Accidental Life Lessons

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Every parent does it.  We actively (and often aggressively) teach our children life lessons –the ins and outs, the rights and wrongs, the dos and don’ts of the world.  Be kind. Be respectful. Be generous of spirit. Be whomever you are – provided, of course, that who you are is not an asshole, right?

We hope that we manage to impart wisdom, share what we’ve learned from our own storied lives and help guide them in the right direction even though, as we all eventually discover, they are actually driving their own bus and we are merely along for the (often bumpy) ride.

We pick them up when they screw up, (try like hell to) impose consequences with the hope that a lesson will be learned, and do a lot of silent praying…that something, anything that we teach them sticks.  It’s a crapshoot.

What I’ve learned in my nearly 25 years of parenting, however, is that much of what our children learn from us (the good and the bad) happens by mistake.  Enjoy a few life lessons for better living that my kids consider fact, and, well, learned from me…although quite by accident:

McDonald’s french fries have curative powers. This discovery dates back to my teen years, but came to be actual fact when I was pregnant with my oldest child.  I happened to have had easy pregnancies, but, even an easy pregnancy is complicated, am I right?  Whether I was queasy, tired, on top of the world,hungry, bored, anxious, headache-y, overwhelmed, feeling beautiful (the hair, oh the hair!) or like a beached whale, hot, salty McDonald’s french fries cured all.  Fact. Life lesson.

The only thing better than sushi is sushi someone else is paying for. When I was growing up, only fancy, exotic people ate sushi on the regular.  By the time I was a newly married 20-something, however, sushi was a thing. We’d often go out, drop a $100 scarfing down copious amounts of fish and rice, half-expecting we might wind up sick later – either from the rawness of the sheer volume of food. (Note: we never did.)

Fast forward to becoming parents, and sushi-fests were forced to take a backseat to diapers, daycare, countless strollers (oh, the strollers!), and all those adorable little outfits that we bought for our kids to spit up on. Then, our sushi habit was reserved for evenings with either my or my husband’s parents when, yep, they’d pick up the check. And dammit all to hell, now we are the parents picking up the check.

(Side story: the first time my father, a sushi novice, got suckered into taking us for sushi, he looked at the check, leaned into my mother and asked – with utter shock – if it was right. It was.) And so was born one of the important life lessons: the only thing better than sushi is sushi someone else in paying for. Fact. Life lesson.

 All cars should have a sunroof.  And, for the perfect driving experience: air conditioning on, sunroof open.  1984.  I was entering my sophomore year in college and, for reasons my brothers still contemplate, my dad decided to buy me a brand new car.  Hello Toyota Corolla SR5. This was back in the day when you picked a car, chose the options (radio, anyone?) and then, a week or so later, took delivery.  Model decided upon, the salesman asked if “we” wanted a sunroof. My father and I exchanged glances and, well, I don’t have to tell you how it ended.

Then, on the first warm and sunny, but not humid day –  which is the only variable that might upend this hard and fast rule –  I did as my father had all the years I had been a passenger in his car: I cranked up both the air conditioning and the sunroof and, for the first time, truly appreciated what is, by all accounts, the perfect driving experience.  (Side story: This summer, I was a passenger in my son’s car. When he turned up the a/c and opened the sunroof (duh, we bought him that car) I said, “Oh, you do that, too?” To which he replied: “Where’d you think I learned it.” Fact. Life lesson.

In every freezer and at all times there must be, at the very least, one container of ice cream. Growing up, we had a milkman who not only delivered milk (duh) but also had ice cream, lots of ice cream, in his truck.  My mother, all 5”2”, 100 pounds of her, would always add ice cream to our order (usually coffee) and enjoy a pint of it every night.  Yes. A pint. Because I learned this to be a normal fact of life, the freezer in my children’s home was never, ever, not once, without ice cream.  As in: ever. To be without would be akin to withholding electricity.

To this day, my mother’s fridge might have nothing but condiments, but the freezer is never without ice cream. (Side story: when my oldest brother was already an adult and I wasn’t quite yet, I went to visit. After dinner, he pulled approximately a dozen pints of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream from the freezer. This, I feel compelled to say, was not a special occasion.) From generation to generation. Fact. Life Lesson.

So, yeah, I tried (like hell) to teach my kids to be kind, decent, thoughtful and generous souls.  I (like to) think (much of the time) that some of that stuck. But in the absence of perfect parenting, I take comfort in knowing that, if nothing else, they’ve picked up at least a couple of important life lessons.


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