Boomerang Lessons

Boomerang and pearls

I never meant to teach my children gambling. I thought I was teaching my children about the ills of gambling.

Years ago on a family vacation, we swung by Las Vegas to catch some shows. We saw the famous Siegfried and Roy magic show with their amazing white tigers. The second evening we saw Cirque du Soleil acrobats perform aerial magic. My children were enchanted with the over-the-top entertainment. I thought the whole city was over-the-top and not always in a good way.

My husband wanted to try his luck at blackjack. Children were not allowed in the casino, so I made use of the sidewalk slot machines to teach my children a lesson on gambling. At a random sidewalk slot machine, I planned to show my kids that you only lose your money in these machines. I got a bunch of quarters to illustrate my show-and-tell lesson. I put in a few quarters. As no cherry/cherry/cherry ever lined up, I espoused how you just “fed” the gambling owners in Vegas but never received any “fruit” for yourself. I left out the part about the mob influence and focused on how money should be spent wisely…then the unbelievable happened.

After feeding one quarter, the machine went crazy! Quarters were flying out of that machine and falling onto the sidewalk! My son was smiling from ear to ear. He said, “It doesn’t look so bad to me, Mom!” Undaunted, I later took them to the kid gambling place, Circus-Circus Arcade. We bought a few tickets to roll the spinner at a booth where you could “win” a large stuffed toy. When it was my turn, I rolled the spinner and it landed on the largest plush bunny rabbit in the booth! Foiled, AGAIN.

This ended my lessons on gambling in Vegas. I needed a Zen master’s advice. Two hundred years ago a Japanese Zen master named Sono was respected for her wisdom in guiding people to peace and enlightenment. Regardless of a person’s frustrating situation, she taught this simple affirmation: say to yourself every morning, “Thank you for everything, I have no complaints whatsoever.”

Instead of beating up on myself for trying to teach “Thou shalt not,” I did learn a lesson for myself…discipline is much more powerful when you teach a child what TO DO, instead of what NOT TO DO.

I find many life lessons in the boomerang category – they reverberate between childhood and my Baby Boomer adulthood.  

Pearls of Peace (PoP) quiz:

18. Did any of your lessons to children or students ever boomerang into you learning the biggest lesson?

19. What stories cause you to beat up on yourself?

By Janis Johnston

Janis Clark Johnston, Ed.D., has a doctorate in counseling psychology from Boston University. She has worked with children, families, and groups (ages 3-83) with presenting issues of anxiety, depression, trauma, loss, and relationship concerns. She initially worked as a school psychologist in public schools and was awarded School Psychology Practitioner of the Year for Region 1 in Illinois for her innovative work. She was a supervising psychologist at a mental health center, an employee-assistance therapist and a trainer for agencies prior to having a family therapy private practice. Recipient of the 2011 Founder’s Award for her dedication to the parenting education of Parenthesis Family Center (now called New Moms), and the 2002 Community Spirit Award from Sarah’s Inn, a domestic violence shelter and education center, Johnston is an active participant in numerous volunteer activities supporting children and families in her community. A frequent presenter at national psychology and educational conferences, Johnston has published journal articles, book chapters, and two books -- It Takes a Child to Raise a Parent: Stories of Evolving Child and Parent Development (2013, hardback; 2019, paperback) and Midlife Maze: A Map to Recovery and Rediscovery after Loss (2017, hardback; 2019, paperback). In addition to augmenting and supporting personal growth in families, Johnston is a Master Gardener and loves nurturing growth in the plants in her yard.


  1. I want you to know, Jan, I had a good belly laugh this morning as I read about your gambling teachings! Perhaps the lesson is, good things happen when you least expect it!
    Sorry, no stories I can recall. I’m sure they are there somewhere among the cobwebs!


  2. One of my favorite stories happened years ago when I was a school psychologist in a Chicago suburb. I hurried over to one of my schools after a principal’s call to learn the details. It seems that two white mice were being raised in the foyer: one mouse was fed “junk” food, and the other healthy food. You already know the ending…the healthy mouse died! I learned a lot about listening that day and trying to bring a positive but realistic view on the whole sad event!!


  3. Our intentions are powerful but not foolproof. Some of our best lessons occur when situations have unpredicted results. I’m guessing that both the teachers and the students of the mouse experiment had plenty of “food for thought” postmortem!


  4. Your story is an example of how we are ultimately not in control of the effects of our efforts.
    But we often don’t know how we have impacted other people or the world. So we do what we can to make our contributions anyway!


  5. Laughed out loud at your gambling prowess. But a wonderful example of unintended consequences and being nimble when the unexpected happens. A good reminder to teach and model what to do, what not to do.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: