12 Life Lessons

Apparently this blog is getting into heavy thinking. I was thinking about the life lessons I want to impart on my kids. There’s more than 12, but these are my current top 12.

Disclaimer: I only  have girls, so this is somewhat tailored to them (if you have only boys or a mixture, #8 needs to be rephrased).  If you have only 1, #8 is likely irrelevant.

1. It is your body, you can do what you want to (to paraphrase Miley Cyrus)

That doesn’t mean you can do anything you want to it. You have a responsibility to it to feed it right, move it right, make sure it stays healthy and so on. Feel free to do as you want to your hair. It grows back. Tattoos? You can, but remember, some people don’t like them, and those same some people may not hire you. And, in a few years, you may not like it anymore. Clothes? Well sure, you need to dress your body, but remember that you will perceived by the clothes you choose.  Be assured, no matter how you dress, no one has the right to harm you!!! But again, they may not hire you, either. Same could be said for hair too, I get that.

It also means you have the responsibility to be your body’s best advocate. No one else can. You have every right to question every doctor, specialist, etc, until you are comfortable. You aren’t stupid for asking questions. I know a very smart woman who is also a doctor, who missed a question, and may pay for that with her life. It’s okay to ask. And if you didn’t understand the answer, it’s okay to ask again and again. And go find someone else if you aren’t feeling respected.

And no one, but no one, has the right to put their hands on you in any way you don’t want. They don’t get to hit you. They don’t get to smack you “just this once”. Yes, it will be just this once, because you must be strong enough to walk away. See #3 and #12.

2. Life isn’t fair.

It’s not. At some point in your life, you will work hard and play your cards right, and do the right things, and bad things will happen or someone else will get rewarded. To be trite, what matters isn’t that life wasn’t fair, it’s what you do next. If you sit and gripe about how you should have gotten that award, or that trip, or that job, or that college, you still won’t have it, and people will walk away. At some point, people quit caring that it wasn’t fair, and you will be talking to yourself.

If however, you write that college, and explain why you should have been admitted, maybe they’ll hear you, and maybe they won’t, but you did the best you could. If you email that employer asking them to keep you on the list next time, maybe they will. (It’s happened, believe me!) Again, the point is what you do with that disappointment. There will be times when you think your sister’s life is easier. Or friend’s. Or teammate’s. Comparing yourself to someone else merely sets you up to be lose. Don’t go there. Live the life you were given.

3. Real love grows, it never divides, but it also takes work.

If you really love someone, your love for someone else shouldn’t be diminished. There’s always room in your heart for more love. If he really loves you, he won’t care that you also really love your mom, or your dad or your sisters or your friends (regardless of the gender of said friend). When/if you choose to join another family through marriage (or a long term relationship, but I prefer marriage for you), remember, love doesn’t divide. There’s enough love in your heart for his parents, siblings, and friends. You don’t always have to like them, but remember they helped shape the person you love, so there’s something there.

Love, while able to grow, also takes work. You want that friendship, make sure you call, text, email, etc. Let them see the good times and bad. Be there for the good times and bad. Make time. Find activities together that let both of you grow. (works for both friends and lovers). You want your sisters to like you and love you and respect you? Put the time in now when everyone is in the same house. Soon, you will all go separate ways and Mom and Dad won’t be the glue for you anymore.

When your heart hurts, and it will sometimes, it’s okay to cry. I know, I know. I often say “suck it up” or “get tough”, but when your heart truly hearts… crying helps. Don’t know why it’s so cathartic, but it is. However, crying for too long or too many times might be a symptom of a pity party ~ keep an eye out for those. Once you get invited to a pity party, getting out can be hard.

By the way – unconditional love doesn’t mean that I love every decision you made. I don’t. When you make a boneheaded decision – I always love you, but the decision is still boneheaded.

4.  To err is human, to learn from that error will make you a much better person, but some mistakes just can’t be made better.

