Crime and Punishment
Important dynamic issues needed to be addressed before the time bomb which is Grandpa Ralph detonated. The next week when they were over and he was golfing (having been blessed with another unusually mild December) I chose a boring commercial moment to capture their attention. I made sure we had eye contact, and that they wee aware that I was talking to them.
I told them that when Grandma or Grandpa were around, they were not to speak of boogers, blood and butts, and that this was not the entire list of forbidden topics. I told them to do this out of respect for Grandma and Grandpa. But as long as it was just the three of us, or when Grandma and Grandpa were out of earshot, they cold talk about anything they wished as loudly as they wanted. I asked them if they understood. They both said “Yes.”
I dropped the matter there, but what neither one of them know was that I had spent the better part of the week devising a punishment should they fail to follow my request for respectful conversation in the presence of the King of the Grumpies. It's not as if I can say, “Hey don't do this.” And then when they go ahead and do it, I can then say, “Hey, I told you not to do this! Don't do it again.”
Some mildly distasteful consequences were required to reinforce the message, so that they should know that Mark is not a verbal wimp, braying pointlessly like a donkey. Mark is serious.
About 2:00 it was time for Adam to do his math homework This was our negotiated starting time. We clambered up the stairs, Adam, as always, trying to renegotiate the starting time. It's easy to see why it takes him so long to complete his homework. He never starts.
Once upon a time, he come over after I had decided to lay down THE LAW. Do math first thing on Saturday. I made only one concession. Do it until it gets done or thirty minutes elapse.
This child truly IS my son. He instantly recognized the loophole that would permit him to teach ME a lesson. He went on a homework slow down. After all, he knew I had only committed him to thirty minutes. So for the next half h our, he worked VERY SLOWLY, thus teaching me my lesson. It was not the homework per se that he objected to. It was being told when to do it' my unilateral decision did not sit well with him.
Some day I will tell him how proud I was of his response, which was based on principle, in nonviolent fashion in keeping with the greatest traditions of passive resistance so favored by Gandhi, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, and the carpenter, Jesus of Nazareth. (Look what it got them. Hmm. May have to rethink this.)
Nathan broke first, unable to contain himself from babbling about brains falling out of eyeballs. Don't ask me why. Just remember: there are fundamental differences between the sexes. Nathan had fallen into my carefully set trap. “Nathan! I told you not to talk about things like that when Grandma or Grandma are around. Now, you and I are going to have to go outside and pick up ten pieces of garbage each.”
“Oh no. Do we have to?”
“Oh yes. We have to!”
A child's voice from upstairs quipped, “Gee, I never thought I'd be glad to have to be doing math homework!”
Nathan and I got plastic bags and went out into the neighborhood to pick up loos man made trash. “Do leaves count?” he asked.
“No,” I replied.
As we made our way down the road, Nathan assumed a catlike stance in front of me to beat me to the next piece of trash. It became a game. I mentioned that the next time It would be twenty pieces each. The third time, I didn't know what to do. Might have to bring his mother into the matter. I hope there will be no third time.
What Adam doesn't know is that when HE goofs up on this point, his punishment will not be trash picking. He likes being outside in winter too much for that toe be punishment. His punishment will involve reading aloud to me several pages of a book of MY choosing. I'm leaning towards Call of the Wild.
When Adam finished his homework he wanted to come out and play. Actually he wanted to come out and play at 1:55, before he started his homework, but his crummy old man made him do the damn homework. Si it wasn't until 2:45 that we went outside to lay. We play tag with the soccer ball. Then we sat on the ground and told gross out jokes, no holds barred.
Then we played kick baseball. After all three of us had batted at kick baseball, Nathan was scheduled to be up again, but Adam had lost interest and announced, “I want to dig.”
Nathan made a disparaging remark to which Adam replied, “No, it's lots of fun,” and began digging a hole in the flower garden by the garage. I had given him permission to dig there, although I had not asked mom's permission. Being a grownup means you sometimes have to make on-the-spot decisions.
The ground was hard – almost frozen, and Adam put in much effort. After a while, Nathan drifted up and started digging too. Nathan moved major earth. I asked him how tall he was. HE answered “four feet eleven.”I asked Adam if he was about four and a half feet tall. I was advised the he thought he was three feet eleven. I asked how much Nathan weighed: ninety-one pounds. “I'm the biggest kid in my school,” he added. Adam weighs fifty-eight pounds. Quite unsurprisingly, the 91-pound kid moved a lot more earth than did the 58-pound kid. Consequently, the 91-pound kid's hole got much bigger more quickly. Suddenly the 91-pound kid was starting to get into digging the digging thing.
“Nathan, let me dig in there for a while,” ordered Adam in a commanding tone of voice.
“No way, this is my hole,” came the curt reply.
“But Nathan, there's no place for me to put my dirt,” said Adam, with agitation in his voice. “So then, let's dig a tunnel between them,” he suggested, hopefully.
“No. I don't want to ,” said Nathan as he continued to dig deeper and ponder aloud about the possibility of finding a buried skeleton.
This was when the butt-head, loser, father and uncle acted like Solon and retreated to the house where eight very friendly chocolate chip cookies awaited. He also need to watch the clock because he had renegotiated with Adam so that the second math homework packet would be started at 4:45.
In those days, darkness appeared around 4:30. There was only a little daylight left when I returned outside. They boys had come to an agreement and merged the two holes into one grave, about three feet eleven inches long, one and a half feet wide and one and a half feet deep. Adam got in to demonstrate the perfect fit.
It is in these special moments of sharing the joys of 9- and almost 10-year old boys that I come closest to becoming the kind of father I wish never to be; my rational mind's knee jerk reaction almost let out a loud angry scream ordering my son to not lie down in the dug up ground with his jacket on, because it would make a muddy mess inside the house. But my irrational heart won out, and I said not a word, looking on and working up a smile. After a few seconds I told them to be very careful about remembering to take off their shoes when they went back inside. Adam was careful. Nathan was not. “Nathan! Don't wear your shoes onto the rug,” I said, in a medium gruff voice.
Adam went downstairs. Grandpa Ralph asked him if he wanted a blanket. He did. Adam was very cold. He said something about being very tired too. I look at him and told that in order for him to get warmed up and rested, he would not have to do his second batch of math homework until 5:30. His “Thank you” was sincere. I brought them sixteen cookies. I had had the opportunity to eat some of theirs earlier, but I had not done so. Perhaps there is some slender sliver of hope for me after all.