Quite often, whenever someone is about to leave the house, someone else in the family will say, “Bye-bye. Be careful.”
If you don’t happen to hear that when you leave the house, it means either your family members don’t care about you, or you belong to the Flying Wallendas family, where the standard expression is, “Bye-bye. Be dangerous.”
It also could mean you’re home alone and no one is around to say “Be careful” to you. In those instances, when there’s no one in my house to say “Be careful” to me, I take on that duty by having a conversation with myself. As I walk out the front door, I say, “Be careful, Bill. Oh, thank you for your concern, Bill. Don’t mention it, Bill. OK, Bill, maybe you should stop talking to yourself now because the neighbors are staring at you. No, they’re staring at you. Nuh uh, they’re staring at you!”
Anyway, what exactly does “Be careful” really mean? Is it simply a way of saying, “I care about you, so have a safe journey”? Or does the expression have some deeper meaning? In some cases, saying “Be careful” as a person leaves the house also could mean:
“You’re not smart enough to realize that driving an automobile on our congested highways these days is risky, so unless I say, ‘Be careful,’ you’ll surely drive recklessly and end up plowing into a bridge abutment at 80 mph.”
Or it could mean, “I’ve said ‘Be careful’ to you every time you’ve left the house for the last 30 years and you’ve never had a car accident, so the one time I don’t say it you probably will have an accident and everyone will blame me, so I’m gonna keep saying ‘Be careful’ whenever you walk out that front door, even if you’re just going to get the mail.”
Or it could mean, “One of these days you’re going to have a fender-bender, and when that happens I’ll be able to say, ‘I told you to be careful! Why weren’t you careful? You never listen to me! I go to all the trouble of reminding you to be careful, and what do you do to show your gratitude? You smash up the car! Thanks a lot, pal!’”
For decades my wife has said “Be careful” to me each time I’ve left the house. Being the snarkaholic that I am, I would usually reply, “No! I’m NOT going to be careful! Just because you said that, I’m going to put on a blindfold and drive 100 mph and steer with my feet!”
Then she would roll her eyes and say, “Well, when you’re driving to work, at least don’t have any of those distracting conversations with yourself, OK?”
For many years I thought I was being such a carefree smart-aleck, and then something truly frightening occurred: our two daughters became teenagers and got their driver’s licenses. Now, this happened a long time ago, but I can still remember it like it was yesterday. Every time one of the girls walked out the front door, I leapt up from the couch and pleaded, “Be careful! I mean it, really. BE CAREFUL!!” And then as I returned to the couch, I could feel another patch of hair on my head turning white.
Then, a little while later, in case she had forgotten, I called her cell phone and said, “Hey, it’s me. Just be careful, OK?” My daughter would reply, “Dad, I swear I’ll be careful — as soon as you hang up so I can back out of the driveway.”
Well, I’m no longer a snarkaholic (at least on this particular issue). So, everybody, please, do me a favor: be careful!