The other day, I was playing with my baby girl and thinking about how I loved her more intensely than I could have ever expected. And then, another thought popped in my head: "Is this how my parents feel about me?"
It was at that moment I realized I'd been a terrible daughter.
To be fair, I was a pretty standup kid . . . I said "please" and "thank you." I didn't break the rules. (I couldn't even run away from home effectively, as by the time I got to the end of the block, I knew I wasn't allowed to cross the street, so I just turned around and came back.)
But still, in that instant I learned what you can't possibly learn until you've had a child of your own: I should have listened to my parents more.
My mom and dad gave me plenty of advice through the years, some of which was met with eye rolls, some of which was promptly ignored, but almost all of which was capped off with "You'll understand someday . . . when you're a parent." Below is just a sampling of those lessons I'll be passing down to my daughter, whether she likes it or not.
- Wear your seat belt. What is seriously so cool about not wearing a seat belt?
- Find family among friends. It wasn't until I was 13 years old that I realized two of my cousins weren't actually related to me. Our moms just grew up as close as sisters.
- Find friends among family. My parents made sure my brother and I didn't just love each other, but that we actually liked each other.
- Don't be wasteful. My dad would scrape the jelly jar until every last morsel was used up. And then he'd clean out the jar and insist I find a use for it. Which is why I'm now teaching my baby to play drums with an empty Pringles can.
- Tell jokes.
- Care about the English language. I'd sometimes catch my dad leafing through the dictionary. It seemed awfully nerdy, but boy am I glad I know the difference between nauseous and nauseated.
- Live within your means. How I learned never to rack up credit card debt: "Oh, you want to go to the movies, but you already spent your allowance on candy? Too bad."
- Respect your elders. You'll be them someday.
- Spend the holidays with your parents. Particularly when you're young and single and haven't added the complexity of splitting time with in-laws.
- Cry now and then. When I had to get an emergency appendectomy on a family vacation, the last thing I saw was my dad, tears streaming down his cheeks. Probably not the vote of confidence a sixth grader needed, but I'll take that over stoicism any day.
- Get up early. There's no point in wasting a perfectly good day.
- Don't drive with the music too loud.
- Spoil where it matters. I didn't always get the "cool toys" at Christmas, but if I really wanted something meaningful, they didn't hesitate. When my brother and I decided to learn a musical instrument, a piano just showed up in our living room.
- Be the squeaky wheel. Especially when it comes to cable companies.
- Don't play favorites. My dad coached my elementary school basketball team, a sport at which I was terrible. The amount of times I was benched made me realize you can't — and shouldn't — count on nepotism.
- Play sports. Even if you aren't good at them.
- Create something. Hands down, the tomatoes from my dad's garden taste better than any others.
- Look for the good in people.
- Argue your case. Because my parents never shied away from constructive discourse, I learned how to fight my own battles, stand up to confrontation, and reject peer pressure.
- Don't always be the devil's advocate. Pick your battles, and don't argue for argument's sake.
- Go to church. It doesn't necessarily matter which one.
- Know what you have. My mom taught me the value of a well-kept filing system for important papers, a color-coordinated closet, and a jewelry box that separates my heirloom jewelry from deceptively real-looking junk.
- Make a mess. Just clean up after yourself when you're done.
- Keep a budget. Our family's motto was a bit lame, perhaps, but wise: "Watch your pennies, and the dollars take care of themselves."
- Value your time. My family's unspoken motto also came in handy: "Sometimes it's more economical to throw money at the problem."
- Don't eat after midnight. It's never going to be as satisfying as you think it's going to be.
- Take vacations as often as possible.
- Stay calm. My mom is still the only one in our family who's decent at this, and she still keeps her cool when everyone else is losing theirs.
- Winning isn't everything. But that doesn't mean it's not something.
- Trust your instincts.
- Find a hobby you can enjoy at all times. Reading is something my mom does when she's well and when she's sick, when she's in bed and when she's outside. She'll never outgrow it, and it'll never outgrow her.
- Be optimistic. But when that inevitably fails, plan for the worst.
- Learn family recipes.
- Know that some things aren't worth doing from scratch. Pie crust is one of those things.
- Keep up with the next generation. Whenever my mom gets a new phone or tries out a new gadget, she doesn't give up at the first error message. She sits down and figures it out.
- Make good memories of bad situations. The time I had a party at my parents's house and stained their hardwood floor? We're finally laughing about it.
- Be kind.
- Enjoy the process. Half the fun of our family trips were the long drives to the destination.
- Remember why you work. Your job is time away from your family. It's wonderful if you can find something you love doing, but if you can't, find something with good benefits.
- Wear your seat belt. Can't say it enough.