“You keep saying that.”
My daughter looked at me disapprovingly, as if she were the parent, and I were the kid.
“Do I really? ‘Never give up’?”
She nodded. I set down the 12″ serrated knife I’d just used to saw the top off a children’s acetaminophen bottle. It had the wrong lid, one that belonged to another childproof medicine we own, probably some Target ibuprofen. Who knows how the switch happened, but the result was an impossibly-fused male-female mechanism. My girl held her head in pain, mostly from a virus, but also from watching her newly-vegetarian mother butcher a vessel that oozed red liquid onto the kitchen counter.
“You’ll thank me twice,” I whispered back. “First for the pain relief. Then for the grit I taught you.”
“Grit. Stick-to-it-iveness. Resolve. Remember when you were learning to ride a bike and you kept wrecking and getting back on…”
Actions speak louder than words is a mantra in child rearing. But I also speak louder, in more detail, and with great frequency, just to be sure. Kids don’t always connect the dots between, say, medicinal barbarism and perseverance. Important messages sometimes need spelling out.
I don’t get it when celebrities are interviewed on TV and they praise their stoic parents: “My father never said he loved me, but I knew because he worked hard for his family every day.” What? Dudes, it’s not hard to say “I love you” to your children, even after work. Because they’re your children. Who are you saving yourself for?
Some of the same people who dole out “I love you’s” sparingly are also parsimonious with smiles. I realized this when our neighborhood punk rocker crossed in front of my car at a light the other day. Not only has he never told me he loves me, but he’s also never flashed me a grin. Until—he crossed in front of my car at the light the other day. He actually looked through my windshield, broke through his disgruntled visage, and smiled. I felt like I’d won the lottery. And then I got mad at myself, because smiles are not subject to market laws of supply and demand. One smile from a scowling punk pedestrian is not worth a million bucks simply because it’s rare, and mine’s worth only $0.03 because I’m easy.
Not that I’d say “Be easy” to my children, because that’s not explained enough. Though they’d argue “Never give up” certainly is.