by Michelle Junot
Don’t say no. Always say yes ma’am or no sir, even if someone says you don’t have to. Say thank you. Say you’re welcome. Say excuse me if you pass too closely to someone.
Never say huh. My name is not Huh. (My brother would eventually point out that our father’s name was also not Sir. This would not go over well.) Don’t talk back. Never argue that if you can’t talk back, you can’t answer questions. It’s not the same thing, and you know it.
If you don’t have the key to open the door, don’t stand in the way of the person that does. Put the key back where it goes! It should be on the hook at all times.
Don’t put anything on the stairs. Never block the pathway to the stairs. Never block any pathway anywhere. Why would you even consider it?
Don’t say no. Are you going to tell me no again? (There isn’t a good answer to this question.)
Don’t go inside the neighbor’s house; play outside where we can see you. Stay out of the way and don’t climb his trees.
Don’t stand in front of the fridge. Don’t block doorways. Stop putting stuff on the stairs! You’re going to trip and break your neck.
Stop cutting your baby dolls’ hair. It won’t grow back.
Say please. Say thank you. Don’t interrupt someone when they’re speaking.
Get socks on your feet now!
Stop tearing the wallpaper in the dining room. What makes you think that’s okay?
Don’t hang on the cabinets. Close the cabinets. Close the drawers when you leave a room. How hard is that? How can you leave a room when there are cabinets and drawers open? It’s so simple. Just close them when you’re done.
Pick up after yourself. If you pick it up as soon as you’re done with it, you don’t have to spend your entire Saturday cleaning your room. What’s difficult about that?
Why are you only wearing one sock?
If someone is looking at something and you want to look at that same thing, wait. Go look at something else, and come back when they’re done. Don’t hover or reach into their space to grab the thing. Wait your turn. Be polite.
Don’t rest your butt on the pew when kneeling at church. Don’t fidget; pay attention. When I hand you a missalette, I want you to use it! Say the responses.
Put that down. Stop it.
Rinse your dish before putting it in the sink. The left side of the sink, not the right. You don’t have to put it in the dishwasher; you just have to rinse it. You have it much easier than other kids.
If you can’t laugh at yourself, you can go to your room until you can. No one wants to hear your crying.
Where is your other sock?
Ask before you open a new bag of chips. Make sure there isn’t a can of Coke already open in the fridge before you open another one.
If we’re at Dad’s customer’s house, and his customer offers you a Coke, politely say no. Y’all can have one when we get home. Y’all don’t need to be drinking all her Coke.
Don’t say shut up. Never say suck; that’s vulgar.
Put your clothes down the laundry chute. It couldn’t be any easier. And don’t leave anything in your pockets.
What did Mom say? Then my answer is no, too.
Don’t go outside in barefoot; don’t go outside in your socks.
Don’t ask to sleep over at someone’s house while they’re standing right there. That’s rude. Ask us in private.
Eat everything on your plate; we don’t waste food.
Put on your shoes! Stop whining!
Don’t watch Blossom (because she’s sassy). Don’t watch Sabrina the Teenage Witch (because she’s a teenage witch). Stop watching soap operas when we’re not home.
Don’t lie. Lies of omission are still lies.
No TV during lent. No eating out during Lent. Is that meat? It’s Friday!
Feed the cat. Clean the litter box. This is your cat, not ours. Don’t let the rabbit out of his cage; he bites the cat.
When you take off your shoes, untie them. Stop just slipping them off.
If you mean “correct,” say correct. You are not to use the word “right” unless you mean the opposite of left.
Did you take out the trash? Did you sort the recycling? Did you change the air filters? If you don’t do your required chores, you won’t get paid for the optional ones.
You can’t take a shower and not wash your hair, Michelle. That’s gross. Go back in there, and do it again.
We are not getting a pool; you can swim in the bathtub.
You can’t shave your legs until you’re twelve. It was the same for your sister; don’t even bother asking before then. You’ll get to go to dances and girl-boy parties once you’re in seventh grade. Your brother and sister survived, and you will, too.
Just rinse the damn dish.
Don’t tell Mom. Don’t tell your father.
