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A simple formula for living a good life. Are you ready for it? Here it is:

Try not to be a douchebag.

It’s simple. But apparently, it’s hard for some people to put into practice. I would like to offer some help.

So I got to thinking. I’m not a giant douche. My siblings aren’t douchey. Maybe my parents did something right. I’ve got kids. I’d like them to grow up to be decent human beings, and it’s a total bonus if they don’t spend their childhood as tiny little jerks. I started thinking about some of the things my parents did to help prepare my brothers, sisters, and me for this big bad world, and to help us navigate our way through life without being complete d-bags. The following is a partial list of some of Paul and Shirley’s best exercises in anti-douchbaggery conditioning. Enjoy.

The Yellow Notebook.

At the age of 12, each of my father’s children was given a page in The Yellow Notebook. Need a loan? Car needs fixing? Your prom dress costs what?! No problem kid. We will loan you the money and create a new entry in The Yellow Notebook. My Dad kept a 4X6, yellow, side spiral bound, Mead notebook as a ledger of all six accounts at The Bank of My Father. He kept meticulous records, and payment terms were carefully negotiated. I am happy to say that all six children have paid off their Yellow Book loans. A number of lessons learned: live within your means–life is easier that way, some types of debt are worth it, others aren’t (it hurts more to pay back a loan for something later deemed “stupid” or “lame” or “should of thought about that before I willingly surrendered my next 5 paychecks”), and maybe the best lesson of all… appreciate the interest free loan program while you can.

The Consequences, Double Spaced.

If you screwed up in my house, your punishment came in three steps. Step One: My mother offered a verbal lashing worthy of an Olympic category. Step Two: You will wait. You will be stripped of all rights and privileges for several days while your consequences are determined. There is nothing in our family tree about right to a speedy trial. Step Three: Your consequences are presented to you, in Dad’s office. You will be handed a typed, double-spaced copy of your consequences to read along and keep for your reference, so there will be no confusion moving forward. If your behavior moving forward is contrary to the expectations outlined in the consequences, you will apply the said consequences to a period of time no less than one academic quarter. SOOOOO, what did we learn here, boys and girls?

YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR ACTIONS. CONSEQUENCES ARE REAL, USUALLY IMMEDIATE, AND IF YOU CONTINUE TO BE A DOUCHEY KID, YOUR LIFE’S JUST GONNA STAY SHITTY LONGER.

Saturday Morning Chores – First Come, First Served.

Simple. Every Saturday morning the weekly chores (different from the daily chores) were posted on the kitchen board. First one up-and-at-em picks first, and so on down the line. Laziest kid gets crappiest chore. No one leaves the house on Saturday until your assigned chore is completed and approved by mom. Lesson learned: Responsibilities come before play time AND if you get your ass out of bed at a reasonable hour, you can vacuum the carpets instead of cleaning the toilets.

So, You’re Too Sick For School, Huh?

An absence during any school week means you clearly need to rest in the house for the weekend. If you are really sick, then obviously, it’s the best and healthiest decision for you. If you are a big fat faker and want to cut class, your weekend is hosed. What’s it worth to you?

This Is Not A Democracy.

I don’t think I need to explain this one.

Let Me Take You Down a Notch. (a little humility is good for you)

We teased a lot in my house, all in fun, never nasty or bullyish, always from a place of love. If any one of the eight of us started acting a little too big for our britches, the rest of our clan was there to make sure no one took it so far as to forget that humility, and open mind and heart are an important part of your character, and that being hot shit and thinking you’re hot shit are two different things. That being said, we were also incredibly supportive of each other’s true accomplishments. Bragging rights, when deserved, were respected.

Family Dinner

Crucial. Nothing in life is more important than our family. No matter how busy we get, we always have time to sit and eat a meal together. It is a regular thread that re-connects us every day. We will eat together, we will pray together, and that’s a tie that binds. Family dinner is a tradition in each of my siblings’ households today.

Does all that sound totally wacky and scary? It wasn’t. Here’s the secret. (Come closer.) In addition to the anti-douchebaggery conditioning, or collecting our paper route paychecks, my parents provided a loving, hilarious, generous, supportive and amazing family environment. All friends and neighbors were welcome in my parent’s home, and they loved coming back again and again. My parents sacrificed a lot to make sure that we had a remarkable childhood, and would grow into adults fully equipped with the tools we needed to achieve our goals — with a wicked sense of humor firmly in place.

My siblings are my best friends, I have my parents to thank for that, I think. My parents were strict, but I never, ever wondered if they loved me. My parents always believed in me. My parents sacrificed for me. My parents are a huge part of who I am today. I’m far from perfect. I’ve been known to dish out my share of jackassery. I’m trying not to screw up my own kids. I’m always afraid that I will. I’m lucky that I still have them around to help me raise their grandkids.

I love my mom and dad. I owe them everything. It is a debt I cannot pay. It’s not something that can fit in a yellow notebook.

