We drove in semi-silence. The kids and I were in my car. Jeff was driving the motor home to storage. He called me on my cell, interrupting a rant I’d been administering in ill-controlled bursts. If you must know, I sounded like that guy Fred Armisen plays, Nicholas Fehn—the Weekend Update guest who’s so riled up about the political injustices he’s tracking in the newspaper, he can’t complete a sentence of the commentary he’s supposed to provide. And so, he sputters half-declarations that rail against the injustice of it all.
People, that’s where I was. I was this guy:
Jeff’s call saved the three of us from hearing more of my sputtery sputtering.
“You know, I didn’t do this just because we were only 20 minutes from home,” he said. “I would have driven seven hours home if we’d been in Yellowstone.”
I knew he was right. The camping trip was probably doomed before it started—a cocktail of exhaustion and anticipation had rippled through our five year old’s body all week. Jeff pulled the plug when Seth had acted out, then ignored my entreaties to reel it in, then followed up with a little maraschino cheery on the disrespect sundae.
As I hung up the phone, I was about to re-launch my rant. We’d need to cancel a raft of play dates I’d set up—beach picnics, paddle boarding, barbecues—with families from Seth’s preschool. I needed Seth to feel the overwhelming consequence.
Before I could, Lance apologized. “I’m sorry I complained and was grumpy eariler,” he said. “It didn’t help things.”
“You’re right, Lance, Thank you,” I said. “But you would have corrected course quickly. Your brother made a bunch of choices not to listen, and we have to live with that.” Now, I played the cancelled playmate card, verbally tossing it into the pile, face-up, so Seth could inspect it.
Things began to sink in.
“We’re going home for a minute. I have to unload some things, I have to feed the dogs. You two are to go upstairs and eat a Z Bar and a yogurt each, and you will drink a glass of water, each,” I explained. “We won’t be able to eat dinner until after we pick up dad at the RV storage unit. No arguments. If you do anything except what I just told you, you will lose another privilege. Like being in the parade on Wednesday.”
I got compliance. We drove down to Salt Lake City to pick up Jeff.
“You know, guys, if we didn’t think you could do better, we would not expect better from you,” I said. “I’d just let you act any which way. But you can, and I won’t.”
“Yes, Mom,” came from the back seat.
We let Lance choose the restaurant. Cheesecake Factory. We let him order dessert. Seth was not allowed to partake in the cheesecake. We talked about consequences.
“You know, guys, if we didn’t think you could do better…” Jeff began.
“Mom covered that, already dad,” Lance said. “We can do better. Right Seth?”
“Right, Lance.” A beat. Then: “Mom and Dad, I’m sorry I was disrespectful.”
A look passed between Jeff and me. We dared not mess with the moment.
I began to wonder if we might be on to something? Now, your turn: When’s the last time you enforced a consequence and were rewarded with the glimmer of a result?