How To Live: Pull Up Your Socks

Let your pair of socks brush against your legs and itch to go higher.

Pull up your socks.

What does it mean, to pull up your socks? I bet that it doesn’t mean to literally grab the hem of your socks and pull them up your legs (and I’d win that bet!). What do you think it means?

We ‘pull up’ a lot of things in our lives, from the moment we are born and probably until we rest in peace. Let’s contextualize ourselves a bit;

When we were babies, tots, toddlers, little tykes — we were incapable of being human beings who could sit down on that big, white toilet seat and do our business. So, our parents had diapers on hand, that ‘hugged’ around our hips and bottom and collected our business, be it 1 or 2. You’ve probably experienced this largely personal issue that I’m about to share.

We were on a road trip.
Sourced from Unsplash, Anja P

I was with my parents and younger brother, who was snug in one of those seat extensions specially made for babies; half of his tiny body was engulfed in a diaper. I stared at him with a giggle seeping out of my mouth; I had outgrown diapers, and was pleased about feeling actual fabric instead of the itchy material of diapers [although there is nothing embarrassing about wearing them; for anyone who wants to fight, remember that the sweet elderly aka your nice grandfolk wear them, too].

The atmosphere in the car — a family Lexus, with crumbs in the crevices of the cushioned seats — was relatively calm. We had been driving for a while now, and while the designated driver (Dad!) wasn’t even tired, both his children were. My brother and I sat in the back, not complaining about food, the Sun, the length of the drive, but instead just soaking in the scenery that whizzed past us. I won’t tell you where we were headed off to in the summer, but the sight of pine forests stretched miles ahead, lining the road beautifully.

The serenity that my family had been breathing in (along with fresh summer air and the promise of a great time) was shattered by my brother’s screams. He started to scream and I was shocked; he screamed louder and I was astounded; my mom calmly turned from her front-passenger seat and I was astonished. He was screaming his head off and mom didn’t even look mad. Heat was rising up my body and I had no idea why.

I also had no idea why he was screaming. What on Earth would have caused the piercing wails to come out of my brother’s mouth? Thank God Prometheus hadn’t come out in the summer of ’09, because I would have envisioned white, gooey, alien flesh snaking out of my brother’s orifices. Yikes.

It turned out that he had been screaming/wailing/emitting horrendously loud, unnecessary noise for the same reason I used to do so. Because his diaper was full and he was feeling uncomfortable. Mom was running her fingers through her hair and muttering, “Should have changed his diaper at the last pit-stop…”

“It wasn’t full then, honey”, dad said, not taking his eyes off the steering wheel. “Yeah, it wasn’t.” Mom eyed my brother suspiciously. Dad turned at a freeway exit. My brother stopped screaming.

My brother had not been screaming because his diaper was full. No, he had been screaming because his diaper was positioned at a strange angle, sagging, and was therefore making him feel dreadfully uncomfortable. Thinking back to that summer, and thinking back to the reason why the serenity of our family drive was interrupted, I wring my hands. If only he’d just pulled up his diaper.

I honestly feel that we start being required to pull up things from our youth. If we learn to ‘pull up’ from the beginning, it would be easier to continuously ‘pull up’ as we live the rest of our lives.

I was nine. It was not a ripe age at all, because I was stuck in that awkward year of nine-slash-ten-but-expected-to-act-more-mature-than-Eight. I was stuck in that awkward period; I wanted to play but my parents (Asian, but that had little to do with it) wanted me to play and study hard (fine, perhaps a bit to do with it). Anyway, this “tragic” tale opens with me being nine years old and being compared to a flowing waterfall.

No, not my period. (Wow, I didn’t realize the implications of writing that phrase).

I was nine years old, and barely accomplished. I still am barely accomplished. I didn’t self-teach myself Chess, nor did I bother to complete five assessment books on Mandarin. (By the way, those weren’t my parents’ expectations but my own.)

My cousin in Canada was eleven years old, and he was a flowing waterfall. Knowledge seemed to flow out of his ears and eyes and nose and limbs, and flow like plasma in his blood, too. According to mom, he woke up early each morning — including Sundays! — to do fifty math problems. These math problems ranged from algebra to algorithms to multiplication tables that my nine-year-old self could not comprehend.

