Tag Archives: advice

Perfect Fit

“Hopefully I’ll have that again someday.” my son Evan said wistfully over the phone.

“You will!” I encouraged him. “Just give it a while.”

“Best that it’s over but there were still some fun times.” he went on.

“You’ll have that with someone new.” I said. “You’re only nineteen. Plenty of time.”

“Yeah.” he said solemnly. “Just not sure it will happen again or be as good.”

“It will only be better!” I said confidently.

“But how do you know it will be better?” he asked.

Oh no. He wanted an answer.

I’m absolutely no relationship expert. I’ve been in several and calculate I’d have done things differently in every case. I’m just no fountain of good advice. Still, my son’s lamenting after his unpleasant breakup triggered memories and I searched for words of wisdom to help him through this momentary setback.

That strong parental desire to offer profound guidance washed over me. I prepared to launch into weighty philosophical input that would surely embolden him to dismiss his temporary breakup regrets. I took a deep breath and began my lofty speech.

“Well, it’s like this…” I began.

With the spotlight squarely on me and my son listening intently, paying more attention to a parent than any nineteen year old ever has, I went into a panic. Ideas had flashed before me while Evan spoke. Where had they gone? What had I intended to say? What was that clever tidbit again? Gone. All gone. But Evan waited eagerly.

“Well, it’s like this…” I began again. “Relationships are like underwear.”

I had no clue where that came from even as I heard myself say it.

“Ok…?” Evan chuckled in anticipation.

That wasn’t enough? I had to say more?

“You put on a new pair of underwear and it’s great. Feels good, nice change, you like them, and soon find you prefer them over all others. How wonderful life is with this new pair of underwear.”

“Ok…?” Evan chuckled again.

He expected even more? He’s a nineteen year old boy. Time to break it down.

“Well, then one day you realize the new underwear is up your ass.”

Evan chuckled loudly this time. “Ok…?”

“So you say wow, didn’t expect that. You make a few adjustments and you try to move on. It happens again. A few more tries to make things right but it’s just not working. No matter how much you’d loved the new underwear and no matter how many adjustments were made there has now come the point when you realize you need to take them off for good.”

Silence.

“So, unfortunately you say goodbye to that pair but at some point you come across another new pair. You put them on and maybe something about them reminds you too much of the pair that hadn’t worked out so well in the past. You pretty quickly take this pair off having learned from the last just what works for you about underwear and what doesn’t.”

Silence.

“None of us know when or where we might ultimately find underwear with the right fit, but we keep trying with yet another new pair if an old pair fails. So, I know your next pair of underwear will be better than the last because you learn something each time you try one on. Never settle for the wrong fit. Remember, none of this means that you or any of the pairs of underwear were necessarily bad. It simply means the fit wasn’t right.”

Silence.

“One day you’ll put on that next new pair of underwear and they’ll feel pretty nice but  you may hesitate. Ignore the fact that any one pair of underwear, or maybe all underwear, has disappointed you in the past. If this newest pair feels good then enjoy it and see what happens. One day you’ll put on a new pair and the fit will be so nice, so perfect, that you’ll skip along every day for the rest of your life not even realizing you have on underwear at all.”

There, that was all I had. I knew I’d fallen short but I’m just not good with relationship advice. I waited for the dial tone I knew was coming…

That” Evan said through a hearty laugh, “was the dumbest, grossest, and best thing I’ve ever heard! That was awesome.”

Phew! I wiped the sweat from my upper lip.

Evan hadn’t necessarily asked for relationship advice nor had I been eager to give any. What do I know? His angst was serious and my response may not have been, but I recognized his feelings and let him know in the wacky way he probably expected of me that I understood.

Keep trying. The perfect fit is out there.

Stuart M. Perkins

Advertisements

152 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Long Row

A friend of mine will soon move to a new house and has been consumed with the process of packing for quite some time. He lamented the fact that no matter how much he gets done he continues to see piles and stacks and shelves full of things yet to be boxed. Adding to the stress, he’s nearing the semester’s end of coursework towards a Master’s degree. This combination has him overwhelmed. He complained a bit more about the work left to do.

