Family Wisdom

So you broke your leg. Walk it off.
Your trashcan is your friend.
Your brain is not your friend.
I want you to have that.
Who’s driving your bus?

Like many families, we occasionally distill family experiences into shorthand sayings which we can share quickly, much like numbering jokes.

So you broke your leg, walk it off.

This one is a family favorite, playing to our DIY dysfunctions and general impatience. You can imagine my surprise when I scheduled my first knee replacement and the doctor asked, “Do you want the procedure done at a hospital or at an outpatient clinic?”

Outpatient clinic? Don’t they expect you to walk out of those places that same day? Yes, they do and yes I did. So our family joke has now become an accepted procedure for many knee replacement operations.

Your trashcan is your friend;
your brain is not your friend.

I am a little excessive on neatness. I like finishing the bottle of mustard in the fridge so I can throw it out. Even though mustard goes immediately onto the grocery list and then back into the fridge, I still get considerable satisfaction from throwing the empty bottle away. When we prepared our house for sale, I looked forward to every single trip to the dump and to the local Goodwill store. More stuff out of the house. Less stuff in my mind.

I also like my brain. It provides considerable entertainment and the occasional surprise. Unfortunately I have also found it to be impatient, lazy, much too impressed with itself, and a bad listener. Quite often it has led me astray. Overall, it has been an untrustworthy friend.

I remember it, therefore it did not happen that way.

This one emerged from two personal experiences. I observed a theft and gave a signed statement to the police. Several years later the theft came up for the trial and when I was called as a witness I protested that the event never happened, since I had no memory of it. The statement with my signature was clearly some exotic, unexplainable fraud. To this day I have no memory of it.

At the other extreme, I have a clear memory of watching my wife give a piano recital in a college concert hall when she was 14 years old, which is peculiar since when I met her she was 22 years old. It’s a delightful memory, so I keep it around to enjoy.

Kids These Days: Who is driving your bus?

Raising children provided the greatest pleasures and the greatest challenges we faced. Each child is different, so a parent’s method with each child will likely be unique and often wrong. I have no solutions, no advice, and not even much encouragement for other parents.

Who is driving your bus? Very early we decided to raise our children to be self-reliant and independent, little knowing the headaches and challenges that independent children and young adults would cause for us. When they refused to practice the piano, get dressed for school, or do their homework, I often asked, “Who is driving your bus?” I admit it is a bit of a non sequitur. As they grew up and got into adult troubles, we simply said, “You are driving your own bus.”

This is a big problem. What will you do about it? Many years ago, as a teenager with a brand new driver’s license, I borrowed my sister’s boyfriend’s car to go visit my own girlfriend. I neglected to mention the loan to my sister, her boyfriend, or my parents, all of whom were conveniently gone at the time. On the way home, I rolled through a stop sign and scraped sides with another car. Both were drivable, and both were a mess.

There was no way out. I explained to my father the utter necessity of visiting my girlfriend and my complete innocence in the unfortunate accident.

“This is a big problem. What will you do about it?” was his only response. Who was driving my bus, indeed?

As our own kids got older, I found this phrase suitable for almost every problem they encountered. It is so much more polite than “Not my problem.”

I want you to have that. This became another popular corollary to the bus metaphor and financial decisions developed into fertile ground for the kids to start learning about scarce resources, i.e., money and forced ranking choices. Once they had their own money from an allowance, we were freed from the persistent whine, “Can you buy that for me?” Since they already had money, I frequently responded “I want you to have that,” to almost any purchase request. The kids quickly understood what I meant. I was not buying, but they could, so long as their cash lasted. Eventually, the phrase expanded to cover school grades, clothes, cars, college admissions, girlfriends, boyfriends, and more.

There is another bus coming soon. For kids, most things in life appear to be one-time-only offers, such as the invitation to the party, prom date, Izod polo shirt on sale, and a program on TV (back when linear TV was the only choice). By explaining that busses come by frequently, we recast these once-in-a-lifetime offers into a series of opportunities. There is always another bus.

If money can fix it, it is not a problem. Our family has always been blessed with “enough.” We don’t get everything we want, just enough. As a result, most problems and desires are not existential challenges, but only opportunities for forced rank choices. There is enough for a blue shirt or grey slacks, but not both. Whaddya choose?

… and a Few Songs

We enrolled our son at Oneonta Montesorri pre-school Sadly, they had no motto and no school song. No problem. Within a few days our family developed this song for Oneonta Montesorri, sung to the tune of the Mousketeers song:

Oneonta Montesorri, that’s the school for me.
O-n-e-o n-t-a Montesorri School.
Oneonta, Montesorri,
that’s the perfect school for Ryan B.
(Fight, fight, fight)

And who can forget Zip it Up for Safety, sung to the tune of the public service song Buckle up for Safety?

Zip it up for safety, zip it up.
Zip it up for safety, everybody zip it up.
Show the world you care, buy some pants to wear.
Zip it up for safety.
Everybody zip it up.

Almost forty years later, we still remember and sing these songs. Our gift to the kids.

The Kids Give Back to Us.

Now that our kids are independent adults, we occasionally ask for their advice regarding our own choices and lives. Sometimes we hear them echo the familiar phrases from childhood back to us. Ouch. The kids’ gift to us.

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