Janet Sheridan: Things I wish I’d learned sooner
If we pay attention, life teaches us useful lessons: Refuse to cross a raging mountain stream on a fallen log when your hiking companions who claim it’s safe are standing beside you. Never befriend a barking dog or a growling librarian; and boycott turtlenecks so tight that pulling them off hurls your earrings, hearing aids and equanimity into space.
I first learned a rule for happier living as a teenager when I looked at a snapshot taken of three friends and myself crying in front of a television because Arlene and Kenny, our favorite dancers, didn’t win an American Bandstand bopping contest. Sharon’s glowing tears highlighted her blue eyes and heartbroken expression; Diane used a tissue to gracefully dab the tears dancing on her alabaster skin; and Kathleen’s tears fell to, and looked fetching on, her outstanding bosom. Meanwhile, my scrunched-up eyes expelled copious tears that sluiced down my blotchy face, past my runny nose, and around my distorted lips before dropping straight to my lap. I bawled; my friends wept. Thus my first self-imposed rule: Never cry in public; it scares people.
Last winter, I realized removing food stains from white clothing consumed too much of my life. Over the years, I purchased a multitude of stain-removing sprays, gels, brushes, pens and sticks. I soaked, blotted, massaged and bleached. Once, following the advice of an online expert, I held a teapot above my head and poured boiling water through a white, grease-spotted shirt stretched across a bucket. The ordeal culminated with a third-degree burn on my thumb and a stained shirt. So after years of stain-removal struggle, I formulated another rule for myself: Never eat while wearing white clothing.
I used to organize my classroom, students and lessons for maximum learning with minimal rules. I thought good teaching was the best way to maintain order in a classroom full of lively children. But sometimes my procedures required fine-tuning.
I constantly entertained thoughts about more effective ways to do things: “I should separate Johnny and Rick; they distract each other.” “I need to move the dinosaur books where they won’t cause traffic jams and scuffling.” “Maybe there would be less comical screeching and more music if I didn’t teach the flute-o-phone lesson after recess when my students bring their outside energy to the task.”
But, like ignoring a strange noise in a car’s engine until it results in a costly repair, I failed to act. Then some rainy Monday afternoon all hell would break loose during a stampede for dinosaur books, and I would relocate them that afternoon. Eventually, I adopted another imperative for happier living: The first time something bothers you, change it. Except for your husband.
I find my self-discovered truths of more worth and usefulness than the traditional proverbs I learned as a child: “A friend in need is a friend indeed” has no merit at all. I once saw Betty Ann, a fifth-grader who sometimes sat by third-grader me on the school bus, enter the schoolyard with a box of Junior Mints. Seeing an opportunity, I sidled close and complained about my aching stomach. Interpreting Betty Ann’s response, “So what?” as an expression of concern, I continued, “Sometimes when I have a bad stomachache, my mother gives me Junior Mints, and I feel better.”
“Well, maybe you should call your mommy. You’re not getting any of this stuff, Kiddo.” There I was, a friend in need but not Betty Ann’s friend indeed.
And now I need to quit writing, so I can once again test another self-taught adage: Preparing dinner always takes more time than you think. And the hungrier your husband, the longer it takes.
Sheridan’s book, “A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns,” is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at http://www.auntbeulah.com on the first and 15 of every month.Sheridan’s book, “A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns,” is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at http://www.auntbeulah.com on the first and 15 of every month.Sheridan’s book, “A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns,” is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at http://www.auntbeulah.com on the first and 15 of every month.
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