JOPLIN, Mo. —
I am nothing if not a kind and gentle parent.
Recently, our 15-year-old daughter Emma, as she was getting ready to walk out the door and go to school, stopped and opened the drawer in our refrigerator where we keep drinks. She then said in a very frustrated manner, “Oooooh, there isn’t any bottled water in here!”
I immediately rushed over to the refrigerator and looked inside the drawer.
“My gosh, you’re right,” I said. “I feel terrible. I have let you down Emma, and as God is my witness, you will never go thirsty again.”
Actually, that’s not what I did.
First of all, I didn’t jump up and run to over to see if she was correct. What I did was look up from behind the newspaper I was reading. And then, instead of going all Scarlett O’Hara for Emma, I went all Mike Pound.
“You know, Emma, we keep the bottled water in the pantry right behind you. If you want bottled water in the drawer, put some in yourself. If not, I don’t want to hear you complain.”
Emma looked at me as if I had just asked her to rotate the tires on my car.
“OOOOOOOH,” she said and stomped out of the kitchen.
I could have taken the time to mention to Emma that we probably shouldn’t even have bottled water in our house, what with the plastic being bad for the environment.
I could have taken the time to mention that, when I was a kid, if we wanted water we got it from the kitchen faucet. And if we complained about that, our parents would tell us that when they were kids they had to get their water from an outdoor pump.
We learned at a young age never to try and out-complain our parents.
I don’t think my wife and I ask a lot of Emma. We ask that, after we eat, she put her own dishes into the dishwasher. Sometimes we ask her to sweep the steps leading to our upstairs. We suggest that she pick up enough clothes in her bedroom so that she can actually see the floor, and we ask her to bring her clothes down to the laundry room when she wants them washed.
When I was a kid my parents asked much more of me and my six brothers and sisters.
As you can imagine, my mom was kind of busy. Sometimes by the end of the week our house would resemble Times Square after New Year’s Eve.
So, every Saturday morning, my mom would assign each of us a particular cleaning chore that had to be accomplished before we were allowed to leave the house for our Saturday-related fun.
We would all work very hard to do exactly what our mom told us to do. That hard work would continue until our mom got distracted with something else and then, one by one, we would sneak off, leaving the cleaning projects about half completed.
My mom would always pretend to get mad when she would discover that we were gone, but I don’t think she really was. I’m pretty sure that, rather than being mad, my mom was glad. For one thing, we were out of her hair for a while, and for another thing the house was at least halfway clean.
When you have seven kids, halfway clean is about all you can hope for.
I thought about those Saturday mornings as Emma stomped her way out of the house.
I first thought about telling Emma the sorts of things around the house I had to do when I was her age. But instead, I put the paper down, walked into the kitchen and put some bottled water in the refrigerator.
What the heck, I thought. When Emma got home I would make her sweep the steps.
JOPLIN, Mo. —
I am nothing if not a kind and gentle parent.
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