Long-time readers may recall how much I love quotes. I collect them from a variety of sources and am always on the lookout for new inspiration (last week: a sidewalk plaque outside the NY Public Library + on a wall at the American Museum of Natural History). While formal quotes from famous authors or philosophers are wonderful, I find it equally fascinating to hear what sayings work their way into individual family cultures.
Let’s start with a walk down memory lane…
family sayings from my childhood
So near, but yet so far. I use this one with my kids regularly and it gives me warm fuzzies every time as this line originated with my maternal grandmother. She was particularly fond of saying this when someone narrowly missed a shot in Crokinole. She and my brother would organize weekend-long Crokinole tournaments whenever they were together, and she had cause to say So near but yet so far regularly during those epic events.
It builds character. My father would say this about everything. Wet sneakers on a hike in the rain? It builds character. Shoveling the walkways after a big snowstorm? It builds character. Let’s just say, by my Dad’s reckoning at least, I should have a lot of character.
Did you do your best? That’s all I ask of you. My parents had high expectations for their kids, but they never demanded perfection. If I got a test back with a less-than-stellar grade, it would be met with a simple: Did you do your best? That’s all I ask of you.
Obey. In modern contexts, I suppose Mom and Dad were relatively strict disciplinarians, but as Baby #4 it never really felt that way. There was an established structure for discipline but, beyond that, we actually had quite of bit of freedom. I spent lots of my childhood roaming, didn’t have enormous chore lists, and they never grounded us. We were taught to respect our elders and do our best but there was a fair amount of leeway in many regards. But if Mom made a request or gave a command, she meant it. If we put up resistance, she would reply in a steady, calm – but unmistakeably “Don’t Mess With Me” tone – Obey. If we made it to the point she just said Obey, we knew she meant business. No lecture or dithering or arguments or repeatedly asking us to do something. She’d just say: Obey.
Immediately or sooner. I had forgotten all about this line, but Mom recently brought it up and I couldn’t believe I didn’t remember my parents saying this! When do you want me to set the table for supper? Immediately or sooner. When do the cookies need to go into the oven? Immediately or sooner.
frost family sayings
And then you grow up and leave childhood homes; old routines and habits make way for new, blended family cultures, including a curated selection of go-to family sayings. The kids would likely be better sources for this information, but here are a handful that are in regular rotation in our house.
You can do hard things. We say this to the kids a lot. We don’t try to downplay that certain things are hard or unpleasant, but do want to affirm that they can do hard things!
You are a joy and a blessing. I read this line in a book years and years ago and say it to the kids regularly, especially at bedtime. I have to admit I don’t always feel this way in every moment of my parenting journey but it’s still always true. They are a joy and they are a blessing.
I have high expectations and I know you can meet them. I’ve started saying this after reading Grit by Angela Duckworth where she mentions an iteration of this line. I do have high expectations but I like to think they’re reasonable. Mostly I’ve been saying this in the context of interpersonal relationships between the kids and/or with their friends. (Eg. I have high expectations of how kind/compassionate you can be to your sibling, and I know you can meet them).
A few weeks ago, right before we headed out on our road trip, I was visiting with a friend and discussing the upcoming rigors of traveling with family. I told her I thought I needed to adopt some mantras and we talked through them together that very evening.
(A note before I start. Years ago I read Dan Harris’ book called 10% Happier. I have always, always been in awe of this title because I love the realism. The book is never promising a story of absolute change (100% Happiness) or rainbows pooping out puppies. Nope. It’s discussing a 10% increase in happiness. Sometimes tiny improvements can feel too slight to celebrate, but 10% is so much better than 0%.)
I digress on this point because none of the following mantras dramatically changed my outlook on this trip. I knew two weeks on the road, with thousands of kilometers of driving, 100+ kilometers of walking, and extreme changes to our schedule were going to be tough. But I do think these mantras made things at least 10% happier/easier. And that’s a win in my books.
