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Lessons (not) learned

August 7, 2008 - Betsy Bethel
A few times in my life I have made stupid decisions in order to (supposedly) get myself out of a rut. Rarely has it worked.

For instance, I decided between my sophomore and junior years in college that I was too lazy and needed to develop a better work ethic. I thought if I were a farmhand, I would be forced to work hard. I took a job at a fruit farm and nursery in southwest Ohio, and about two-thirds of the way through the summer, I got fired. I overheard the main laborer tell the boss I was useless.

Hmm. ... Was it because the only time they let me drive the tractor-tiller-thing through the pumpkin patch I bent one of the blades trying to back into the barn during a storm? Or maybe because I took a cat nap in the apple orchard on occasion? Or because I hoed the strawberry fields and thinned the apple trees at the rate of a tortoise?

I didn't learn much from that experience, other than what month certain fruits ripen and the lyrics to every country music hit that summer. Oh, and that I'm no laborer, which I knew to begin with.

Another example: I have a fear of getting eaten by a shark. When I was a little kid, my parents took us to see "Jaws" at the drive-in. They thought I was asleep in the way-back of the station wagon, but I remember seeing the beady-eyed beast eat the surly fisherman toward the end. Somehow, I ended up seeing "Jaws 2," too, which stuck with me even more because I was a little older and more aware.

My fear waxed and waned over the years. While trying to fall sleep on rainy nights as a kid, I wondered if the shark could swim from the ocean all the way to St. Clarisville by jumping puddle to puddle. As a teen and living in coastal Florida, I decided to face my fear and forced myself to watch Shark Week on TV. "Knowledge is power," the Schoolhouse Rock kids always said.

Big mistake. I can count on one hand the number of times I've dipped into ocean waters since then.

But last night, for some reason, I decided I'd try to scare myself straight again. A couple years ago, someone gave me a DVD of the original "Jaws." I decided it was time to put the past behind me and watch it objectively. I was sure I would discover it really was just a silly movie.

Stupid, stupid, stupid. And I'm talking about me, not the movie. While I was fascinated by the younger versions of Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider (is this movie really 30 years old?!), and I understood a lot more of the fisherman's off-color jokes, my stomach still plunged with every bite of flesh the big fish took. It's plunging right now just thinking about it.

This doesn't have anything to do with parenting, really, unless the take-away message is not to show your youngsters scary movies at too young an age (even G-rated ones have some pretty unsettling scenes, such as the opening scenes of "Prince of Egypt" and Ursula the Sea Witch in "Little Mermaid" -- but that's another blog).

So maybe the lesson comes on a more personal level. Popeye said, "I am what I am, and that's all that I am." Should a leopard even TRY to change his spots? The only way people change is if they truly want to. But sometimes, I have found, even that isn't enough.

Bad habits -- and irrational fears -- die hard.


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