Paul & Shirley Engagement Photo

Paul & Shirley Engagement Photo

Paul & Shirley Today

Paul & Shirley Today

Okay, so not so much on fire as on my lawn. We are finally replacing our roof. I’m excited to be done with the “Is it going to make it through one more winter?” game Augie and I have been playing, but also started to hyperventilate (just a little) when I went to the bank today to draw out the duckets. Wow. Well, that is home ownership. I’ve said it to many a friends after they purchased their first home, “Welcome to the life of neverending home improvements.” (Okay, what I think I actually said was, “Welcome to the poor house.”) I will admit that the improvements you make by choice can be very fun, but those big ones that you just gotta deal with (roofs, gutters, new furnaces, crapped out water heaters…) are a bit of a bummer, because although you know these things are super important to your everyday living situation,(the roof seems worth it on a rainy day, no?) it isn’t as fun as painting your den red or getting pretty new kitchen cabinets. Oh well, the roof is getting done. Soon we’ll move on to repainting the puke yellow trim to a nice hunter green and then I’ll be camping in the yard so I can stare at my “new” house. I will also be camping in the yard because I will most likely have let out our rooms for rent due to the cost of replacing our roof. Other than the crazy loud bangs of tearing off and replacing shingles, things are pretty quiet around here. Gracie and I have been hanging out, watching “the guys” (as she calls them) fix our house. We make them sandwiches and they wave at Gracie through the window. We all have a job to do. This month has been quite busy (hence lack of time to blog). It’s been good, fun busy stuff. Baptism for Nora. Bridal shower and bachelorette party for Shan (too fun!). Augie has been working long hours lately, couple that with a few comedy club outings, birthday parties, a paintballing bachelor party (yay Jerm!) and Opening Day and his dance card filled up quickly. Nora is growing like a weed and no kidding, she was wearing a 9 month sleeper last night (she’s just shy of 5 months). Gracie has found her singing voice for real and is in constant serenade mode. I love it! We have made a big promise to each other to spend as much of our weekend time just strolling around and hitting as many playgrounds in a weekend as we can. No rest for the weary though, just a couple weeks until we head out to the Grand Canyon for Shan and Jerm’s big day. We are so very excited. Wonderful friends, awesome backdrop, real love. We’re stoked. We’re leaving the muchachas to Nana and Aunt Jennie’s care, so they will be partying like little tiny baby rock stars. I have promised myself that I will take deep breaths, try to focus on having a great time and really being the moment for this very special occasion. Leaving them is the hardest thing for me to do, but it’s healthy for all of us to do it. (I’ll be repeating this to myself the entire flight.) Anyway, my excitement and joy for my friends will be more than enough to keep me from calling Nana every hour. Also, I’ve never seen the Grand Canyon (other than from an airplane window), so how cool is that? So that’s generally the last couple of weeks recap. I have to get moving now, Gracie has just decided to put her tights on by herself and is hopping towards me in one leg of them.

© Sara 2006

I like to buy things from IKEA because their selection is typically affordable and generally fits in my smallish type of home. I hate to buy things from IKEA because I typically hate being around a thousand people that generally get on my f#%king nerves. Jennie and I did the IKEA run today and I was reminded of how much I really hate people. I just do. Don’t get me wrong, I love many people (individually), but I also hate many people (all together in a big f#%king idiot mob). Okay, sorry, I’m not myself right now. I just spent way too much time inching my way through three floors of Scandinavian particle board. Oh, and about 73 thousand other people. Alright, it’s really not “people” I hate, it’s the crowds I hate. So in all fairness, I am sorry “Mrs. Man Hands” for not helping you at the self-checkout. (okay, but with those mitts, you should have been golden.) I apologize, “Skinny Girl who bumped into my sister and didn’t say she was sorry”, for shooting you that rude glance/eye roll. (Hey, I get cranky when I haven’t eaten too – and I figure you’re probably still going on the Diet Coke and half of a crouton you decided not to purge on Thursday.) Forgive me, “Ladies with matching black velour track suits” for not answering your question about which line to stand in for the manager’s lunch special. (I realize you may have just overshot Great America and didn’t expect to be making such complex lunching decisions.) And finally, “Woman with lots of money and no brains who brought your 2 week old (if that) newborn to IKEA” – I’m actually not sorry for quietly ridiculing your poor judgment in bringing a tiny newborn to a place like IKEA, but I am sorry that your kid’s brand-spankin-new immune system had to be exposed to 73 thousand germs. I am also sorry that every time I saw you, that poor, tiny baby was crying. Yeah, I’m pretty sure I do actually hate you… I’m not usually this surly, which brings me to the other thing I wanted to talk about. After the birth of each of my girls I was (am currently being) overtaken by a severe case of “post-partum can’t f#%king stop swearing syndrome”. I can’t stop it. I manage to censor myself around Gracie, but dammit, I’m out of control. I’ve tried to substitute, but sometimes you just have to say it. Out loud. With feeling. You might even need to yell it. It just, well, fuck, you know what I mean.

© Sara 2006