I can say with honesty, without crossing my fingers behind my back, that I have never told my children to make sure they have on clean underwear in case they are in an accident. I have never told them they’ll get square eyes from sitting too close to the television set or that they’ll end up cross-eyed forever if the wind changes. That doesn’t mean that I don’t like a good parenting proverb when I hear one. Mom metaphors? Yes, please. Instructional idioms? Thank you very much, I’ll take two.
Most of the time my words are wasted on their little ears. All my clever puns and catchy phrases go over their heads. These are the kids who fought over who was the pot and who was the kettle during the great Pot Calling The Kettle Black debate, remember? Then there are times when the generation gap becomes more of a generation chasm.
Me: “Ugh, I sound like a broken record!”
Kid: “What’s a record??”
Sometimes though, you come across a turn of phrase that takes on a wealth of meaning beyond its original intention. Idioms and phrases and old wives tales that not only make sense in the moment, but when you come down to brass tacks, apply to a myriad of life situations. Everything you need to know you learned in kindergarten sort of stuff. Lessons to live by. For instance:
Stop, Look & Listen
This was one of those community service skills I learned as a kid. While it’s meant as advice on how to safely cross the street, it applies to so much more. Whenever you are in doubt, stop, look & listen. You’ll often find the cues and clues you need to help make your decision. You just have to be quiet enough and still enough to see them.
Clean up after yourself
Put your toys away, clean up your finger paints. Clean up your room, clean up the mistake you make at work, the hurt feelings you caused with a thoughtless comment, the heart you broke when you fell in love with someone else. Life is full of messes. Learn how to clean up after yourself early and it’s a skill that will serve you well.
Stop, Drop & Roll
Another community service skill, a catchy little ditty about remembering what to do if your clothes catch on fire. Watch how it works in later life though: Stop, drop the argument and roll with the results. Whether it’s the kids on the playground not wanting to play the game you proposed or the guy at work who steadfastly refuses to listen to your idea; sometimes the best thing you can do is to stop, drop and roll.
Treats are a privilege, not a right
Ice cream cones are not a given. If everyday you walk down to the local ice cream shop and buy yourself a cone, it stops being special. It loses some of its magic. It becomes expected. No one is entitled to new toys, new clothes, new gadgets just on the basis that you exist and they exist and well, gee, you deserve it. Hold something back for indulging in from time to time. If you don’t, those treats lose their appeal. And you end up overweight with ice cream drips down the front of your iPhone.
Mind your Manners
Never underestimate the power of chewing with your mouth closed. Manners are an outward manifestation of respect. Saying please and thank you, holding open a door for someone, not spewing your food when you eat it. Being respectful, even in small ways, is one of the things that separates us from our primate ancestors. So use your opposable thumbs to hold your cutlery and pick up your napkin to wipe your chin.
Don’t cry wolf
Whether it is crying “Help!” at the top of your lungs to grab your mother’s attention so she can see how long you can hold a handstand under water or a passive aggressive whine about being overloaded at work, crying for help when you don’t need it results in anger, resentment and confusion (not to mention a fully clothed parent soaking wet from diving into the pool). If you wait until you truly need help before you ask for it, you’ll find that folks are usually more than willing to pitch in. Cry wolf too many times, in the sandbox, in school, in the office, and people are going to stop caring, and stop helping.
It starts with the toy everyone covets at circle time, but it also applies in line at the supermarket or when you are merging from three lanes into one. Life works more smoothly when everyone waits and takes their turn. It’s when people try to get ahead at the expense of everyone else (yes, you driving up the inside breakdown lane) that the system breaks down. We are all trying to get places. If we remember to take turns, we all will.
You see, it’s true. All you really need to know to get by you learned in the sandbox, in between walloping Johnny on the head with a shovel and getting your prize Hot Wheels car snatched away by that bratty little Jane. You just have to remember it and put it into practice.