Good grades are important. We’ll pay you a dollar per A, a five-dollar bonus if you get all As, a talking to for a B, and you’re grounded if you get a C. Don’t come home with a D or an F.
You cannot join the dance team or the cheerleading squad. Your sister told us about their initiation with the football players. That’s not going to happen.
If you don’t want me talking to your friends, don’t leave your AIM chat window up. Who’s BaseballPicther89? You can’t have a boyfriend.
If you’re going to pick up the mail, sort it. You can’t just take what’s yours and leave everyone else’s all over the place.
Pick up after yourself. Throw your clothes in the hamper!
If you’re going to wear underwear like that, you can do your own laundry.
Don’t ask someone if they’re okay when they’re choking! If they’re choking, how are they supposed to answer you?
We are not getting a pool, even if you dig the hole yourself. Go do something productive.
Get off the internet; I need to use the phone.
Did you take the dog out? Did you pick up the dog crap in the backyard? You wanted a dog.
If you want a car, get a job. If you want to learn to drive, ask Mom. If you’re going to go to work at 5am, Dad needs to follow you. You could fall asleep driving!
You can’t have any passengers in your car for the first year you have a license. Don’t make left turns for the first six months. Don’t mess with the radio while you drive.
You can’t drive to your boyfriend’s house; he can come here. Keep that door open. Do not turn those lights off!
Let us know when you get there; let us know when you’re on the way home. Don’t stop at ATMs or gas stations after dark. Don’t text while you drive.
You cannot go to your friend’s house. There are too many death ditches on the way to her house. If you go off the road, you’ll die instantly.
No, you cannot go to the after-party. Why is there a party after another party? That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.
No, you can’t go out to a “teen club.” Teens don’t need clubs. All that’s for is drinking, drugs, and sex. That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.
You can’t dye your hair. You are not leaving the house in that; put on a shirt with sleeves.
You can go to any of the clubs downtown except Nitetown, because it’s not up to fire codes. If there’s a fire, you’ll suffocate and burn up before you even know something’s wrong. That place needs to be torn down.
Why would you join a sorority? You can make friends on your own just like everyone else. How exactly do you plan on paying for that?
You will not miss your sister’s graduation. We’re all going, and so are you.
You cannot miss your final for your sister’s graduation. We’ll photoshop you into the pictures. She’ll understand.
No, we don’t want y’all driving to Houston. Y’all stay where you are; we’ll be fine. We’ll call you after Dad’s first treatment and let you know how it went.
Drive safe. Don’t speed, don’t text, and don’t let your brother drive. Dad’s looking forward to seeing y’all.
Don’t let that boy keep you from going away to school. If it’s meant to be, a few years won’t make a difference. And really, do you actually think he’s the one?
Do you really want to go that far away to graduate school? If you move, we won’t be a quick trip away anymore. We won’t be able to help fix broken cars or broken hearts.
You can’t move to the East Coast; we don’t know anything about the East Coast. This city won’t shut down when it snows, you know; you’ll still have to go work and school.
You cannot stay in this apartment. It’s not even a room. Why did you sign a lease without seeing it first?
Don’t spend money on furniture when you’re going to move back home soon anyway.
You cannot stay here! People just walk out into the street! The cop! The fucking cop jaywalks! You cannot live here! We will not leave you in this place.
Our flight is about to leave, we need to board. Call us when you get home. Lock your doors and don’t text or use your cell phone when you’re in the car. Or outside.
Lock your doors before you leave your parking garage. Don’t leave anything valuable out in your car. Don’t leave the apartment after dark. Don’t talk to anyone. Call me when you get home from class. Call me when you get home from work.
Let us know how it’s going. Come home for Christmas. Call us.
Remember, we love you.
Kitchen sink image by Tasha Lutek from Flickr Creative Commons.
Michelle Junot is a writer, graphic designer and copy editor. She is the author of Notes From My Phone*, a self-portrait in her twenties, and of and the floor was always lava, a collection of essays exploring childhood and memory. Her writing has been published in Atticus Review, BmoreArt, Welter, The Avenue, Reject and Baltimore STYLE. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing & Publishing Arts from the University of Baltimore and her B.A. in Communication and Dance from Centenary College of Louisiana.