Virtue & Mischief


This time of year much of my “free” time is spent playing catch with Luke in the street, hitting tennis balls with Abby and Krista, or conducting Star Wars-inspired “training” in the pool with Daniel (we pretend to duel each other with light sabers, splashing and evading each other by dipping below the surface, re-emerging with hearty laughter and trash-talk about our abilities and our mentors—Yoda for Daniel and General Grievous, naturally, for me.

“You think you’re powerful?” Daniel sometimes goads me. “Pssshh. That’s nothing, you pitiful weakling. Let me show you the power of the Force! Here’s a little something Master Yoda showed me—taste this and die!” whereupon he “slashes” me in the chest with his right hand and dunks me with his left. It is, I must concede, a fairly impressive display of cunning, skill, and autism-fueled obsessiveness with Star Wars).

So it was not unusual when, a couple of evenings ago, I waltzed out our back door to fetch my baseball glove, Luke’s glove, and a baseball to give the youngest amigo a little pitching practice. As I departed I heard a little pointed banter between Luke and Krista; I could tell there was an edge because of voice tones, though I couldn’t quite make out the content. Through a kitchen window I could see Krista staring daggers in Luke’s direction, instruments of potential destruction he appeared to be oblivious to. Seconds later Luke joined me in the driveway, I tossed him his glove, and we walked to the street.

“Dad,” he began. “Mom’s kinda mad at me. I told her moms are supposed to work for their children and she didn’t like that and said it wasn’t true. And then she said I should ask you what you think. So? What is it? Do they or don’t they?”

Oh, my dear, dear deluded boy. On how many levels have I failed you? Let’s just forget for one sweet moment the event(s) that led to this loaded exchange—a pair of socks discarded thoughtlessly, a “request” for a snack rendered without proper deference or courtesy (or even the tell-tale sign that it is, in fact, a request rather than a command, that subtle-yet-important voice inflection signaling a question). Let’s rather generously leave the precipitating event in abeyance and focus on the subsequent exchange: How many treacherous minefields, how many nuggets of ignorance, are contained in the single declaration “moms are supposed to work for their children”?! I was so stunned by the interpersonal obtuseness reflected in Luke’s question my knee-jerk reaction was to laugh. After recovering from my shock, I began my delicate rejoinder.

“Umm, no, Luke. Moms are not supposed to work FOR their children. Certainly, they are supposed to work—work with and for their families, sure, but not as some sort of maid or slave to their children, their husbands, or anyone else. Everyone in the family is supposed to help out, do their part, and your duties or responsibilities should increase and become more complicated as you grow older and develop certain capabilities. Each family is different, of course, so how that looks from family to family probably varies. But, no, mom doesn’t work FOR you, if that’s your question.”

“Well, duh, I know that. But what you said is what I meant.”

“Sure. Right. Well, that’s apparently not what you said and the way you phrase things is critical. You need to be a bit more precise and thoughtful in how you say something. When you tell mom that ‘moms are supposed to work for their children’ she’s naturally going to perceive that in a certain … unsympathetic way, shall we say; voices are going to get a bit sharper, attitudes a bit snippier. So learn to use your words very carefully.”

“Yeah, yeah. Okay. Sorry.”

“You need to let mom know that you’re sorry. I mean, think about all she does—and most of it without anyone noticing or saying a simple and sincere ‘thank you’. The laundry, the groceries, the cleaning, the cooking, the gardening. All that stuff nobody wants to do, but she does it. Not because she’s our slave or something [although she surely feels that way on occasion—Ed.], but because she loves us and honestly wants to do her part. But more important than choosing your words a bit more prudently, Luke, is to attend to what’s in your heart. If you think mom—and I—are here to do your bidding, then that needs to change. Quickly. And completely. Okay?”

“Yeah, okay. I will. Seriously.”

“Good, son. Your life may depend on it.”