If scientists in the future note a hiccup, a planetary burp in the alignment of the galaxy, I can explain. After years of fielding complaints from my famished, overworked, underpaid, completely put-upon children, there it came.
“Thank you for teaching me how to work.”
What may have been a small 3.4-magnitude temblor rumbled the slats of the orange swing on which I was sitting. Shocking, since it came, of all things, from the one who was sharp as a tack, a regular Einstein when it came to excuses and charges, dodges and evasions. Politicians, I thought, could have consulted this one for artful, uh, stories to explain illicit schemes and the shirking of responsibilities.
Once upon a summer’s day, he’d used the new, orange (I’m not kidding) lawn mower as a getaway vehicle while an older brother gave chase. There they went, sailing behind the barn, then doing loop-de-loops around the rhubarb and through the garden before lurching to a stop to wrestle…
While the jungle that was The Three continued to grow, swallowing toddlers and small pets whole.
Then there was the phone call that came in the midst of routine chores one day. I heard him say, “We’re working like dogs.” Then this. “She got a new tip for her whip.” On a windswept prairie, his grandmother laughed while I leveled the Look of Death on an erstwhile peasant. Who was, I noted, lounging in an air-conditioned house in a recumbent position. Not working.
To teach character and morals and the essence of responsibility, I developed a mantra for the children to chant when the complaining got especially loud. “You live here, eat here, sleep here? You work here.” In between family chants, they would draft handwritten letters to the Labor Commission, detailing their complaints.
“Dear Sir, Our mother is an Egyptian slave driver…” They’d tuck in Crayola portraits of their beleaguered faces sweating in the garden amidst a patch of weeds the size of a Buick before carefully licking the envelope.
A favorite tactic went like this. “So-and-so doesn’t have to work. Whhyyyy do IIII?” Violins would play, and a bottom lip would quiver. Somewhere, I could hear Johnny Cash singing, “Cry, Cry, Cry.” (Although it may have been Van Zandt with “Waiting Around to Die.”)
Anyway, that’s when I’d dial their father in the oasis of peace and tranquility called The Office with this: “Come quick! Save your kids.”
But back to the bombshell from my used-to-be complaining Israelite. “Thank you for teaching me how to work.”
After his race around the world, he’s been back for one year, figuring out his next steps. Now, he’s on the eve of launching out on a brand-new adventure, and he’s feeling the weight of responsibility. In this time of preparation and processing, he knows that he’s been given the tools. And he’s grateful.
To you who are in the thick of parenting, take heart. One day, your own little “Israelites” will realize what they had, what you’ve done, what they’ve received, and they’ll be grateful.
So kudos to you, tired mother, for not eatin’ your young and for lettin’ them live to tell it. That’s not nothin’. You just keep doin’ your thing, and one day, they’ll be all grown up. I promise.
Rhonda, who says that coffee helps, and prayer does, too