Many years ago, when my brother and I were in middle school, we found the perfect gift for our dad. Made by Hallmark’s Shoebox line, it was called Dad’s Lecture-an-Hour Clock, a wall clock whose center was a cartoon of a dad’s head and whose hands were the dad’s arms. Each hour on the clock was represented by the title of a dad lecture, many of them variations of the ones my brother and I had heard, in some cases repeatedly, over the years. Nine o’clock — “I’m Not Mad, I’m Disappointed”; 3 o’clock — “Money: Where It Grows, What It’s Worth”; 5 o’clock — “The Meaning of Respect”; 7 o’clock — “If Everybody Jumped Off A Bridge”; and 8 o’clock — “Bullies Are Really Scared Inside.”
My dad was well known for his lectures in our house. They usually came when you needed them (though you’d never tell him that): after you’d lost a big game, forgotten a responsibility, failed a test, been burned by a friend. They often happened in the car, or in the garage in the car, when you got home and still weren’t over whatever the issue was. Sometimes they’d happen at bedtime when he came in to say goodnight — talks that would end with a kiss on the top of your head. The lectures could be long, delving into the specifics of the incident at hand, what you could have done better, what you could do differently next time. Or they could be shorter and more sweeping. He always left you with a parting thought to consider, “Tomorrow is another day”; “It is what it is, honey”; “If we only had perfect friends, we wouldn’t have any”; “Don’t let them get you down.”
As the mother of two daughters, I have found one of the most interesting aspects of parenting to be how much of what your own parents said and did comes back to you when you become a parent. It started for me when my first was a newborn and I found myself singing her a lullaby that my mom had sung to me about seeing the moon (and the moon seeing me) “shine through the leaves of the old oak tree.” I somehow remembered every word even though I hadn’t heard the song in decades.
As my girls have gotten older, I’ve found this pattern repeating. When faced with a parenting moment, the words that come out of my mouth are often verbatim quotes from my own parents. Along with my dad’s full stable of lectures, my mom had her own favorite pieces of advice including the always wise, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything” (extra points for shouting this one from the front seat of the car while the kids are squabbling in the back); “treat everyone the way you want to be treated”; and “negativity is a bad habit.”
And so, on a recent afternoon driving my 10-year-old home from a losing soccer match that she had really, really wanted to win, I was not at a loss for words. “Remember this feeling and use it as fuel for the next one,” I said. “You’ll have many opportunities to win this season if you continue to work hard.” “You tried your hardest, honey — that’s all you can do.”
My hand-me-down encouragements were met with responses I recognized as well: eye-rolls, sighs, and a few emphatic I know! s. (Six o’clock — “Watch That Attitude.”)
That’s OK. Based on my own experience, I know that at least some of what I say to my children is getting through. Some of it will be there in 10, 20, 30 years and beyond. And hopefully, it will help them navigate life or at least bring some comfort. I know it has for me.
I can still hear my mom’s sweet voice singing softly to me about the moon. I can still feel my dad’s kiss on the top of my head as he tells me tomorrow is another day.