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Who Knew? Learning Things the Hard Way

Live Long Enough, and You Might Learn Something

Sometimes it seems we’re just destined to learn things the hard way. I usually try to avoid that, but hey! life happens and sometimes it comes with a boot to the head.

Sometimes, I’m clearly responsible. OK, that’s on me. I probably hadn’t thought a problem through properly, made a snap decision, and then walked confidently right into a non-pliable brick wall. Ouch, lesson learned.

Sometimes, the boot came because I just didn’t know any better, but still … aarrgghh! Painful, aggravating lesson served right up. Thanks, life, I really needed that today.

And sometimes, I think the universe just needs a conveniently-placed someone to come along at precisely the right moment and … BAM! … let a little steam off at that person’s expense.

Whatever it is, hopefully the lesson (if there is one) will be learned and never have to be repeated. Some lessons make great stories and help to warn others who may themselves soon be in similar situations. Here are a few of mine, not that any are particularly earth-shattering, but hopefully may be somewhat entertaining:

1. Always consider the downside before taking a risk

I learned this one the hard way when I was 9 years old. The much cooler, older kids in my neighborhood were showing off their vastly superior bike-riding skills by riding around without any hands on their handle bars. I vowed I was going to learn how, too, by going to the rockiest, unpaved road I could find and practice. I figured that if I could master that mess of a road, I could ride without hands ANYWHERE.

Well, I don’t think I got too far before I was tumbling over those handlebars and landing on my forearm on a sizeable sharp rock. Nothing was broken, but the forearm I landed on was torn up pretty badly and I couldn’t even pick out all the smaller stones that seemed to be embedded into it. Somehow, I managed to pedal my way home, where my mother, who had a hard time dealing with blood, had to call the nurse living a few doors down to help clean up my arm and bandage it up.

I never did learn to ride my bike without hands. And after that day, I was perfectly OK with it.

2. Delaying a nasty job can make it only worse

I’m not on friendly terms with bugs. The bigger the bug, the more I try to avoid it. No problem when both the bug and I are outside – I figure that I’m on its turf. But when our encounter takes place indoors, specifically MY indoors, in MY home … well, that’s warfare.

I’d like to be able to say that I’m one of those tender-hearted, caring Good Samaritans who would gently scoop up the offending insect and carefully place it outdoors. Nope. Well, the one exception is the stinkbug, mostly because it doesn’t have the sense to even get out of the way once it knows it’s been spotted. Those I will scoop up with a whisk broom and pan and fling out the door into the wild blue yonder. It’s up to them and their stinkbug deity-of-choice to navigate landing in one piece. But at least they have a fighting chance.

Not so with roaches. Ugh! Can’t stand them and I do everything I can to prevent them from entering the house. But sometimes, I’ll come downstairs at night and flick on a light, only to freeze in horror as a roach and I suddenly stare at one another before each of us takes off in a different direction. The roach, for a dark corner or crack in the baseboard. Me, for a can of Raid or whatever else is handy.

Sometimes that handy “whatever else” is a big, heavy book that can be dropped or slammed hard on top of the invader. It’s a good feeling to see it land on its target. The not so great part is knowing that, at some point, the book will have to be picked up. Then, unless I can get my husband to do it, not only do I have a dead roach to dispose of, I have a disgustingly smashed dead roach to deal with. Not to mention having to clean off the book.

Lesson learned. I take the extra time now to locate that can of Raid. Chemical warfare has become my first and last weapon of choice: so much easier to clean up and dispose of the bug body. And I can only hope that the spray will kill off or at least deter any other vermin lurking about.

3. Know the limits of your household appliances

Disposals are wonderful devices. You throw things into them, run the water, turn on the switch, and whoosh! All gone.

Occasionally, the disposal is given more than it can handle, in which case the water won’t go down, no matter how long the switch it turned on. That’s usually not too much of a problem. Turn off the disposal, poke a knife down through the water, stir things up a bit, and it’ll generally resolve itself.

But who knew that celery could bring a kitchen disposal to its knees? My husband was making a smoothie and throwing all sorts of veggie bits and pieces into the sink. Guess what we learned the hard way? Evidently, that the long fibers in celery pieces can unwind, twine around the disposal deep down in its mechanism, and bring it to a screeching halt. After fiddling with the disposal for a long while, we had to get a handyman to take the thing apart to get it working again.

Lesson learned: throw everything larger than small scraps into a garbage can (or compost bin) and let the disposal mostly work on draining standing water from your sink.

4. “Avert the squirt”

Here’s one from the new mommy playback. Parents of little boys learn pretty quickly to have a cloth on hand when you’re about to change a baby’s diaper. For everyone else out there, unless you’d like to risk getting a shot of baby pee straight into your face, quickly cover the baby’s nether region with the cloth as you’re removing a wet or soiled diaper before you can slide a clean one into place. Believe me, better a cloth than your face. Evidently, the cooler air triggers the baby’s system into releasing whatever has been stored in there as soon as the warm messy diaper is removed. You’re welcome.

(I’ve also heard from other parents that baby girls can shoot a #2 horizontally on occasion, so be on the lookout there. Fortunately, I never experienced that, but I wouldn’t be surprised.)

5. Froot Loops do double duty

I’ve passed this lesson on to every parent preparing to potty-train their little boy. Because it WORKS.

