The compliments. The birthday party. The cancer
Columnist Steve Lange recalls three times he's gotten advice that changed his life. Or, at least it should have.
Three times, I have been given advice that changed my life. Or, at least it should have.
'Be a gracious receiver.'
Apparently, my nightly stint with the boxing speed bag, coupled with my living room planking regimen, helped me lose weight a few years back. It was enough to make people say things like "You must have lost weight," and "You don't look as droopy and out of shape as the last time I saw you."
There was a time when I would have responded to such glowing compliments with something self-deprecating like "Oh, that? It's probably just stomach flu. I'm sure I'll gain it back as I can start dragging myself to McDonald's five times a week again."
But when people mentioned my weight loss, I said "Thank you!" and then went on to explain in great detail how, with my new diet, I only drink three liquids: water, coffee, and beer. Not necessarily in that order, volume-wise.
The gracious receiver applies to criticism as well. Occasionally, I will get a letter to the editor at Rochester Magazine that says something like (and this is an actual letter): "The so-called 'editor' thinks that whatever he says is gospel. You can tell by looking at his stupid picture that he thinks he's god's gift to writers." Instead of wasting my time with a long argument about how I don't photograph well, I usually just respond with "Thanks for the note. We always appreciate reader feedback."
Though I do address the email to "Dear Jerkface."
'Never make a threat or promise you can't keep'
Wife Lindy and I decided on this mantra early in our parenting careers, and it was as much for us as it was for our kids.
We learned our lessons, slowly. When our oldest child, Hadley, was 5, we planned our first full-blown, preschoolers-at-our-house birthday party. The night before, we decorated our living room so that it looked more like Sesame Street than some of the touring productions I've seen.
That night, Hadley started coming down with a cold. Our only chance to save the party — our party! — was to make Hadley take cold medicine, hope she got some sleep, and then pump her full of sugar the next day.
Hadley refused to take the medicine.
In desperation to guarantee my daughter's happiness, I made the following threat: "If you don't take this medicine, I'm going to spank your butt."
Hadley still refused.
I didn't want to spank Hadley. I just wanted us to have the best birthday ever. I couldn't back down from my absurd threat.
Finally, I put one drop of medicine in a can of Sprite, and told Hadley she could take a sip of that.
That night, she went to bed with a spanking. Possibly the mildest spanking ever administered, but still. The next day, she woke up sick, and we rescheduled the party.
Hadley does not remember the party, or the spanking incident.
Nearly two decades later, though, I clearly remember standing in that bathroom, having to follow through on a threat I shouldn't have made in the first place.
'Don't worry about the things you can't control'
When I was 8, my mother was battling cancer. She had probably already lost her battle at that point, though I didn't yet realize it. It didn't keep her from laughing.
There was the morning, then, when she walked out of the shower and into the living room, where my older siblings and I were watching TV. My mother, wearing just a towel, struck a pose behind us and said "I can't do a thing with my hair this morning."
We all turned around. And there stood my mom, modeling with one leg in front of the other, completely bald. She put her hand up by her head to pretend she was pushing up the bottom of her hair — you know the pose — and started laughing, and the other kids did, too.
I did not.
I did, in fact, run upstairs to my bedroom to slam the door and fling myself on my bed. My mother was right behind.
I was bawling, and I didn't even know why. My mother, though, neither lectured me about storming out of a room nor comforted me with an "Oh, Sweetie" story. She certainly didn't apologize.
She simply said something like "Sometimes you just have to laugh about the things you can't control."
She'd be gone within a few months. But that memory — that advice — has lived with me forever.
Steve Lange is the interim GM of the Post Bulletin and editor of Rochester Magazine. His column appears every Tuesday.