- It costs what it costs. I have a very hard time spending money, especially if it seems at all frivolous. I shop sales, buy all my clothes (and many other items) secondhand, and want to think I’m getting the best deal on just about everything. There are lots of motivators from my past that have led me to this point but, needless to say, vacation can be a tough pill to swallow because of the apparent nonstop “frivolous” spending. Hotels, restaurants, entry fees. When we were debating doing a second Broadway show and I was inwardly balking at the price tag? It costs what it costs. I still hate spending money, but repeating this in my head really does seem to help…a bit.
- Choose the bigger life. I’ve been chewing on this one for several years (courtesy of the Happier podcast), but it felt especially relevant for this family trip. As an introvert (who doesn’t like to spend money; see above), saying yes to adventure doesn’t always come naturally. But I know that choosing things that might be slightly more uncomfortable in the short term, often makes for the best memories long-term. On our last full night in Toronto, John wanted to see the skyline after dusk. We ended up walking a LONG way to get to a specific view of the city. I was tired and every ounce of me wanted to turn around for home, but I said: Choose the bigger life. And the view was absolutely worth it!
On our way through Canada to the US, we passed within 15 minutes of Niagara Falls. It was a bit of a nuisance to route to the falls and we knew we might have a hassle finding a place to park. We discussed it briefly but, in the context of choosing the bigger life, the answer was obvious. So we went.
- I can’t keep everybody happy. This one is huge for me. I hate, hate, hate (x 10,000) conflict and really do want everyone (including myself) to be happy at all times. And it’s just not possible. I told myself this a lot on the trip (one child wants to do/eat/see/watch X, while the other wants to do/eat/see/watch Y = only one child is happy). I was frustrated regularly by my lack of control over keeping everyone happy, but repeating this line did help me manage my expectations…slightly.
- This will feel different tomorrow. This mantra ended up being my favourite, but I didn’t come up with it until partway through the trip. Last Monday was…not so fun. It had some great moments, but I ended the day crying in our hotel room which wasn’t exactly Highlight Reel material. It rained/was hot and muggy all day. My period started. The kids were tired and grumpy. I forgot most Broadway shows don’t run on Mondays, which meant the evening I had originally planned wasn’t going to happen. The kids were underwhelmed/overwhelmed by city life and insisted on fixating on the negative: too many people, too much cigarette smoke, Wolfville is so much better (true on all counts, but it’s New York City! How can you not love this place?). At one point I told myself, This will feel different tomorrow. I didn’t try to spin it into: This was a fully awesome day. But a simple acknowledgment that the events of the day would feel different in retrospect.
Thursday night was another tough evening. Despite a good day of travel, we were all emotionally and physically tired from adventuring. We had a gorgeous lighthouse stop planned and all was going well until someone (who will remain nameless) tickled someone (who will also remain nameless) and that someone did not enjoy being tickled, bumped into a rock as a result of said tickle, and a gigantic meltdown ensued. I was beyond frustrated. Please everyone be happy, I wanted to scream (but kept to a dull yell once we reached the car). While I really should have been repeating Mantra #3 above on repeat, I did not and chose to ugly cry (that time of the month + 42 hours of driving = an emotionally sensitive Mama), but after a hot shower I told myself – and believed – this will feel different tomorrow. And it did.
As part of my evening wind-down, I happened to read Laura Vanderkam’s blog post about a recent family vacation. I appreciated how she starts off a paragraph by saying “we had a good time” and then goes on to document a number of things that went wrong including poor sleep, an ear infection that required a trip to the hospital, and sunburns. But then she wrote something that turned my day around. “My goal…was to have…a few enjoyable moments, and that definitely happened.”
I turned to John triumphantly and said: we had lots of enjoyable moments. If my goal was to have a few – or even lots – of enjoyable moments (instead of wanting to keep everybody happy and have only enjoyable moments which just isn’t reasonable with the dynamics of a young family or the realities of LIFE), then our vacation was an overwhelming success.
So cue my newest vacation/life mantra:
- My goal is to have at least a few enjoyable moments…
How about you? Any treasured phrases from your childhood, or things you currently say to friends, family or coworkers? Any vacation mantras you’ve been incorporating this year to make things 10% happier?
Whatever you’re doing this long weekend I hope you have many enjoyable moments.