How To Play Nice in Life’s Sandbox - 5 Essential Lessons Learned in Childhood
Playing Nice in the Sandbox
What We Learn in Childhood Follows Us All Our Lives
Lessons learned in childhood follow us all our lives, whether we like it or not or whether we consciously think about them in our adult years. These early life lessons might come from rules our parents and teachers set for us, or they might arise from a single significant event.
Whichever way we learn these lessons, they are likely to become so ingrained as to shape our personalities for the rest of our lives.
These five lessons learned in my childhood helped me grow into a person who, for the most part, plays nice in life's sandbox. Not that there haven't been times I’ve scrubbed the lessons and broken the rules, but each time I did, it just didn't feel quite right, or it felt so horrible that I had to run to the confessional, or, worst of all, the consequences of breaking the rules either landed me in a personal heap of trouble or put someone else in danger.
Here are the things I was told as a child that helped me learn how to play nice in life’s sandbox.
1 • Bad behavior sends you to the pickle factory.
The pickle factory is a very bad place. It is a monster unto itself. All children have monsters under their beds or in their closets. By the time we are grown, most of us don’t remember the feeling of terror that these imagined beings visited on us. However, in my family, the idea of the pickle factory could, and still can, bring on heart palpitations and even night terrors. If we sassed back to an adult, refused to do our chores, or whined because we couldn’t have something we wanted, then we were told we’d be sent to the pickle factory. The factory would stuff us into a glass jar, add vinegar to the top, and seal us up with a tight lid.
Even today, my younger middle-aged cousin gets a chill up the back of her spine when she thinks about how she believed she could have been removed from life’s sandbox and permanently pickled. Needless to say, we children are a well-behaved bunch who get along well with others.
But When You Are in China...
Food is not negotiable unless, perhaps, you are a Jew in China. Under extraordinary circumstances, a polite “no thank you” will not let you escape something you know you do not want to, or cannot, eat, like millipedes. Michael Levy's account is a much more adult version of spitting up partially chewed liver behind a couch. He wasn't labeled as a cantankerous child, but as a spy. A great read!
2 • Food is not negotiable.
Growing up, breakfast was cereal and milk, lunch was a sandwich and fruit, dinner was a green vegetable, a salad, a starch, and a meat. There was no whining about what you didn't like. Good food was there, and you ate it, or not. If you didn't like it, you could excuse yourself from the table.
This isn’t to say that I didn’t rebel against food now and again. For example, my mother’s liver was the worst food I’d ever eaten. I can still remember when, at the age of three, the liver was so repulsive that I ran into the living room when my mother wasn’t looking and spit out a partially chewed mouthful behind the couch. Mom found the nasty stuff the next morning and gave me a lecture about the starving Armenians, but she also never made liver again until she learned to make de-veined calf’s liver delicately sautéed in bacon grease and smothered in onions, a dish I love today.
There are few foods I don’t like now, although there are some I have an intolerance to. When dining as another’s guest, if there’s something I can’t or don’t want to eat, I follow my daughter’s cordial example and say politely, “No thank you.”
This Is Cute to Parents Only
3 • Don’t chew with your mouth open.
No one wants to see the food in your mouth turning into mush, smearing your teeth and tongue, and no one wants to hear you chew it. You have more socially engaging things to do with your mouth, like speaking and kissing. But this childhood lesson goes even deeper: chewing with your mouth open shows thoughtless disrespect for the company that graces you with their presence.
If you haven’t learned this lesson by the time you are old enough to date, don’t be surprised if you never have a second date with someone you fancy. And, if you haven’t learned this lesson by the time you are old enough to go to work, you will never land the job of your dreams if your interview is conducted in the social setting of a shared meal. Remember that when you chew with your mouth open in the sandbox, you will get sand in your mouth.
Caps Fly into the Future
4 • College is not optional.
My mother's family came to this country from Poland during the Great Depression when she was six years old. She didn’t know a word of English. She and her siblings attended a Polish Catholic school in her new country, and that is where my mother learned the English language and the value of an education.
Every day during my high school years, my mother dished out the importance of earning a college degree, right along with the dinner salad. Her goal for me was to come out of college with two degrees: a bachelor’s so I could become a nurse or teacher and never have to worry about having a good job if I wanted one, and the Mrs. so I’d never have to worry about anything else. I did graduate college, although not with credentials for either nursing or teaching, and I did get that Mrs., although many years later.
Her wishes for me were much like most every parent’s. She wanted me to have more and greater opportunities in life than she had. There is no doubt that her persistence paid off when it came to opening doors that would otherwise have been closed to me and when it came to understanding cultural diversity.
Young and Homeless
5 • You have more than most.
The subtext of this childhood lesson learned reads something like, “Don’t feel sorry for yourself.” There were things I wanted as a child but couldn’t have because, although we were not exactly poor, we were always on the edge. My mother had a good job with S&H Green Stamps with benefits the likes of which we rarely see today, but she also earned a salary that left little for anything but the necessities. We had good food, health care, a sparse but comfortable place to live, and a yearly vacation, but we did not have enough for me to wear the color-coordinated mohair sweaters and soft leather “football” shoes that every girl in my class measured worth by.
Mom taught me to be thankful for what I do have and to respect those who have less, whether less means less material goods or less belief in themselves. I learned from her, early on, that even a small word of encouragement, even a moment of caring transformed into a helpful act, can make a difference not only to the other but to yourself.
Sandbox Basics Work Well for Life
Use lessons learned to ward off kitty-doo and rain, no matter where in the world you are, no matter how large or small your sandbox.
How Big Is Your Life's Sandbox?
When I was growing up in the 1950s, my sandbox was defined by friends, classmates, family, local community, and also the history and culture of another country, Poland. In those years, we communicated by phone, hand-written letters, and by getting family and friends together on special occasions. An individual’s sphere of influence, for most folks, had a shorter diameter in those years, and was definitely less immediate when people were separated by geographical distance.
Today, if we choose, we have instant connections to huge audiences all over the globe through the Internet and phone. These immediate connections make life’s sandbox a great deal larger. Playing nice in life’s sandbox has taken on greater dimensions. Where once our voices might have been heard only in our local communities and personal relationships, now they can be heard all over the world with just a tap of the finger.
Writing on the net, I wonder every day how my voice is heard by others whom I will never know. But one thing I do know is that I will do more good than harm, because of lessons learned in childhood.
Please tell us in a comment, below, how you see your sandbox.