Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Number One Rule

My parents were over for dinner one night last week.  In the course of conversation about another family member, my mom remarked, "I mean, the number one rule of being a (her maiden name) is Take Care of Your Stuff!"

The minute she said it, it struck me that Take Care of Your Stuff really is the number one rule for that side of my family.  I have never, ever, ever been to my grandparents' house and not seen every single item in its place.  The lawn is always mowed, the bushes trimmed, the garden weeded and watered, the carpets vacuumed, the cars washed and waxed, the tools hanging in their proper places in the garage, the counters wiped clean, the mail sorted on the phone desk.  The same thing is true at my parents' house, and at the houses of my aunts and uncles and extended family.

The same thing is not true here.  I mean, we don't totally neglect our stuff, and there does come a point where the stuff does get taken care of, but it is not rule number one.  It's probably not even rule number two or rule number thirteen.  It's probably rule number thirty or so, and that's okay with me.  We've actually tried not to accumulate too much stuff, because stuff needs to be cleaned and stored and waxed and vacuumed and sorted and wiped clean and watered and trimmed, and I don't get pride or joy from doing those things.  I do them when they must be done, and I try to do them thoroughly, and I am for good-enough stuff-care.  My family is possibly disappointed in me.

I've been thinking, though, about the unwritten rules we learn from our families, and about which rules we're following in our own home.  Beyond the (failed) attempt to teach me to take care of stuff, my family of origin also had other unspoken rules I can see if I look:

  • Things - decisions, money, voting - are private.
  • Save your money.
  • When children grow up, their life is theirs to live.
  • Give the best of what you make away to others.
  • Be humble.
  • Work first, then play.
  • Everything in moderation.
  • Follow the rules.
Then I had some fun thinking about the unspoken rules that Jason received from his extended family:

  • Things  - decisions, money, voting - are public and to be discussed.
  • Spend your money.
  • When children grow up, you still have influence over their lives.
  • Celebrate big.
  • Be proud of your family and tell everyone.
  • Follow traditions.
  • Play more.
  • Bend the rules.
I don't want to make it look like Jason and I grew up in polar opposite families, because we didn't:  lots and lots of the rules we lived by are the same, and we were raised in many of the same ways.  But it's fun and funny to look at how some of the messages we received were different, and it actually illuminates the few areas that can create conflict for us in our marriage. 

Now I'm thinking about what an outside observer would guess our little family's Rule Number One is.  I'm thinking, really, about what I would say it is, and I'm not sure.  I thought about it while I was running the lake last night, and while I was driving home from spending the day with my mom, and while I was painting trim in the living room on Friday night.  

Jason and the girls went up north for the weekend to fish with grandpa and dance polkas at The Polish Festival, and I like the distance that a little break gives me from our family of four.  I'm able to see it more clearly from the outside, put it under glass and walk around it for a day or two, making notes, examining.  I'm whipping out the calendar and planning our next few months, hunting down back-to-school supplies and clothes, dreaming up a few last summer adventures, and thinking about the unspoken rules I'm laying out for my family.  I'm thinking about what I want Fall 2011 to be about for us.  I'm reading this poster that hangs in my kitchen while I do the dishes and wondering:  what's your Rule Number One?

1 comment:

  1. Love this post...thought-provoking. I'm afraid my number one rule might seem different to others than it does to me. I'm feeling of late that my behavior is not quite as aligned with my beliefs as I'd like it to be. Hmmm, If Anna were to answer, it would probably be "Say Please and Thank You" at this very moment. If Blake were to answer, he might say my number one rule is "Clean up after yourself." I'd like think "Be mindful" and "it's better to be kind than right" (I'm not great at following this one with my husband) come across in our house, but I'm not sure they do that often.