Some parental advice is worth keeping, some not. Here’s a not. Mom used to tell me, You can’t get married until you can put your hands in hot water. By this warning she figured she could get me to wash the dishes without having to nag. And she was right. Time and again, I took the hot-water challenge and proudly displayed my bright red hands. Flash forward half a century. I’m standing at the kitchen sink, cussing at the never-ending pile of dirty dishes whilst applying yet another layer of extra-moisturizing-age-defying protective skin cream. Mom’s words and her accompanying self-satisfied smirk appear from some dark square of my memory like froth along the edges of a dish sponge.
There’s something deeply satisfying about dish sponge froth. To visibly lift the crud from a pan and rinse it away with a stream of hot water is something akin to our satisfaction with squeezing blackheads. Dr. Pimple Popper, aka dermatologist Dr. Sandra Lee, garnered an international following which began by posting a YouTube video of a blackhead extraction. But there’s a flip side to this phenomenon. Things that look like they should come clean but don’t are deeply annoying, such as cringe-worthy latent memories made manifest. Such as Mom’s warning. And worse, my heeding her warning. Subjecting this kind of mind-crud to a hot water rinse just seems to add more froth.
I shouldn’t pick on Mom. My oldest son, Mac, reminded me just this past weekend of all the cringe-worthy advice I gave him. He’s enough grist for a comedy series. Fortunately, wittingly or not, I also seem to have dished out some little gems of wisdom along the way. And its these gems which along with the foibles make the relationship we cherish, one underpinned by humility and humour. (Ditto for my youngest son, Jake!)
My Mom also gave me some gems. Some of her best advice is neither profound nor original, but rather the kind taken from the pages of some parenting manual wedged between the rocks of a prehistoric cave. It survives like an heirloom, passed with an air of high-minded sagacity from one generation to the next. But like many heirlooms, sometimes its value isn’t apparent until those later experience-informed years. Thus it is so that while I look wearily at my cluttered kitchen counter and nurse my weathered dishpan hands, I think of Mom’s advice. You won’t like everyone and not everyone will like you. And, Life isn’t fair.
Now these bits of advice are truisms, and they are certainly not wisely deployed in all situations. Sometimes life isn’t fair is a crappy, dismissive thing to say. But as general sortals used to clear away the clutter of little things that accumulate a lot of negative psychological weight, Mom’s advice is dead on. I needn’t try to impress anyone with my spotless kitchen, but sometimes the dishes just have to get done.