One of the perks of working from home is that I don't get fired as often. Another is that I can drive my 11-year-old granddaughter to school in the morning.
Hallie and I talk on the way. She tells me what she's learning at school. I tell her what things were like when it was legal for mental asylum inmates to teach school.
Mostly we talk about life: what she wants to accomplish with hers and how I've wasted most of mine. It's a stark contrast between young hope and aging cynicism.
Sometimes Hallie asks my advice. Last month she wanted to know what to do about a boy she liked who was mean to her at school.
I suggested she point him out to me. I'd wait for him after school and punch him so hard he'd be able to see out of his ears. Hallie always runs my advice past her grandmother, so I still don't know who the kid is.
When I turned 60 last week Hallie was impressed. She won't be 60 until the year 2061. That is a long time to learn stuff. What were the most important lessons I had learned during my six decades in the school of life?
Hallie: "And don't say, 'Never go water skiing with Jesus.' Grammy says that one is a lie."
We agreed that in exchange for homemade cookies, I would tell her the five most important things I had learned in life, one every morning for an entire week. Then I told her one for free.
Me: "Your grandmother is easier to live with when she doesn't know everything."
Hallie: "Be serious."
I promised to try. During the weekend I thought about all the things 60 years had taught me. I worried that none of them would apply to her. Our worlds are so different.
At age 11 her goal is to become a world-class pastry chef with her own bakery and signature line of goods. When I was that age my life goal was to live in a tree.
I finally narrowed it down. These are the five most valuable life lessons I wish I hadn't been forced to learn the hard way.
Be yourself • Eventually people are going to find out who you really are anyway. If you had to pretend in order to keep them happy or get them to like you, they should have been avoided in the first place.
Remember to have fun • Hard work is important, but people who say it never killed anyone are idiots. It's killed lots of people. So has fun, but it's at least a lot more … well, fun. The trick is in not letting one prevent you from having the other.
Don't be afraid to love • Sometimes love hurts, but the right kind of love is always worth it anyway. If you have to ask what kind that is, you haven't found it yet. Keep looking.
Know when to shut up • Rarely is the person in charge also the smartest person in the room. But they're still in charge, so keep your own council whenever being right might not be as satisfying as being able to eat.
Square your tab • No one alive is ever completely debt free. Whether financial or emotional, always stay current on what and who you owe.
I don't know if any of these will be the most important life lessons Hallie needs to know, but they can't hurt. I've learned them well enough to keep from having to live in a tree.
Robert Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.