And the Moral of the Story Is . . .

I have several new babies in my life right now. And there’s nothing like a baby to make you think about parenting and how magical and nightmarish it is; how beautiful and horrific the parenting experience can be.

So far, even though I have teen-agers and a 20-something, I’ve resisted the urge to be cynical and mean to new parents. When I had a newborn baby, other moms said to me, “Just wait until they grow up to lie to you, get things pierced, and sneak out of the house and when you go looking for them, you find a bong in their dresser.” I don’t rain on the baby parade like that.

But I am jaded enough to know this:

You can lecture, scold, shake your pointer finger, tell stories about your own parents, nag, and yell until you're blue in the face, and none of that hits home like a good old fashioned bad experience.

Admit it. As a parent, you love when something happens to one of your kids that demonstrates the moral of something you’ve been harping at him about. Those “I Told You So” moments are rare, but they happen. And nothing helps convince a kid that they should do the right thing better than getting screwed by life.

When I was growing up, my mom was no June Cleaver, but she did try to teach me life lessons in short, spur-of-the-moment sentences that would have fit nicely between commercial breaks.  “Be nice.”  “If you say you’re going to do something, follow through and do it.”  “Don’t criticize people. You don’t know what’s happening in their lives.”  “Using something that isn’t yours is the same as stealing.”  “Don’t wear white after Labor Day.”

Her advice sometimes went in one ear and out the other, but I can still remember the times I learned the hard way that being a greedy, selfish, impatient, and unfashionable person will bite you in the ass in the end. Sometimes karma is instantaneous.

Three experiences I had as a child that still resonate:

1. I was at Bell Wick Bowl for Saturday bowling, having brought a quarter for the pop machine, being allowed to buy one bottle of pop while I was there. The bowling alley had one of those pop machines where the narrow neck and top of the bottle is sticking out, but the fat butt of the bottle is trapped in a metal gate. Putting your quarter in the machine releases the gate so you can pull out a bottle. This was back in the day where machines used technology from Medieval Europe and the pop had cancer in it.

I walked over to the machine and Debbie W, one of my classmates, was there. “Let’s try pulling out two pop bottles at the exact same time and we’ll get two pops for one quarter,” she said.

I was very skeptical. Life just didn’t seem that easy to me, and I was only in the fourth grade. I was smart and moral and my mother’s daughter. “OK,” I said.  I was also very suggestible and prone to peer pressure.

I put in my quarter and Debbie and I simultaneously pulled on a cream soda and a root beer and instead of both bottles coming out, neither gate opened and we ended up with nothing.

Lesson learned: When you have a quarter at the bowling alley, there will always be someone who forgot hers and who will try to even the playing field.

2. I wanted the Batman theme song on a 45 and I wanted it bad. My cousin Jimmy was due to come visit within a matter of days and the plan was that our moms were going to take us to Hill’s to buy us each the Batman theme song. I was giddy with anticipation. And I was at Loblaw’s doing the grocery shopping with my mom when I saw that some unknown band had recorded the Batman theme song and was selling it on a cardboard display rack in grocery stores. Long story short, I convinced my mom that I needed the Batman theme song NOW. I knew it wasn’t the version I wanted, I knew Jimmy would be mad, but the thought of having it in my hands right now won out.

Lesson learned: That Batman song sucked, no matter who played it. Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na Batman! Who writes lyrics like that?

3. I was really, really little when I got Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors paper dolls. I don’t know how I acquired them, but only that shortly after they came into my possession, my mother had to scrub the bathroom floor. I asked politely several times if she could stop scrubbing the floor and cut out the paper dolls for me, but she said I had to wait until she was finished. I believe “criminently” was thrown about. I clearly couldn’t wait. Joseph was nearly naked, wearing only a pair of tighty-whiteys that looked like they were made of burlap. (Could Joseph had been Mormon, by chance?) And the Coat of Many Colors, as well as several other less colorful ensembles, were trapped in the book.

I took my little round scissors and cut out the best outfit myself - the Coat of Many Colors, of course. I couldn’t figure out why it wouldn’t stay on Joseph. “You forgot to cut out the tabs,” my mom said when she had finished scrubbing the bathroom floor. She cut out the other clothes for me, tabs and all, but the Coat of Many Freakin’ Colors was ruined!

Lesson learned: A clean bathroom floor is more important that Old Testament cut-outs and little kids are stupid.

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