I woke up refreshingly late on Sundays, and only rose to the smell of pancakes. HA. Then I ate around fifty pancakes, doused in syrup and melted butter. There was no calculator involved, just a fork, a spoon and a growling stomach.

Nine years old was the first year of my life which I had heard the phrase ‘pull up your socks’. After my mom told the story of Amazing Cousin to us at the breakfast table, dad speared a pancake, chewed, and looked like he was about to say something.

My brother and I waited. Dad always said things that made us think were from his pocket of Wisdom.

He said, ‘pull up your socks, men!’ and speared another piece of pancake. It was Winter, and we were wearing socks at home, so my brother went under the table and grasped the hem of our socks and literally pulled them up.

Sourced from here

I jerked my foot away just went I felt my brother’s cold fingers brush my ankle, “No, you stupid, dad doesn’t mean that!”

Mom glared at me. Language.

Dad’s eyes crinkled, “Then what do you think it means?”

“It means…to do better.” As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I realized how lame it sounded, so to back my statement up a bit, I said that I’d read it from a book. Which I had, but I didn’t know how credible the book actually was.

To my surprise, my parents both agreed with my shoddy definition and proceeded to explain it in a more…in-depth way. A way that was probably not completely understood by their two children, who sat back with bellies full of pancakes.

Honestly, with syrup caked around one’s mouth, one cannot focus. This is an understood fact.

After the explanation, dad once again looked at both of us and said “Guys, we need to pull up our socks!” and he did not mean in terms of eating pancakes. Apparently, we were to hit the books. While my best friend since kindergarten went to Disneyland for the fifth time, I learnt how to say I like Mandarin oranges in Mandarin (HA-HA life of a punner starts from youth).

To translate whatever mess that just befell upon this page in the form of me typing out a couple of thoughts on the phrase pull up your socks

…I Googled it. It means to make efforts to improve your work, or your behaviour, because it isn’t good enough.

That was when a question pulled itself up in my head, isn’t good enough for what? What position is an online dictionary in, to tell a lonely Web surfer that he/she isn’t good enough, and needs to be better, to work better, to achieve some sort of perfect standard?

Then I realized that it gets worse than that. ‘Pull up your socks’ isn’t going to be used by a computer, telling its user off. No, your boss is going to tell you to pull up your socks. Your teachers are going to tell you to pull up your socks. Your friends are going to look at the mangled friendship they’ve landed themselves in and tell you to pull up your socks.

Your baby will look at you one day and dissolve in a red, splotchy mess of tears because you didn’t change his/her diaper in time. Your child will start to spew out comparisons like they’re Microsoft Excel, “hey, mom, why does Avaline’s mom let her buy the Malibu Barbie even though it’s not on discount?”. Your teenager might go out wearing nothing save for socks and —

Basically, I’ve donned my Pess Spectacles [Pessimistic Spectacles] and am now realizing that, in my journey of growing up, and being a Fully Functional Adult, I’ll probably be running through a maze — a maze like the one Sleeping Beauty’s Prince had to get through, a maze with thick vines and numerous thorns.

Inevitably, we will have to better ourselves [to stay happy]. You can think of it this way: Perhaps your life may take some turns. Maybe you’ll be super happy with where you’re at, at sixteen years old, and realize that your life will crash down on you like the tsunami that hit Japan, when you’re eighteen. How do we deal with the roller-coaster that the universe strings us open?

There’s a constant, and that one constant you can rely on is: betterment. Because as human beings, who have hopes, dreams, goals and even bucket-lists, we need to keep building ourselves. Building our emotional threshold so we’re stronger, building our bank of words so we can pull some snappin’ vocab out during important events, building up our tolerance so we don’t feel the need to smack our children all the time…Bettering ourselves not for the sake of keeping a job or pleasing your child or getting into a class, but for the sake of reaching our goals.

Perhaps, the phrase to nudge us into this virtuous cycle of betterment and whatnot, would be pull up your socks! Your bosses, professors, friends, colleagues, parents will tell you that — and it’s good for you. It’s good for us.

The only person who probably won’t tell you that for a while would be your grandma; she’d be knitting your socks! (and scarves. and pretty much everything else.)

Let’s not fight the phrase, or other criticizing words thrown at us, but embrace them. “Take criticism in stride”; don’t just take it in stride, use it to lengthen your stride. I believe in you. Your future does, too.