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One to Grow On

December 7, 2011

We just bought our plane tickets to head to my family’s house for the holidays, which got me reflecting a bit on the spirit of the season. When I was younger my family had a phrase—one to grow on—that little extra push could set us apart, which could be applied to many things (but I remember it the most with sports, regarding a few more sit-ups or another lap around the track). I find myself thinking about all those things family and friends teach us along the way. Here are my top 10 (plus one to grown on) words of wisdom (or just plain actions I’ve admired) from the loved ones in my life; some, I wish, were still around to continue teaching me. These are my one to grow on moments pushing me to be better.

Everything in moderation
Who: My paternal grandmother
I remember gorging myself on a gigantic hunk of cheddar cheese at my grandparents’ house when I was a teenager. My grandmother told me I could have it, but to be mindful of my portions. Guilted, I put the cheese back in the refrigerator (but it was so good!). This is also the same woman who drank exactly one beer (straight out of the can) every Independence Day. What will power. Eat the slice, but not the whole block! In the same vein, my other grandmother, my Grammy, has a similar story one I’ve dubbed “A lady doesn’t need all that meat at lunch.” Once used to explain the petite 4 oz. portion of filet mignon she likes to special order from her country club. PS – That story’s title makes you think she was talking about something entirely different. Ew.

Call a cab
Who: My brother
Everyone in my family likes a good cocktail or two. And once, my brother explained to me the importance of calling a cab instead of getting behind the wheel, even when you think you’re okay to drive. He reasoned that the money you spend on the taxi and the ordeal to retrieve your car the next day far outweighs the price of a potential DUI, court expenses, lawyer fees, or worse. Agreed and spoken like a true accountant. Pay now or pay later.

Pack efficiently
Who: My father
To my parents’ credit, all four of us kids got the gift of understanding the world through travel. But you’ll never catch any of us dragging more than one suitcase through an airport. Which is achieved, I’m certain, by all of us practicing the art of smart packing taught by our father. The military man in him had a very efficient way of packing for a trip. His tight-roll method for slacks and shirts I still use to this day, and I am always surprised how much I can fit in a suitcase. He pushed for streamlining items and wearing staples like jeans a few times. He also stressed the importance of not wearing clothes in a foreign country that scream, “Hey y’all, I’m an obnoxious American!” Very useful.

Put on lipstick
Who: My Grammy (see also “Everything in Moderation”)
Well, maybe not lipstick, per se, but at least put a little effort into it if you’re stepping out the front door. It only takes one time of bumping into an ex-boyfriend at Target sporting greasy hair held by a Hello Kitty barrette paired with raccoon smudged eye makeup from the night before while wearing too-tight yoga pants and a graphics tee shirt that says something terrible like “My favorite color is yellow” before you realize that Grammy, in fact, might know a thing or two.

Strive for something
Who: My older sister
There’s no one else in my life that goes after something quite like my older sister; I both love and admire her for it. Whether it’s breaking college swimming records, running a half-marathon, getting a Ph.D., raising children, or earning a promotion at work, the girl sets a goal and gets it done.

Do what you say
Who: Two of my closest friends
It’s interesting how through the years we have relationships with people at different phases of our life that might be very similar. My best friend from college and my best friend in Atlanta are very alike in how they go about life. And by gosh, these two walk the talk. If they say they’ll be somewhere, count on it. If either of them sets the alarm for a 6 a.m. run, well, you better believe they are pounding the pavement before the sun comes up. They say it and it’s done. These two are also the same sort who will bring over a batch of homemade soup when you’re sick and remember to send a card every year on your birthday. Salt of the Earth.

Clean up after a dinner party before going to bed
Who: My mother
My parents were social butterflies who threw legendary parties (with an endless supply of vodka gimlets) but somehow always managed to wash the dishes before going to bed. No matter how late. I remembered this sage advice one incredibly slow-moving morning following a ridiculously raucous dinner party my husband and I hosted. I was stuck tossing out beaucoup of half-empty bottles of wine that seemed to be fermenting further with each passing minute and grody remains of a cheese plate while on the cusp of vomiting the entire time. That said, my rough guess on how many wine glasses my parents must’ve shattered in their lifetime with this bit of advice is in the hundreds.

Stand up for yourself
Who: My twin sister
It’s funny that growing up I was the more outgoing twin—a chatterbox who was curious and daring while my sister was shy and quiet for years. By the time we got to high school she didn’t march to that drummer any longer. She was outspoken, opinionated, and was not afraid to back up her own ideas to our parents, peers, or teachers. All in a respectful way of course, but her persuasion also allowed her to live a little and gave her space to experiment and take risks. I mean, years later, that same girl would drive from Baltimore, Maryland to Santa Cruz, California and camp out in the Badlands, all by herself, all because she took a stand.

Get to the root of it
Who: My husband (and family)
Growing up, my family mostly dealt with difficult issues or a crisis like a live grenade being thrown in the middle of a locked and crowded room. Freak out. While my husband’s side is a family of quietly effective problem-solvers. My husband (and his family) taught me that sometimes it’s better to leave it unsaid, or at least wait a bit to figure out the guts of what you’re really upset about instead of dropping bombs. This takes a bit of practice, but I’ve found it a very nice (and healthy) alternative to the wreckage to which I’m accustomed.

Bad news doesn’t get better over time
Who: My father
Oh, this is a DRH-standard all the way around, and it’s one of my favorite unsolicited relics of advice I ever received from my father. It’s the one I use most often and apply to practically any situation. I love it too because it’s sort of the opposite of what’s usually represented with “time healing all things” and just “giving things their due time.” In this case, I’d say he’s right on the money with this nugget. Wishing it away won’t work. Buck up, tell the truth, and move on.

Don’t let it get cold (one to grow on)
Who: My maternal grandfather (see photograph)
Obviously if a plate of food is in front of you, despite a photograph being taken, by all means, eat.