Thursday, May 9, 2013

Life's Little Instructions (with a twist)

When I was in middle school, my Mom bought me a little paperback book that I have kept by my bedside ever since. It's called Life's Little Instruction Book and it was written by a father to his son. The book is a compilation of 511 "suggestions, observations, and reminders on how to live a happy and rewarding life" (according to the cover).

I love this book, even if I don't necessarily agree with some of the instructions in it (for example, #81: Avoid sarcastic remarks. Yeah, sure, I'll do that... Or #124: Know how to change a tire. Really?!? People still do that?!?). If nothing else, I find it fascinating to see what one parent would want his kid to know; how one person packages up his life experiences and hands them along for his child's benefit.

Of course, I find huge irony in the idea of an instruction book on life. I find that most of the time, no matter how much advice I have gathered or research I have done, my very best learning always seems to come from my own life experiences. A little paperback isn't usually going to cut it. Still, I love the book and the sentiment behind it.

My mother is not one to offer unsolicited advice; I love that about her. While she teaches me so much about life, it never feels like she's giving me instructions. Instead, it feels like she's sitting next to me on my ride; always there to talk, to offer directions, to help me figure out which route is likely the best one. She lets me drive, but she'll take the wheel if I'm not able to.

Despite that my Mom is not the type to draft any sort of list of life instructions, there is so much that she has taught me that I want my own kids to know. And so I arrive at this Mother's Day post.

Below is my version of Life's Little Instruction Book, with a twist. The twist is that these are all instructions that I've learned from my Mom; things that I think she would say if I asked her to sit down and make this list. I compiled these suggestions, observations, and reminders in the mindset that I was telling my own children about what my Mom has taught me. I believe whole-heartedly in almost all of these instructions and where I may not completely agree, I have noted so with an asterisk.

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there. I'm certain that your children could make a similarly long list about all that you have taught them. And as I've learned in my 33 years, that list just keeps on growing...

*  *  *

Life's Little Instructions
Inspired by your Grandmother, Anne Michelle Lang

For Teddy and Annabel
Mother's Day 2013

1.  No work meeting is ever so important that you can't interrupt it if you need me.    

2.  Let your spouse do things that make him/her happy even if you don't understand them. 

3.  Don't be afraid to think one thing even if everyone else thinks something else. 

4.  It's never too early to start Christmas shopping. 

5.  You can never have enough containers or blank journals. 

6.  You can never over-label.  

7.  When having a difficult conversation, always think of the other person's perspective. 

8.  Don't be afraid to have really high standards. Then stick to those standards. 

9.  If you see something cute in a gift shop, buy at least five of them.

10.  Always keep a scrapbook.

11.  Test out lots of paint colors and view them in all different sorts of light before you paint the whole wall.

12.  If you don't like new furniture the day after it arrives, it won't ever grow on you.

13.  Always keep an extra pair of glasses.

14.  Bring a big umbrella to the beach.

15.  Always support your kids' interests, even if you aren't at all interested.

16.  Go to the circus.

17.  Go to plays and concerts.

18.  Splurge on the good seats.

19.  Be on time.

20.  Don't settle for mediocre. Especially mediocre doctors.

21.  Buy lots of new books soon after the school year ends.

22.  Don't be afraid to ask questions.

23.  If the computer isn't working, make sure it's on.

24.  Find a good handyman or woman.  If possible, marry him or her.  If not possible, pay them well.

25.  Don't dig up the front lawn until you have a clear plan.

26.  Buy a fake Christmas tree.

27.  Read as much as you possibly can.  Even if the books are "total crap."

28.  Go apple-picking but don't feel obligated to pick apples. 

29.  Find a job near where you live.

30.  Smile and laugh a lot.

31.  Remember that being smart and kind is infinitely more important than being good looking. 

32.  If you throw a party, always have brie, bread, and extra dessert.

33.  When you clean the basement, order Papa Gino's for lunch.

34.  Undercook brownies.

35.  Rare meat is the yummiest.  * I completely disagree. Order your meat well done!

36.  People only hurt themselves when they exercise.  * Exercise anyways.

37.  Beware of mopeds. 

38.  Don't ever ride a motorcycle.

39.  Swear only if you're joking or in traffic. 

40.  Drink responsibly.  If with co-workers, don't drink at all.

41.  Never ever drink and drive.

42.  If you aren't going to check your voicemails, say so on your recording. 

43.  Don't expect to have fun with a newborn. It's utterly boring. 

44.  Treat anyone who watches your kids very, very well.

45.  Go to the movies.

46.  Don't buy clothes that need to be dry cleaned.

47.  Let your kids be themselves.

48.  Listen.

49.  Watch.

50.  Think.

51.  Put on good music and sing when you clean.

52.  Buying fabric counts as quilting.

53.  Support artists.

54.  Watch the Olympics.

55.  Keep up with People Magazine.

56.  Listen to NPR.

57.  Give the garbage men a big Christmas gift.

58.  Draft out the text of a card before you write it for real.

59.  RSVP as instructed.

60.  Embrace a day of cleaning the basement with someone you love.

61.  Buy your kids Legos.

62.  Enter contests you think you'll never win.

63.  Dream big. Really big.

64.  Watch anything written by Aaron Sorkin.

65.  Watch the following movies once a year: A Few Good Men, American President, Dave, Pride and Prejudice. 

66.  Find good excuses to get out of going to the Thanksgiving Day football game.  * Go to the football game. No excuses allowed.

67.  Don't ever eat the outside of a loaf of bread if there's still more of the soft inside to be eaten.

(I took this photo of Annabel in early 2013 when I turned around in the car and noticed that she had done just what her Grandmother would have done -- eaten out the inside of the bagel! Genes are very powerful things!)

68.  Visit the bead store.

69.  Stock up on Diet Coke.  * But drink lots of water!

70.  Try the key lime pie.

71.  Play cards with family.

72.  On work days, get up as late as you can so that you can still get there on time.

73.  Look at people when they're talking to you.

74.  Wear your seatbelt.

75.  Always be thinking about what you could do to help.

76.  Ask for help when you need it.

77.  Tell people when they're doing a great job.

78.  When deciding between sitting by the lake or getting a massage, sit by the lake.

79.  Make homemade oatmeal cookies and chocolate chip cookies.

80.  Be weary of fanatical sports fans.

81  Avoid traffic.

82.  Follow through.

83.  Write things down immediately so you don't forget them.

84.  Sometimes just being there is all that someone really needs.

85.  Make sure you marry someone who is unselfish.

86.  Enjoy vanilla milkshakes from McDonald's.

87.  Always keep your options open.

88.  Revise your writing.

89.  Don't send offensive emails from your phone. It's too easy to mistakenly send it to the wrong person.

90.  Build big shelves in your basement.

91.  You can never have enough Christmas, Halloween, or Easter decorations.

92.  Forgive people that you love.

93.  Always wear comfortable clothes and comfortable shoes.

94.  For Annabel: You don't need a lot of make up. You are already so beautiful.

95.  Add color to your life. 

96.  Always carry a pen. 

97.  Always have someone with you if you are in the hospital. 

98.  Give to Good Will. 

99.  Spoil your kids on Christmas. 

100.  Relax on vacation. 

101.  Know that you're stronger than you could ever even imagine. 

102.  Never forget how loved you are. 

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