Tired of seeing missed toilet shots on the bathroom floor? Even those little musical toddler potties won’t help if your little boy thinks it’s fun to test his aim everywhere but where it’s intended to go. Try this: throw a few colorful Froot Loops into the toilet and tell your little guy to sink them any way he can. The game of hitting and watching brightly colored Froot Loops bounce around inside the bowl beats just about any video game. And it’ll improve his aim, so good-bye messy floors.

Just make sure your kid doesn’t reach into the bowl when you’re not looking and eats the Froot Loops. (Don’t ask.)

6. Introduce your kid to Monty Python at your own peril

I promise, I’m done with the potty stuff. Moving on to the teen years... it’s great to find ways to bond with your child. When they get to the point where they’ve decided that you just don’t know anything relevant because you’re SO OLD, introduce them to Monty Python. They won’t look at you the same after that.

My son and I especially had fun enjoying Monty Python and the Holy Grail together. Pure gold in there, plenty of fun quotable material, but just be prepared to have it hurled back at you at any given moment. For example, you’re having “the talk” and afterwards you ask, “Is there anything you want to ask me?” And you get, “Yes….”

Even parents are allowed an eyeroll once in a while.

7. Don’t tell your daughter the mistakes you made at her age

It sounds like a great idea, right? Have a serious conversation with your daughter and share your stories of the mistakes you’d made at her age. All so that she could learn from them and not repeat them, thereby avoiding the heartaches you experienced. Yeah, right.

More likely, you’ll hear: “Well, you did (this, that, or the other thing), so why can’t I?!” Maybe it’s better to not reveal too much and let her think you were once a paragon of righteous living.

8. There is such a thing as a tennis widow

You’ve heard of the term “golf widow?” That’s a woman who never sees her husband on weekends or even some weeknights, because he spends all his free time playing golf. I had no idea that tennis could be one of them.

My hubby is on the tennis courts constantly in practice or in play, and when he’s not, he’s watching a tennis tournament on TV. And there always seems to be a tournament going on somewhere around the world.

When I was dating, I knew plenty of guys who were totally into one sport or another, usually football, baseball, soccer … the usual suspects. All well and good, but it wasn’t my thing and I really didn’t see myself with a hubby who was that much of an enthusiast. Oh, well! Now that my husband’s retired, it seems like it’s tennis every day, just about all day. Tennis on TV, tennis talk at the dinner table. Tennis bags, racquets, clothes all over the house. I tried it myself, but while I’m athletic, I have some trouble with depth perception - and it just didn’t work for me.

Truth be told, I don’t mind so much these days. Tennis keeps him busy and fit, and gives me some much-craved alone time to do the things I enjoy, like voice over and writing these blogs.

9. Don’t spoil your spouse … too much. It’ll come back to bite you when he retires.

I’m busy trying to retrain my newly retired husband. It’s not going as well as I’d like.

While he was working long, demanding hours, I took up the brunt of the household chores: cooking, cleaning up, laundry, etc. Partly because I enjoyed cooking and partly because I cared that all the other chores were done RIGHT. Meaning, my way and to my higher standards.

Well, now I get what I paid for, because he’s not showing much motivation to do any more, now that he has plenty of time on his hands. I’ve moved on to the rewards system: Thank you for changing the burned out light bulbs! Thank you for taking out the mounds of dirty trash! Thank you for ordering from Amazon that one specialty item that you used to expect me to run all over town to find!

Throw in a favorite dinner of his and he’s slightly more inclined to help out. I think this used to be called using my “feminine wiles.” Not to manipulate as much as to persuade, encourage, etc. But it might have been much easier if I hadn’t taken on so much as my own responsibility all those years ago. Ah, well, another piece of advice for my daughter … which is probably the one piece of advice she WILL take.

10. Be positive and never give up on yourself

Life’s too short to create problems for yourself. Even when things are not going well (2020, anyone?!), there’s always the hope that things will get better. We live in a world of polarity, where in our lifetimes, we’ll experience at one time or another the height of joy and a fulfilling sense of belonging and its counterpart, the depth of loss and rejection.

As a teenager, I knew two older women who had both experienced the loss of their adult children. One woman, whose daughter died by suicide, was so overcome with grief that she literally lost her voice from that point forward. Yet, she forged ahead and poured all her energy into her work. Her heart was broken, but her spirit was not, and she persevered.

The other woman lost a son from cancer and simply could not cope. Her focus was on her lost son, despite having a close-knit extended family with her other children and grandchildren, most of whom lived nearby. Her loss defined her and she gave up on any future, and died before her time.

Our story is not finished until we are gone from this life. Lonely men and women have found love in their later years. New careers have started after old ones fallen by the wayside. I’ve learned that a positive outlook works wonders for our health and overall well-being. There’s truly a Law of Attraction: that which we focus on and work to become, will draw like people and circumstances to ourselves. Positive or negative energy, it works in the same way. It won’t be an instantaneous experience - so don’t call me a Pollyanna! (link) – but it’s there, nonetheless.

There’s a philosophy that says that we can manifest what we choose to create. Positive outlooks often generate positive results. And despite our ups and downs, we have hope that the future will be brighter. There’s a reason why hope was found still in Pandora’s box after she had released all the plagues and woes in the world. As long as we remain human, there’s always the hope – a positive energy – that things can work out.