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Thursday, October 26, 2017

Annals of Successful Parenting: Humility

I’m going to come right out and say that this past week I hit a low. I was humbled. A good friend’s mother died, and instead of being able to help her out by picking up her son from school, I was at the vet with our fancy dog. As it happened, what I thought was a matter of some urgency, namely ticks on the belly that I was unable to remove, was something else. 

So, the back story on this is that the husband and I left the 10th grader home over the weekend, while we went to visit the college student for her 19th birthday. Said college student had arranged sufficient buffers between herself and us that our presence on her birthday was acceptable to her. The 10th grader had PSATs to take and the Homecoming dance to attend, so being the freewheeling parents we are, we left her to her own devices. 

Actually, she was well-armed with emergency phone numbers, and had a friend to go to the dance with, who would come and sleep over with her to keep her company. I knew my neighbor, E, would let me know if there was some kind of wild party happening. So all was in hand.

She said, not at all defensively. 

We took the college student to lunch, and then dropped her off at her college and spent the evening with our Yankee friends. Sunday morning, we walked around the lake on campus and fed the college student again. While we were heading home, the 10th grader discovered a tick on the dog’s head and texted us. We were able to guide her through the tick’s removal via speakerphone, while driving on the Mass Pike, thus confirming her interest in becoming a veterinarian. Then, the next day, frolicking in the the yard, I saw these inflamed spots on the dog's belly. Ticks. More ticks. And clearly Deer ticks, vectors of horrid disease, judging by their size and color. So I tried to remove them. With tweezers. With a special tick-removal spoon. I am very good at removing ticks, usually. But these suckers were not budging. And the dog was whining. So to the vet. 

Where I learned that these were not what I feared.

“These are nipples,” said the vet. 

Nipples! I thought of the tweezers.

“And these are skin tags.” 

Skin tags! I thought of the tweezers again. 

The vet looked at me. I thought, My, this veterinarian is young. 

“This happens more often than you might think, so don’t feel bad,” she said. 

Don’t feel bad! I thought of the tweezers. I tried to remove my dog’s skin tags and nipples with my Tweezerman tweezers. Those are serious tweezers. 

I mean, really, I know about the dog’s nipples. I have seen the dog’s nipples many times. So how could this have happened? I ask myself this more often than is probably healthy. Fortunately, our fancy dog isn’t long on memory and he has moved on. I can only attribute this lapse to the category 5 cold that was collecting in my head. A category 5 cold that moved in and blocked out a great deal. Certainly my powers of reason and my knowledge of dog anatomy. 

So I hunkered down and watched many episodes of “Lady Dynamite.” I’m not sure I recommend the show, so don’t blame me if you don’t like it. And now I feel better. 

Speaking of attempting to remove my dog’s nipples, I’ve been thinking about humility. Humility and success. In one of our recent accountability conference calls, my friends C and E and I were talking about self-promotion. I’m terrible at self-promotion. I can hardly convince myself to post my blog posts. And every week I wonder if I dare bother people on my mailing list with yet another blog post, whose only dubious (if any) benefit might be to reassure the reader that she has never done anything as dumb as trying to remove her dog’s nipples with tweezers. Anyway, at some point in our conversation about self-promotion, C said she was sick of self-promotion. She was going back to humility. It had always worked for her in the past. This made me think of the list of positive character traits I posted on the fridge a few years ago. It’s still there. Humility is one of them. 

Synchronously, I happened to be rereading Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography. I came upon the chapter in which he describes how he developed a list of virtues for himself. Along with each virtue, he created “Precepts” for maintaining them. Many of these precepts have stuck with us, because not only were they essential molecules of wisdom, but also he wrote them such that they stuck as aphorisms. For example, his number one virtue is Temperance. The precepts under temperance are, “Eat not to dulness. Drink not to elevation.” 
Then, to help ingrain these virtues in himself, he devised his famous virtues chart. At least I think it’s famous. Is it? Have you heard of it? He set up this chart in a notebook, devoting a page to each virtue. On each page, he put the virtue at the top, then a chart with the days of the week across the top and the list of virtues (abbreviated to first initial) down the side. “I determined to give a Week’s strict Attention to each of the Virtues successively. Thus in the first Week my great Guard was to avoid every the least Offence against Temperance, leaving the other Virtues to their ordinary Chance, only marking every Evening the faults of the Day.” So each night he would mark by any of his virtues that he failed to uphold, with a goal of having no marks all week along the line of the virtue he had chosen as the focus that week. By running through his set of virtues several times in a year, he hoped to succeed in having no marks at all to indicate failings by the end. 
This is all very admirable, and accounts for Benjamin Franklin being hailed as the original American self-help guru. But what was amusing was that originally, he had come up with twelve virtues. It was the suggestion of “a Quaker Friend having kindly inform’d me that I was generally thought proud,” that caused him to add a thirteenth virtue, humility.*
You didn't ask, but in case you were wondering, I think he should have added a fourteenth virtue: Generosity. After reading Jill Lepore’s fascinating Book of Ages about Benjamin’s sister,  who struggled financially her entire life, I was left wondering why her wealthy big brother didn’t give her more money. How hard could it have been? So, he's not perfect. And perhaps lack of generosity is worse than trying to tweeze the nipples off of your dog. 
But I digress. I agree with his Quaker friend about humility. Caroline Adams Miller talks about the importance of humility in developing grit in her book. "People who are humble are open to self-improvement and are willing to seek out feedback to become better," she says. So I guess that Benjy Franklin did have it. You might as well have it, too. Because one way or another, we all get humbled. It might hurt less if we can embrace it. 
I know, I used this photo before, but Milo didn't want to show his nipples. 



*Precept: Imitate Jesus and Socrates. 

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