made it very clear in a way that I wouldn't forget.
      But this new iron intrigued me. You plug it in and it gets hot. You didn't have to put it on the stove to heat it up.
I asked my mom to come and watch me iron a shirt but she was busy with my baby brother Richard, who was two years old and a handful for her. After some conversation she finally gave in and told my big brother George, to help me iron my shirt.
      George is the oldest sibling. George is seven years older than me and in 1955, he was almost a teenager. George is pretty smart too and I learned a lotold flat clothing iron from him. He once told me, "Before you ask momma to find your sock, you make sure that you have looked everywhere for it; under the bed, under the dresser, in the toilet, in your other shoe. If you are sure its not here, then go ask her to find it." I never ask my mom to find anything for me after that.
      George really didn't want to help me iron the shirt, but momma proved to be the tougher of the two. I heard her say, 'you go help that boy iron that shirt or, I'll help him and you change Richard's diaper.'
      "Come on here boy" George yelled. I followed him through the house to the laundry room. George plugged in the new iron and we waited for it to get hot. The old iron was on a shelf. I asked what is the new iron made of? The old iron was nothing but a shaped block of iron with a handle. He said, "it's aluminum." "Then why do they call it an iron," I asked. George just looked at me side eyed, without answering.
      There was only one dial on the new iron that shows heat intensity by colors. 'Red' means hot, everything else was a lesser hot.
      George pulled out one of his shirts from the pile of laundry and said watch me. "You always start with the collar." He dipped his fingers in a bowl that contained a mixture of water and starch. Then he sprinkled the mixture over the collar. Then he practiced a few ironing strokes on a piece of cloth to make sure the iron wasn't too hot, then he ironed the collar.
      Then he flipped the shirt over to iron the shoulders and the chest area after another sprinkle of starch and water. Then the sleeves, both sides of the front and then the back. With each shirt adjustment there was a sprinkling of starch and water.
Argo starch      After he finished ironing his shirt, it was my time to do it. He pulled another one of his shirts from the pile of clean laundry, "Here," he said, "iron this." I wanted to know why couldn't I iron my shirt. He told me that he didn't want me to burn my shirt. "Hmmm...okay."
     George said that this shirt has a different type of collar and he wanted to show me how to iron the open collar look.
     I started with the collar. He showed me how to lay the collar flat with the open button showing 'chest hair' kinda look. Then I iron shoulders and the remainder of the chest area. A sprinkle of starch and water, then I ironed the sleeves, the front and then the back.
      I gotta say, that shirt looked well ironed for my first time doing it. George complimented me on a decent job but wanted to give me another chance to get it perfect. He pulled another one of his shirts. This one had a high collar, kinda like the shirts that Elvis use to wear.
Then brother George pulled out another one of his shirts. This one had the 'nehru' collar. 'Please tell me again,' I asked, 'why am I ironing your shirts?' 'Just iron the shirt, you need the practice,' George said.
      After the nehru shirt, there was his button down collar and cuff link shirt. All together, I had ironed a week worth of shirts for George, none for me. He told me that I now can do a quality job and I should iron my own shirt. I did, and it was beautiful. The collar was perfect, it was starched just right and the long sleeves had straight creases.
      He told momma that I was well trained on the use of the electric iron and could iron my own shirts from now on. He didn't tell her that he made me iron his shirts.
     I still remember that mentoring session. I didn't understand it as mentoring back then. I looked at it as mild child harassment and I should have told momma about it. It wasn't a lot of fun as I struggled with the starch mixture and testing the iron for the right heat color setting. But today, every time that I iron a shirt, I think of that mentoring day 65 years ago and I smile. Even today, I generally iron six or more shirts at a time, just because I enjoy it.
     I called my brother George this morning and asked him if he remembers teaching me to iron shirts. He said that he didn't remember but in the same breath, he denied making me iron his shirts. But he knows it's true. We laughed for awhile and then talked about the concept of mentoring. George has a Master's Degree and has taught mentoring and learning techniques for decades.
While mentoring, there is a lot of talking going on between the mentor and mentee. But there is a lot of learning, a lot of 'doing' and a little bit of struggling going on as well. I hope that present day mentors understand this concept. I hope that 65 years from now, a mentee will tell their mentoring story about you.