By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

All my grandchildren are teenagers now, learning to make their own near-adult decisions. One is already away at college; another is thoughtfully filling out her college applications; a third is entering high school. Time for choices.

When I moved into my own teenage zone so many years ago, my mother explained that I was old enough to learn how to make decisions on my own. “You make two columns,” she explained in her high-pitched, school-marm’s voice (in her salad days, my mother had been a school teacher with 58 immigrant children in her fifth grade classroom. In those old depression days, jobs were scarce for new graduates without experience, so my spunky mother took a job in a rural school where she taught eight grades in one room. After that, she was able to get a position in an overcrowded city school. So she certainly felt qualified to teach her budding daughter how to make an important decision).

“You head one column with the word ‘PRO,’” she continued. “That’s the column for all the reasons you should something.” I dutifully wrote “PRO” at the top of the first column.

“And then you put ‘CON’ at the top of the second column. That’s where you put all the reasons why you shouldn’t do something.” Respectfully acceding to her instructions, I wrote “CON” at the top of the designated column.

“What do I do now?” I asked.

“You think,” she replied. “You think and think.”

Immediately I started thinking, but I wasn’t sure what I was thinking about.

“Now,” she instructed, “you start writing down all the reasons why you want to do something.”

“What is it I want to do?” I asked.

“Think of something,” she replied. “Something important.”

“Okay,” I replied. I want to play hooky from school and just laze around. For a week. I’m tired of studying.”

“Hmmm,” she said. “Now put all the reasons why that would be a good idea in the PRO column.”

So I did. Only one reason to a line. That was the rule. It was a good thing I had ruled paper. I ended up with 25 PRO reasons.

“Next,” she said. “It’s time for the CONS. Write down all the reasons why you shouldn’t play hooky in the second column.”

I was having a hard time filling up the CON column with as many reasons as the PRO column, but my mother threw in a dozen or so suggestions because you should try to have a reasonably equal number. What you have to do then is balance them. She didn’t mean balance them on a scale. It was more the way a juggler juggles balls. Only you have to juggle them in your mind. Until you make a decision.

I had a sneaking suspicion the CON column made a lot more sense. But I got tired of juggling and chose the PRO column anyway.

That’s how I learned to make a decision. You balance the PROS and the CONS.

So, from then on, every time I had to make a decision, my mother would say, “Why don’t you PRO/CON it?”

This is a tough one,” I complained. “I have to write an essay for school. About capital punishment.”

“Capital punishment?” she gasped. “You mean, when the judge decides a murderer should be executed?”

“Yes,” I replied. “Whether they should do it or not.”

“Oh,” she offered sympathetically. “I’ll help you.”

So together we wrote out lots of PROS and even more CONS, but at the end, even though my mother juggled and juggled in her mind, she couldn’t decide which column carried more weight.

I have to choose,” I exclaimed. The essay is due tomorrow.” She threw up her hands in despair. So, all by myself, I chose the PROS.

“That’s impressive,” she said, relieved that she didn’t have to make a choice. “I think you made a good decision.”

But ten minutes after I laid my head on my pillow, she shook me by the shoulder. “Wake up,” she cried. “I think you made a mistake. Big mistake. Maybe you should have chosen the CONS.

So I got up, and being a dutiful daughter, I listened to my mother who, after all, had more life experience than me. I changed the decision to CON.” And went back to bed.

Then, about three o’clock in the morning, I felt something nudging me. Little nudge. Bigger nudge. It was my mother. “I can’t sleep,” she whispered. “I’ve been thinking about it all night. It should be PRO.”

“Oh no,” I cried. “I’ll change it in the morning.”

“Noooo,” she protested. “You might change your mind in the morning.”

I smiled at my mother. “I’m learning to make a decision,” I said firmly. “MY decision. I’m going to sleep on it!” And I did.

In the morning, I was sure that I had made the right choice. I won’t tell you what it was. It’s my secret. I will tell you that, after that, whenever I had to make a decision, I always made two column, just as my mother had taught me, and I filled them with PROS and CONS. But I did all the juggling in my mind myself.

And what I decided when I was a teenager – and I have lived a long time since then, and it is still true – what I decided is this: Whichever column you choose, there are consequences, even when it is not a life or death situation. If you choose to go one way, there will be consequences, and if you choose to go another way, there will be consequences. But you can’t keep juggling and juggling and be a grown-up, and, once you choose, you can’t have juggler’s remorse, even if you were a school teacher in your salad days. You have to choose.