Giving advice

“Now your mother will say I’m crazy when she hears what I’m about to tell you,” said Dr. Al Davis, our new pediatrician. “If you’re hot, then the baby’s hot. Don’t bundle him up in blankets in the middle of July. If you let him eat too much, he’ll get a stomachache. Put him on a schedule.”

Dr. Davis gave me much advice, and when I came home, my mother who was babysitting my five-year-old, asked how I’d liked the new doctor. When she heard what he’d told me, she turned livid.

“What? The man is crazy. Everybody knows you have to keep babies wrapped up no matter what the weather is. And you don’t put a baby on a schedule for eating. Feed him when he cries. You’d better find you a doctor with some sense if you can. I don’t know if they exist anymore. You’ll kill that baby if you listen to him.”

Dr. Davis cared for my children until they got too old to see him, and his advice always took care of their problems. I wish I could say that all the unsolicited advice I’ve gotten over the years has been as valuable. Unfortunately, . . .

There are at least two kinds of advice—solicited and unsolicited. Now when I approach someone for advice, I don’t complain when I don’t like it. I don’t always follow it either, but I keep my mouth shut.

Once I was visiting my father on a Sunday night. The two of us were talking about nothing in particular when I started complaining to him about my bills.

“Mary Ann, who made those bills?” he asked me seriously.

“I did, of course, but . . .”

“Well, if you made them, then pay them and don’t complain. Be thankful you have a job.”

I said no more. He’d said enough for both of us, and when I complained to him, I had inadvertently asked for his advice.

My well-meaning mother drove me crazy with her advice sometimes.

“Don’t drag that child crying and screaming to swimming lessons. You’ll make him drown.”

“No, Mama, I’m trying to see to it that he doesn’t drown.”

“Don’t make him eat broccoli if he doesn’t like it.”

“I see, Mama, that the rules have changed since I was a child. What happened to eating what’s put before you?”

The advice that really infuriates me though is the completely unsolicited and unwanted advice given by full-time meddlers. Once I had an accident when I pulled out in front of another vehicle. The accident was completely my fault. When I stopped my car, and started to step out, a gentleman—well, a man—came running up yelling at me.

“Don’t even try to argue. I saw the whole thing. You pulled right in front of that car.”

At that point I’d not even had a chance to open my mouth.

Through out the years so many people have said to me, “Why don’t you lose some weight?” I smile, but inside I seethe. Overweight people know better than anyone how badly we need to lose. We don’t need to be told.

And then there’s the backseat driver, the bane of my existence. For forty years now I have been a licensed driver. I’ve paid my share of tickets, and I’ve had a couple of minor accidents. I get by on the highways, but I sometimes think I have a sign around my neck which says, “Please tell me how to drive.” My children tell me how to drive, even though I drove before they were born. Not many things annoy me more than a back seat driver no matter where he is sitting, and my family abounds with them.

From the passenger seat, my advisor says, “There’s a stop sign up there. Watch out for that car. I think you’re on the verge of tailgating it. You have to turn just two miles up there on the left. Don’t forget. The speed limit here is fifty-five. Better slow down. I know you know how to drive, but . . .”

At this point I just want to stop the car and get out. If my passenger wants to drive, I’d prefer that he drive behind the wheel.

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