“I’ll never finish.” he moaned after his update.

“Well.” I said. “It’s like that row of tomatoes.”

He didn’t get it.

With no idea what I meant he stared into the distance preoccupied by stress. Then, remembering similar comments of mine in the past his head whirled back towards me. “Wait, is that another Nannie thing?” he asked.

“It’s another Nannie thing.” I nodded confirmation and began my story.

My grandmother was a master gardener – not certified, but instinctual. Nannie used one green thumb in her flower beds and the other in her massive vegetable garden. It was no garden for the weak as it fed her and the families of each of her five children. All pitched in. On most evenings you could see some combination of aunts, uncles, and cousins pulling, picking, weeding, or watering somewhere along the lengthy rows.

One year Nannie planted more tomatoes than usual. It was work enough to keep vines picked clean on a normal year, but that was a good tomato year and there were additional rows. Somebody was going to have their work cut out for them.

“Somebody” that year was me and my cousin Jan.

I didn’t recall our volunteering for tomato duty. Still, Jan and I ended up on the front lines the morning Nannie called to say there were tomatoes to be picked. We walked casually towards the long rows, empty buckets swinging from our hands, not bothered in the least by a few silly tomatoes. The picking began.

“I’ll never finish.” I moaned.

Sweat dripped from Jan’s nose as she bent to pick another tomato. She seemed to be handling the season pretty well so far. She always loved tomatoes.

“I hate tomatoes.” she stood slowly with a full bucket.

Once tomato vines start producing they don’t stop so the picking was a daily chore. The first week of the season Jan and I met under the grape arbor to have a few laughs before starting. This would be fun. By the second week we weren’t laughing. This wasn’t fun.

We didn’t pick alone. Nannie was right there with us and if she wasn’t it was only because she was shelling beans, pulling corn, or freezing or canning one ripe thing or another. Weeks into the season and Nannie never faltered. Each morning she’d grab a bucket, hum a hymn, and walk methodically down a tomato row. Jan and I limped along behind her.

The rows were so long that I swore green tomatoes I passed at the beginning were ripe before I got to the end. Each tomato became a lead weight and the end of each row seemed farther away than before. Jan and I sweated, clutched our aching backs, and whined that the rows were getting longer when we weren’t looking. Nannie never complained which added to our frustration. How could she be so happy about this? Why wasn’t she tired of it? How did she stay so happy about a chore that seemed never-ending?

We asked her just that.

“Well.” Nannie began. “Sometimes you need to look at how far you’ve come, not how far you have to go.”

Oh. And with that she effortlessly picked up two full buckets and headed back to the house, happily humming all the while.

I wrapped up the story for my friend by saying that while Jan and I did continue to pray for an early frost, we put Nannie’s advice to use for the duration of the season. Our muscles stayed sore and our backs still cramped, but admittedly the burden seemed lighter by looking at how far we’d come and not how far we had yet to go. I thought my friend might apply that notion to his packing and school work, or to any effort really.

He didn’t get it.

He politely thanked me for yet another Nannie-ism and grumbled that he had to rush home to the hassle of more packing and to finish a paper for his graduate class. I assumed that was the last I’d see of him for a while knowing his workload. However, I happened to pass him on the street just a week or so later. I prepared to hear the negative update on the packing and schoolwork, instead he was all smiles.

I didn’t get it.

He casually mentioned the packing he had left to do and although he’d finished the paper for school, he now had one more to complete. Still he continued to smile. I couldn’t help but ask about his new attitude.

“You still have plenty going on but it’s not getting you down as much?” I asked.

I was then afraid I’d given him a reason to sink back into the negativity of all he had yet to finish. I tried to clarify by saying I understood how stressful it was to have multiple things to accomplish and how understandable it was to feel bogged down at times. Knowing he had so much to get done I was happy to see he wasn’t overwhelmed by all he had left to do, which showed in his attitude.

“Well.” he grinned. “Sometimes you need to look at how far you’ve come, not how far you have to go.”

