As part of a rushed round of pre-weekend shopping, I bought a small container of sauteed greens at the Pasta Shop, our local gourmet deli. When I got home, I looked at the label on the container and my jaw dropped:
That’s right, click to zoom in on the photo if your middle-aged eyes can’t handle the small print.
Twenty-one dollars for a pint of greens! Based on a rate of $38.95 per pound!
Even Dean & DeLuca in New York wouldn’t charge that much.
Needless to say, it was a mistake. I took the container back to the store the next day and the clerk acknowledged adding a digit. The price was supposed to be $8.95 a pound, not $38.95. They refunded my money and all was well in the world.
Later in the day, I felt compelled to turn this story into a fable with a moral for my daughter. “You should always double check the receipt when you buy something,” I said. I handed the plastic lid to her. “I didn’t do that, and look what happened.”
I knew full well what I was doing even as I started through this futile exercise. With barely six months until she goes off to college, I feel compelled to cram every last little bit of life-lesson into our remaining time. Read your receipts! Floss your teeth! Don’t neglect your female friends just because you have a boyfriend! Don’t put wool sweaters in the dryer!
Six months from now, she will be out on her own in the world, with nothing to shield her from imminent disaster except a few inebriated dorm advisors and this stockpile of motherly aphorisms.
And of course she won’t hear or remember a word of it.
It’s not just about being a teenager. It’s about the nature of our memories. Ninety-nine percent of the things we see or hear in a given day are forgotten almost immediately. The things we remember are those with some emotion attached to them — surprise, fear, excitement, joy.
I may — may — remember this encounter with the overpriced greens a year from now because I was so stunned. It was a visceral response, a combination of shock at the price and then embarrassment that I hadn’t noticed the overcharge while checking out. For my daughter, though, it’s just a story. She didn’t have that direct emotional connection. I reflexively tried to make it a little more vivid by thrusting the plastic lid at her, like some elementary school teacher trying to make the Miwok Indians seem real by passing around a grinding stone. Fat chance.
There was an old Gary Larson cartoon that I loved. It had two frames. The first was labeled, “What we say to dogs,” and it showed a man scolding his dog:”Okay, Ginger, I’ve had it! I’ve told you to stay out of the garbage! Understand, Ginger? Stay out of the garbage, or else!”
Then the second frame was labelled “What they hear,” and the dialogue balloon coming out of the man’s mouth went: “blah blah Ginger blah blah blah blah blah blah Ginger blah blah blah.”
Or here’s his cat version of it:
Sometimes that’s how I feel talking to my daughter. She’ll absorb about as much of what I’m saying as our cat will.
I don’t hold it against her. I know it’s not personal, it’s just human.
But still, that six-month college departure date is hanging out there. I keep talking.