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MOTHER'S WORST ADVICE INCLUDED TOSSING OUT BASEBALL CARDS, WARNING AGAINST PIERCED EARS

A young reader named Mike wrote recently to ask what is the worst advice I ever gave my children.

Actually, most of the time my kids lived by Stewart's Law: It is easier to get forgiveness than permission. But that never stopped me from dispensing advice hourly. It's my job. As a parent, I know the rules. Never ask a child if he wants your opinion. He will say no. No matter how it turns out, a slick parent can always find a way to be right.OK, Mike, there were moments when even I had to admit I was wrong. At the risk of breaking the secrecy code of Parents United and possibly losing my lifetime membership, these are some of my less-than-finer moments:

- "Get rid of those boxes of old baseball cards. Who wants to see Pete Rose with his hair down to his shoulders? They're just taking up space."

- "What we're going to do is forget the 2,000-word paper on Frank Lloyd Wright. We're going to bed and get a good night's sleep and tomorrow we can dash it off when we're fresh."

- "Even bullies want to be forgiven. Trust me. You march right up to this thug and say, `I'm going to give you one last chance to apologize.' You'll be surprised."

- "Of course rabbits can swim. Just put him in the water and watch him paddle to shore."

- "I know. All the other girls will be in strapless dresses, but you'll be different because you're covered."

- "Tell him you're eating dinner. He'll call back."

- "Take all your math classes at summer school. You'll thank me next fall."

- "You don't need a cracker to take castor oil. Just bolt it down."

- "If you pierce your ears, you will bleed to death or destroy your brain."

- "She has a nice personality. I'm not asking you to marry her . . . only take her to a movie."

- "I don't care if the car is a classic. You'll never get your money out of it."

- "Look, it's only a puppy. Put it on the back porch even if it cries all night."

- "Call collect."

This is only a partial list, you understand. Upon written request, my kids can send out reams of the bad advice I laid on them. But the system probably won't change. There's another law that says, "Being boss doesn't make you right; it only makes you boss."