He got it.

Stuart M. Perkins

373 Comments

Filed under Family, garden, grandmother

Stay and Change It

A passenger on the bus this morning finished a phone call as he sat down beside me.

“Nope. All I got in my fraternity was hung over.” he said.

I remembered a hangover from my fraternity days, but that wasn’t all I got. I also got an excellent piece of advice.

I didn’t want to join a fraternity. The last thing I needed was to squeeze frat parties into a busy class schedule. However, a friend whose reverse idea was to squeeze classes into a busy party schedule somehow convinced me.

The next thing I knew, I was wearing a toga.

Prior to that were weeks of pledging. I’ve never enjoyed being told what to do, when, how often, and where – all while being criticized – and requests from the brothers were constant. Check in at the frat house, go on scavenger hunts, paint a room, make posters for a party, and so on. Daily requests were impromptu and numerous but my friend and I, along with five others, took them seriously. We had to, of course, in order to be accepted into the fraternity.

Oh, I made friends and had some great times as a pledge. It wasn’t all bad. The community projects and neighborhood clean-ups were no problem. Being blind-folded and told to eat the unidentified, cold, slimy contents of a bowl while wearing only my underwear, well, that wasn’t the finest evening. It was being constantly “on call”, though, that was the real nerve racker. We pledges never knew when to expect a note demanding we immediately report to the frat house. I began to have second thoughts about pledging.

Weeks wore on and I wore out. Keeping up with classes was never an issue, but I tired of dishwashing, running errands, wearing silly hats around campus, and being at the beck and call of a house full of guys who delighted in the drama they commanded. The other pledges were at times frantic to complete their latest assignments. The stress wasn’t worth it and I walked to the fraternity house one afternoon to tell them so. No more pledging for me.

Based on what I knew of him, I assumed the fraternity president would listen, probably laugh, and then tell me to go clean the basement. I was wrong.

He did listen. In fact, with several brothers in the house that afternoon, he took me onto the porch to talk privately. This guy, who for weeks I’d seen only in the role of Commander-in-Nonsense, partier and beer lover, was suddenly very serious as he asked me what was wrong.

I told him I had nothing against him or the brothers and it had been quite the experience, but weeks of daily nonsense requests didn’t seem worth it. I didn’t enjoy being bossed around, putting out “emergency” fires, and I had my classes to think about. I told him I quit pledging.

What he said next has stuck with me for over thirty years.

He listened to my whining then looked at me and said, “If you’re involved in something and you don’t like how it’s going, don’t leave it. Stay and change it.”

Wow, I thought. Suddenly my irritation over being “bossed around” seemed shallow and silly. What excellent words to give someone on the verge of quitting anything. I said ok then, I would maintain for a while and see how it went. As luck would have it, the next day we pledges learned that on the upcoming Saturday night there would be a secret ceremony and we would learn who had been accepted.

I was proud to hear my name called first that night.

Excellent advice had kept me on track: “If you’re involved in something and you don’t like how it’s going, don’t leave it. Stay and change it.”

No longer a pledge now, requests from the other brothers halted. I enjoyed my time in the fraternity, kept up with my school work, and even learned what it was I’d eaten from the bowl that night while wearing only underwear and a blindfold. I also kept in mind our fraternity president’s advice. I had stayed, now what could I change?

When the next batch of pledges signed on, the brothers’ shenanigans began again. I remembered all of the nonsense I’d gone through, how insane some of it seemed, and how I would have quit except for the wise words of advice I got on the porch that afternoon.

When the pledges were told to report to the house after class I proposed that they be given time for homework first. When the pledges were told to paint rooms in the fraternity house I proposed that we help to make it go faster. When the pledges were asked to participate in community clean-ups I proposed that those of us with cars give them a ride.

And when the pledges were told to wear only their underwear, be blindfolded, and eat the cold, slimy contents of a bowl placed before them, well, I was happy to hand them the bowl.

If they didn’t like it, they could stay and change it.

Stuart M. Perkins

108 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized