Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Or else

“Feed your dog,” I heard my daughter say to my son early one morning before school.

“He’s your dog, too,” he said, triggering a back-and- forth exchange about who fed him last, their voices growing louder to compete with the increasingly louder barking, whining and all-around begging of our family pet.

It was at this point, I had to resist the urge to throw down my hair dryer, run into the living room in my towel and scream, “Stop arguing, or I’m going to send him back where we got him!”

If I thought Santa would take him back, I would have, but I’m pretty sure he has a no return policy on pets, especially since the cute chocolate lab puppy he delivered five years ago is now as big as one of his reindeer.

I’ve also learned as a parent that I have to be very careful what threats I make because sometimes the follow-through hurts.

For example, ever get frustrated, unplug the television and yell, “That’s it! No more TV”?
It can make for some long rainy days, let me tell you. During one such week, I looked at my husband and asked, “Why are we punishing ourselves?”

Speaking of television, I watched a great episode of the show “The Middle” that addressed this topic. In it, the couple’s youngest child kept losing his coat. Frustrated, the father yelled, “That’s it! No more coats!”

I’ve been tempted to let mine go coatless until the first chilly day. And then I’m calling lost and found and driving all over town retracing our steps. Following through is hard to do – for most of us, that is.

I have a friend I’ll call Betty. Betty is by far the bravest person I know. When she makes a threat, she means it.

“Either take care of your rabbit, or I’m getting rid of it,” she said once, not twice, not three times, but once, to her children. One empty water bottle later, and the bunny was gone, much to her kids’ dismay when they got off the school bus.

“I told you to take care of him,” she said, unapologetically.

I got so inspired by her courage that I decided I would try the same trick with our guinea pig. It would have worked, too, except I learned that no one wants a guinea pig, not even the school’s science teacher, who has everything from mice, to rabbits, to bearded dragons, to pythons.

“No, thank you. I don’t take guinea pigs,” he said. “And, please stop begging.”

Betty not only followed through on threats to her kids, she followed through on threats to her husband as well.

One day, she decided that the honey-do project he was working on was taking too long to complete. He got a warning, and when he didn’t meet his deadline, she loaded the kids up and drove her minivan to the trailer park in town where many unemployed men wait for opportunities to work. Betty pointed at three of the strongest-looking, opened the side door of her van and motioned for them to get in.

Imagine her husband’s surprise when he came home from work eight hours later to see the men sweating in his front yard, completing his landscaping project.

“I told you to finish it,” Betty said, as he scratched his head in a cross between bewilderment, anger and, perhaps, respect.

Heaven knows, she has mine.

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