Sunday, October 12, 2008

300 miles to lunch

I’ve never been one to threaten to do something… And not follow through. Ask my kids. They were never subject to empty threats. No, the threats I made came with a good dose of follow through. And in that there were some good life lessons.

Lots of people warn their kids not to misbehave and then dream up a laundry list of things that they will do to them if they fail in this mission. Speaking of laundry, my wife used to tell the kids that she would put them in the dryer if they didn’t settle down. This, of course, was an idle threat—really a tongue-in-cheek way to distract the kids for a minute or two while they contemplated just how much fun it would be to spin around in the cool cycle.

The problem with this harmless “Things Said in Las Vegas Stay in Las Vegas” approach is that things don’t always stay in Las Vegas. While trying to do the grocery shopping in a crowded supermarket and, at the same time, playing ringmaster of a three-ring circus, Mary was getting a little frustrated with her co-shoppers (aka Chris and Bryan). She started her threat with “If you two don’t settle down,” which they finished in perfect unison: “We know. You’re gonna throw us in the dryer!”

In the following two seconds, the crowded, noisy grocery store turned into a silent, guilt filled courtroom. Fortunately, this happened before cell phones existed or there would have been a baker’s dozen of speed dialed calls to the DSS. “You guys know that we only joke about that. Right? Right. Just jokes. Jokey, wokey. Let’s check out now.”

I love my kids. (And now for the big…) But, I can’t stand it when they abuse things like innocent, unassuming doors. Slamming doors somehow gets on my nerves, particularly after, say, the 75th slam. Such was the case one Saturday afternoon.

We had a three-bedroom house with six kids—four boys and two girls—which was configured in the obvious way. With two sets of bunk beds in the boys’ room and little other room to spare, I understood that tempers could sometimes be short. I don’t pretend to know what the ruckus was about, but I yelled my threat from the living room. “If you guys don’t settle down, I’m going to do something about it!”

I was sure that all four of them were feeling like the lead character in “Dead Man Walking,” but the slamming of the door some fifteen seconds later interrupted my basking in satisfaction. Time to follow through.

I headed into the garage and collected my flat blade screw driver and hammer from the toolbox. Calmly I walked down the hall and opened the bedroom door. All four of them instantly stopped what they were doing and froze in position. I was, after all, wielding a hammer in one hand and a screwdriver in the other. I would have worn a hockey mask to up the tension, but I couldn’t find one.

They silently watched me while I wedged the flat blade between the door hinge and hinge pin. With one rap, the pin popped out. After repeating this procedure twice more, I pocketed the hinge pins, tucked the door under my arm, and returned to the garage where the door took up residence for the next week.

Not a word was spoken about this episode—at least not to me. And after that, I don’t remember having to remind any of the kids, including the girls, about proper door etiquette. That is the benefit of follow through.

Chris and Dan will confirm this as they surely remember the road trip we were on when I threatened to expel them from Denny’s without their breakfast if they didn’t settle down. It was a long 300 miles to lunch.

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