There's a lesson here for the youth, but it's elusive.
Parents try to fill their kids' minds with countless tidbits of knowledge that they hope will blossom into valuable life lessons that will lead to all sorts of success down the road, as our kids venture out on their own in this big world.
Mostly, though, all of the advice and, hopefully, parents trying to lead by example comes down to a couple very simple, basic things that we hope our kids learn in their youth, and practice as adults.
We want them to respect others, to work hard, and to be honest. We want them to be the type of people that others will trust, that others will look to as leaders and as people who will get things not just done, but done right.
That whole "work hard" one is kind of a biggie, and without scaring them to death about just how expensive everything is these days, and how expensive everything is going to be by the time our kids have to start paying for things themselves – for the sake of our sanity as well as that of our offspring, let's not even mention college tuition at this juncture – we want them to know that they're not going to just be handed anything for free on a silver platter.
"Money doesn't grow on trees, you know."
"There's no such thing as a free lunch."
"Nothing in life is free."
"If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." (By good, of course, we mean "free," because, you know, nothing in life is...well, see the third quote above.)
We're stretching the truth on some of those so-called wise truisms, of course. There is no such thing as a money tree, obviously. (But there is, in fact, a Shoe Tree on the University of Minnesota campus in the Twin Cities.) But you probably could somehow score a free lunch if you really tried, as long as you didn't have to somehow embarrass yourself or inflict pain on yourself in order to do so.
Of course, our kids have to be careful, and sometimes we have to be especially vigilant on their behalf, because the world is full of supposedly "free" offers. But as jaded, grisled older people, we know that there is always at least one string attached. Indeed, just about every product sold by screaming pitch-men on TV costs $19.99 and, yes, you can just about always get a second one for free, they shout, but – here's the string: "Just pay processing!" Does anyone really dare order two closet-hanger-space-saver-thingies for the price of one to find out just how much "processing" amounts to? I didn't think so.
And, please, don't even get me started on "20% More Free" in my tube of toothpaste, container of Cool-Whip or bottle of hand lotion. None of it's free! The per-ounce price might be reduced, but not one molecule of the product inside the container is free.
I took a trip on a plane last week, and in booking the trip, the fact that nothing in life is free was reinforced in my mind even more. Or maybe some of the travel-related products and services I rejected with countless clicks of "No Thanks" were indeed free, as long as I let the companies flood my email inbox with junk for the remainder of my living days.
When I confirmed my flight itinerary online, I was alerted to the fact that seating with 20 percent additional legroom was available on my flight. Clearly, they were oblivious to the fact I haven't grown an inch since around eighth grade. Did I want more luxurious legroom? Just click to learn more! I didn't want to learn "more" because I knew that meant "more" money out of my pocket.
Then, after my entire reservation, both embarking on my trip and returning home, was booked, they wanted me to "select" my seat. I was supposed to pick my preferred seat on the planes in which I'd be cocooned high up in the sky. Thing is, I didn't care where I sat. Just assign me a seat, I figured, and I'll be reasonably happy with it. A window seat is always nice, one could argue, but not if you have to click through 20 webpages to supposedly reserve it.
But I couldn't find a spot on the screen to click "No Thanks." It simply didn't exist, and when I tried to ignore the step in the process, it was sort of implied that my seat might never be reserved, even though I'd reserved my entire trip there and back. Of course, using a service to make sure I got my preferred seat costs money. More than a little miffed, I reluctantly navigated my way through the "Pick your seat!" process until, after I'd aged a decade, I found a microscopic box where I could indicate that where I would be seated on the plane ranked up there in importance with who won MLB's All-Star Game Home Run Derby earlier this week.
So, kids, let that be a lesson to you. Just, please, don't ask me to explain what that lesson is, exactly.