Seriously, we all make mistakes. Sometimes they are silly like forgetting the past tense of tell is told, not telled. Sometimes, it’s bigger like making a choice to hurt someone. Either way, own up. Step up, pull on your big person shorts, admit the wrong and move on. You needn’t dwell on it for many times, and one apology suffices. (If someone wants multiple apologies, they are just trying to manipulate you.) The next time, don’t make that same mistake. Put procedures into your world that help prevent a repeat.

Sometimes, however, sorry isn’t enough. When you are continually careless, or it’s a super big mistake, sorry doesn’t cut it. For example, you know better than to text (or drink) and drive. You do it, and someone dies, saying sorry won’t make it better. EVER! You must still own up, but know that you may not be forgiven, and you may never forgive yourself.

5. You have to live with your reputation and choices

When you were 3, I’d joke with your dad that even if you picked out your clothes, and looked like a tye-dye, striped, polka-dotted, pink, blue, green, yellow mess, that no one would think I dressed you. Guess what – as you get older, it’s still not on me. It’s on you. Every time you leave the house, put something on email/facebook/twitter/new-fangled-social media thing, it’s your reputation.

At some point, you have to live in this world, on your merits. Please, please think about that now. It’s very easy to sully your reputation, but very very hard to change people’s minds in a positive way. Get it right from the start. Life will be much easier that way. That means, be on time, respect others (even when they may not have earned it), watch your mouth, work hard, be the friend you should be, don’t ever cheat (on tests, on people, or on yourself), walk away from people when their (rightly) earned reputation isn’t right for you.

Be your own person. Don’t be afraid to try something new, you won’t regret it nearly as much as you will regret not trying it. (Assuming it lives up to the rest of the lessons. Sky dive? Go for it at least once? Live abroad? If you can and want to. Drugs? Best to walk away from that choice.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was “perception is reality”. If people perceive you to be a snob, you are one. If people perceive you as kind and thoughtful, you are. The people looking in on you get decide what your reputation is. Give them reasons to think you are worthy.

All of this is not to say that you should live your world pleasing others, and worrying about popularity contests. No, you still need to be yourself, just make sure you know what others’ perception of you is. If it’s not what you want, see if you own why that’s true.

A pretty easy way to tell if you shouldn’t do something? If you don’t want to tell your mom or dad you did the activity, don’t do it. If you are going to be embarrassed to tell me, perhaps it’s not a good idea.

6.  Privileges aren’t rights, just as wants aren’t needs.  

Know the difference. You have the right to breathe, dream, live, speak, vote. You may someday have the privilege to drive and you will have the privilege to drink. You do not however, have the right to drink and drive. Why? Because you can harm yourself, and/or someone else. The minute your actions put someone else in danger, is the minute you no longer have that right. You have the right to protest. You may even have the responsibility to protest. You do not have the right to protest in such a way (violently) that innocent bystanders can get hurt.

You need to eat, sleep, be housed, be clothed. You do not need to a steak meal, a million dollar house or the like. Be aware of the difference, and don’t get caught up in the hype.

7. Hit back harder than they hit you – or someone else starts a fight – you end it.

Peace, turn the other cheek, walk away? Sometimes that doesn’t work.

One of you came home from school once and said “so and so said he was going to hit me.” I told you then, and I’m telling you now, someone hits you, you hit back harder. You have every right to defend yourself. Yes, you can go tell the teacher or school bus driver, or parent, but sometimes that’s not possible. And when it’s not, make sure you can handle yourself. Someone picks a fight with you, make sure you are standing strong at the end. I will always be okay with “you should see how the other guy looks” as long as YOU didn’t start it.

There are some people who can only settle disputes physically. To those people, make sure you are strong enough to handle yourself. It’s always up to you how to handle a situation, when you’ve been attacked. Don’t cower. You will be attacked again. Return fire of equal or slightly more power such that you are no longer a target.

8. Your job as a sister is to be there forever and always for your sisters.

What? You didn’t pick having sisters (and you really didn’t pick having 3), I get that. Trust me. However, sometimes we have jobs that we didn’t sign up for. Think of this as the “other duties as assigned” part of being in a family. This does not mean you have to agree with them, like their decisions, etc, but it sure as heck means you support them when their back is to the wall. Take your internal squabbles home and go to town, but outside these walls, you present a united front. Assume that if someone picks on a sibling and you defend them, I will have your back, Jack. And just the same, assume that if you don’t defend them, I will own you for a while.

