So this past week, I walked into our living room and saw my son reading The Great Divorce—the brand new copy I bought him a couple days earlier, the one now missing its cover with a bite out of the spine reminiscent of Jaws. I burst out laughing, “What?”
“Um, yeah, the dog ate my homework. But don’t worry mom, it still works.”
“Classic!” I managed to squeak out between sobs of laughter. Once I gained my composure, I plopped myself on the couch beside my son, and launched an investigation.
“So how was the dog able to get hold of your book?”
“I don’t know.”
“Remember what happened to your Vans?”
“And your basketball?”
“How did the dog get those items?”
“I don’t know.”
“Did you leave them within the dog’s reach?”
“What was our plan after the dog chewed your bike helmet to shreds?”
“Put things away out of the dog’s reach.”
“So how did this happen to your book?”
“I wonder how many things the dog will chew before you remember.” And with that motherly comment, I stood up from the couch and walked away counting backwards from 10 slowly.
Of course I’m discouraged by the excessive financial loss that my son’s forgetting represents. A new pair of shoes, basketball, bike helmet, and a book is not a small change loss. But honestly what discourages me more than the monetary loss is the ongoing struggle to impart the value of personal responsibility.
My son is not alone.
As a teacher, I receive countless excuses why math lessons are half completed, why science research is not conducted and why reading is not accomplished. These excuses range from absent-mindedness to outright blame shifting.
I’ve stood by many a parent who, like myself, with knee-jerk compassion offers a hug to a tearful child, “I’m sorry mommy. I forgot.”
Now don’t get me wrong it’s not the compassionate hug that I object too. No. Loving our children when they stumble is good grace. What I am saddened by is what often follows the hug, “That’s okay darling.”
I think many of us are guilty of this pat-on-the-back-and-off-you-go style of parenting. Only because I find myself slipping on the slope along with my apprentices, have I been able to contemplate the long-term ramifications of this careless habit of shifting blame.
Whether we are shifting blame into the ether or shifting the blame onto someone else, I believe blame shifting, even the tiny absent-minded kind, is not a healthy habit for the soul.
So as I was counting slowly backwards from 10 I remembered a recent opportunity I had to encourage personal responsibility. At the Guild we have a clearly delineated play area. The other day the older boys in our group decided to Parkour the stairs up to the sidewalk one floor above our cement lunch area. They were just about to jump, “Noooooooo!”
This is not the first time the boys were bit by the PK bug. And, between you and me, I was tempted to turn a blind eye. Being a mom of three teenage boys, I can’t relate, but fully recognize the need for adventure. But that’s another post and in this case, at that moment in time it was completely the responsible thing to stop these boys who are not trained in the art of PK from cracking their skulls on my watch.
“Boys, where are our play yard boundaries?”
I watched them look at each other and shrug, “Don’t know,” in solidarity.
“Okay, come on, what’s the rule regarding scaling walls and jumping?”
“Oh, we forgot,” came a dissonantly symphonic response.
“Well, since you forgot, I’ll remind you.” I walked them around the perimeter of the small slice of asphalt we call the play yard. Ah, life in the city, “Now get a piece of paper and write an essay or a short story or a poem or song that communicates the value of personal responsibility.” That’s how I do it with my writing teacher hat on.
I walked away wondering if it might be possible to hire a visiting specialist to lead PK Day at the Guild. Not a bad idea. And afterwards we’ll write about the experience. Maybe make a film. Always planning lessons...
But the true take away? Somehow, my being forced into the responsibility of keeping my apprentices cognizant of personal responsibility, I am empowered as a mom to do the same.
So in the end, after counting to 10 backwards very slowly and composing this little contemplation, I stumbled upon a quote to hang on our refrigerator, words to help us remember that puppies love to chew:
“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn't sit for a month.” -Theodore Roosevelt
PS...Did I mention that our puppy is named Theo after Roosevelt