Lucy finds out that sometimes our advice is remembered - whether we like it or not.
As parents, we’re constantly giving advice. Some out of sheer rote like, “don’t speak with your mouth full” while others are more tailored to each child.
For example, our son, Dakota, was born with a series of life-threatening birth defects (collectively called Pentalogy of Cantrell). One of his defects was an omphaloceale, which means his stomach never closed; his intestines and part of his liver grew outside his body. The doctors were able to sew him up, but it left a huge, one-inch-wide scar running much of the length of his torso. He also has a cleft sternum and no navel.
As he grew, we’d go to beaches where it was obvious he was different. It soon became obvious to him as well. We told him over and over that he was a brave boy and that his differences were a badge of courage to be proud of. He liked that. In fact, he would walk right up to someone, point to his scar, and say, “I was born inside out.”
We didn’t know how much he took my advice about being proud of his scar to heart until one day when Matt picked him up from his pre-K class.
The teacher took Matt aside and said that one of the boys had cut his hand and was taken to the emergency room the night before; he ended up with two stitches. As he proudly displayed his scar, Dakota looked at it, then stood up. He said, “You call THAT a scar?” He lifted his shirt up and exclaimed, “Now THIS is a scar.”
A lot of the advice we give our kids have to do with manners and only saying nice things about others. The problem is that kids have a way of hearing us speak frankly when we don’t realize it, and we become the victim of our unedited words. Too often, we find out about the little eavesdroppers at the most inopportune moment.
We didn’t decide to homeschool our girls until after they graduated from elementary school. There were a myriad of reasons, none of them having to do with hard working teachers who are expected to be perfect – or else. But there was an assistant principal that kept sending notes home to parents, giving us advice about how to raise our children, how to teach studying skills and other unsolicited tidbits of knowledge that he felt we could benefit from. The problem was, he was barely 24 years old, a year or two out of college, and had no children.
While at a school fair, I finally met Skippy the Wise. Aubrie promptly went up to him and said, “My mommy thinks you’re an idiot and if you send one more dumb note home, she’s going to drop an entire first-grade class off at your house for the weekend then see if you still think you’re such a smarty pants.” My jaw dropped.
On the one hand, I was completely impressed that she remembered what I had said verbatim. Most of me, however, was petrified. I mumbled something, picked her up and jogged to the nearest exit.
Our beat-up family van almost laid skid marks as I rushed to leave the premises.
Of the millions of kernels of knowledge that we try to bestow upon our children, it’s often surprising which ones they remember most. In my case, I had an eye- opening evening a few weeks ago.
We were watching a movie about a kid getting bullied. It was frustrating to watch, and I got exasperated and commented that he should stick up for himself. And that’s when Elyse told me what piece of advice has stuck with her for most of her life. I prepared myself for a proud mommy moment, certain that accolades were soon to come my way.
Elyse had a problem with a little girl in her class. She’d often say mean things to Elyse, and would make fun of her. It wasn’t a bully situation, just a little girl, who I (and Elly’s teacher) believed was jealous of my daughter. I advised her to smile and be nice to her or to ignore her completely.
One day, Elyse came home in a particularly foul mood. The little girl had said something that was really out of line and Elly was getting tired of the ignoring or being nice. And that’s when what I remember saying and what she remembers I said are as different as night and day.
I recall telling her that it was time to say something back, and she had my blessing. What Elyse remembers is that I said, “Honey, sometimes it’s OK to be a bitch.”
Seriously? That’s what she remembers out of the hundreds of pieces of advice that I’ve given her over the years? It’s OK to be a bitch? The rest of the family was howling with laughter as I sat there, horrified. I was adamant, however, that those were not the particular words I used. Of course, Elyse swears that those were exactly the words that are ingrained in her brain; and the family will tease me for the rest of my life.
As our children grow up, it seems we’re forever giving them advice about one thing or another. Most times, it’s day-to-day advice, like reminding them to say please and thank you. Sometimes, it’s life advice, such as telling them that they should be proud of their differences. And other times, it’s major, life-changing advice that they’ll remember forever. The funny thing is, you never know which piece of advice falls under the “remember forever” category.
All you can do is pray that when you dish out that pivotal piece of guidance, your children won’t be blessed with a photographic memory – and can quote you, word for word.
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