And, if you are the one with your back against the wall, find a sister. They may not know you are in trouble, but once they do, they’d better bring the full cavalry.

In the midst of real life, and living at home and trying to make your way in the world today, your sisters are your constant. Don’t have to like it. Just have to accept it. When you go through middle school, high school, college, families, traveling, and jobs, your sisters are there. Don’t forget them.

9. Stick up for those who can’t.

We live in a world where lots of people don’t have a safe place to live, grow, learn, or flourish. Be that safe place for those people, as often as you can.

By virtue of being part of this world, you have a duty to stand up for those who can’t. People making fun of someone weaker than them, you are responsible to help make that better. You may not be able to step in (5 on 1 isn’t good odds), but you have other tools at your disposal. Use them. Sometimes it means donating to charity. Sometimes it means volunteering for a cause that means something to you. Sometimes it means getting down and dirty or helping someone afterwards. You all have strong moral compasses (or your dad and I will die trying to get you one), so use it. You know right from wrong, and you know good from bad. If you aren’t sure, get help.

10. There is NO substitute for hard work.

Sometimes you will get by on luck, brains, or accidental athletic ability. You want to take it to the next level, you need to work hard. There’s an adage that is dang infuriating because it’s true… “You appreciate more what you worked harder for”. Do I appreciate my college degree? Absolutely! Did I work hard for it? Yes. Could I probably have worked harder? Oh yah. Do I appreciate my grad degree? So much more. Why? Because I had to work harder for it. Don’t believe me? That’s okay. Some day, you might. Meanwhile… Did you appreciate the medal you got just for showing up? Maybe. How much more are you appreciating the crack of the bat after working hard all season to get that hit? How much are you appreciating that you turned that C to a B by buckling down and working harder?

I won’t lie and say you are the smartest, most athletic, best dancer, singer, student, player I’ve ever seen. You aren’t. There is always someone just a bit better. But you sure have a choice to be the hardest working one. At some point, the luck and innate skill aren’t enough. Hard work and perseverance almost always are.

Although I won’t advocate that you should or should not set yearly resolutions, I will advocate that you should set goals to get better on a consistent and regular basis. Don’t care if you are working on a goal to speak more kindly to those around you, or to run a race faster, or to learn poetry on your time. Always be looking to improve yourself.

11. You don’t always have to be right.

No one likes Sheldon when he’s right all the time, do they? It’s funny on a TV show, but it sucks to have that friend. The one who’s always got to be right, even when it doesn’t matter. Trust me. (I’ve been that friend, and I’ve lost friends over it.) Sometimes the argument matters, I get that. Sometimes the argument doesn’t (then, for the love of god, quit arguing… even if it means the other person still thinks they are right.)

When the argument matters, you have to decide two things: 1) Will I change this person’s mind? And 2) do I have a moral obligation to continue. If you can’t answer at least one of those with yes, walk away… Take heart that you were right, even if you have to accept defeat in the conversation.

12. No matter what you do, you are my child and I love you. For ever, for always, no matter what.

Parents never stop loving their children. No matter how many times we hurt each other, no matter how careless we can be, I will always love you. I know there are times you won’t believe it (see life isn’t fair when you think your sisters got something you should have), or when you may not love me. But, if you are down on your luck, I’m right here. I’ll help you in the manner in which (I think) you need.

That doesn’t mean I won’t turn your butt in to the cops or someone else if need be. Let’s be clear. Loving you doesn’t mean protecting you from consequences of YOUR actions. It may mean that I’m right next to you with your consequences, but you’ll serve them.

Every day, you and your sisters bring me joy. (Sometimes it’s tempered with frustration, anger, fatigue or other things, but you bring me joy.) I have great pride in you. Each of you have some strengths that I admire and wish to copy.

You can never say “I love you” enough. Just make sure you mean it

.          I love you. I love you. I love you.

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