A Father's Journal / Sexting, crystal meth, hypothermia ... Aunt Ellen explains it all
A few weeks ago, I was walking on a nature trail with two of my sisters, my brother and our children, when my sister decided it was time to give the teenage and preteen youth some spontaneous, unsolicited advice.
I have found that teenagers love unsolicited advice. And yet, surprisingly, my nieces and nephew didn't quickly gather around my sister Ellen to hear her wisdom. But that didn't slow her down. She started off bouncing around a few topics. For starters, crystal meth and sexting (sending naked pictures of yourself).
My oldest daughter was a little confused at first -- was her aunt for meth or against it? I told her to wait it out; from years of experience, I could tell that her aunt was just warming up.
There Aunt Ellen stood, by the lake shore in the July sun, holding court. It turns out she was against crystal meth, among numerous other things.
Afterward, my daughter Caroline and I tried to piece together the advice. Here is what we came up with for Aunt Ellen's positions on various things:
Ingesting crystal meth: against.
Underage drinking: against.
Adult drinking: well, everyone is entitled to a cold beer on a hot day.
Sexual predators: against.
Drinking and driving: against.
Being a spoiled brat: against.
Getting caught on a mud flat when the tide is coming in: against.
She also had some memorable quotes.
On tattoos: "They are extremely painful and expensive, and you would have to use your own money to pay for one. I refuse to go halfsies on a tattoo!"
On hand washing: "I am a big fan of hand washing!"
On not seeing yourself as a victim: "Victims get victimized!"
On taking risks: "Don't put yourself in harm's way."
On the early-morning hours: "Always stay home between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. No good can come of being away from home during these hours. Read the police blotter; you'll see I am right!"
On cigarettes and drugs: "Cigarettes will give you a very embarrassing, uncontrollable cough one day. You will have to leave rooms and struggle in your purse to find a cough drop, and strangers will coming up to you and ask, `Are you OK?' repeatedly. Drugs just make you ugly, and they are expensive."
On collisions: "Never leave the scene of an accident; it always results in more trouble, and is immoral."
On temperament: "Don't be a mean girl."
On movies: "Never watch `falsely accused' or `betrayal' movies. This is not how the world usually works. Stick to comedies or historical dramas. You will suffer less paranoia."
By the time she got to the part where she said that the children should work hard in school so they could make something of their lives, the few remaining kids drifted away. The teenagers went back to the cars, and the younger ones went to watching some ducks but not before thanking their aunt for teaching them about hand washing, sexting, crystal meth and movie-induced mental illness.
Ellen comes by her lecturing honestly. When we were growing up, my Aunt Rita would similarly warn us about life's dangers.
"When you get to a hotel, find and pace out all the emergency exits in case of a fire," Aunt Rita advised.
Other bits of wisdom she imparted:
"Always put your hand over your drink; a bee or some other foreign object could fall in."
"Never put a bumper sticker on your car. It might give police a reason to give you a ticket, and they are difficult to remove."
"Always put your wallet in your front pocket. It's harder for people to steal it."
"Never hang your purse on the hook in a public restroom stall's door. It is too easy for someone to reach over and steal it."
My Aunt Rita was also against underage drinking, but shared her niece's acceptance that adults, as long as not driving, could consume an adult beverage or two.
I don't know how much of my sister's advice sunk in. After I went back to my hotel that night, I wondered how much of what we say and do sticks with the kids. I rolled these ideas around in my head as I was pacing off the emergency exits.
Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His "A Father's Journal" appears every other Friday.