When I was a kid I hated to hear adults say, "When I was a kid."

What followed was inevitably a speech on the superior toughness, taste or dietary habits of an earlier generation. I tried to avoid subjecting my own kids to similar reminiscences, fascinating as they might be to the one reminiscing. But I'm sure they would tell you I wasn't always successful at restraining myself.

The problem with "when I was a kid" is it often is a morality tale disguised as a memory. Unfortunately, kids can see through that disguise in an instant. They can hear a sermon coming from a mile away.

The only reminiscences I wanted to hear as child were the ones that helped humanize my parents. I didn't want to hear how they trudged through the snow barefoot to get to school. I wanted to hear, for the thousandth time, how my grandmother once pushed my mother's head through the wall in a fit of frustration. (This was less a testament to my grandmother's temper than the quality of the plaster in the house, but that's another story.)

I think kids find it comforting to hear their parents were once just as fallible as they are. It cuts the adult world down to size. Here's what they don't want to hear:

How much less you had as a kid than they do. Kids compare themselves to other kids, not previous generations. They don't care that you only had three TV channels. They care that the kid next door has 200 and they only have 90. Save your breath.

How much better music was in 1968. If it really was any good, it survived and they've got it on their iPods. And if it wasn't any good, you will have no more luck convincing them of its merit than my parents would have had convincing me that I should forget Mick Jagger and give a listen to Al Jolson.

How lucky they are that they have the luxury of refusing food because you never did. Every generation tries to convince the succeeding generation that it ate whatever was placed before it: roots, grubs, iron filings, whatever. This is without a doubt the most fruitless argument you can present to a 5-year-old with a broccoli aversion, but every parent tries it.

I'm not suggesting that family stories aren't important. They are, but the key word is "stories." You need a narrative. If you're going to subject your kids to reminiscences, take a tip from the Brothers Grimm, Dr. Seuss and Mother Goose: Make it a story with a beginning, middle and end. Make sure you have strong characters in the tale. And end with a bang.

If you're skillful enough you can probably even slip in some information on how things were when you were a kid. You won't have to guess whether you were successful. The kids will let you know by asking you to tell it again and again.


Joe Blundo's column, So to Speak, appears in the Life section of The Columbus Dispatch. It's a mix of humor, human interest and information. A collection of his columns has been published in a book Dancing Dads, Defective Peeps and Buckeye Misadventures. He lives in Worthington with his wife and two children.