To my good fortune, my nine-year-old son dashed within radar range while running from an older brother. When I called his name, he stutter stepped, uncertain about who held the worst fate for him, his irate sibling or his chore-assigning mother.
Under pressure to make a quick decision, he avoided an Indian arm-burn and joined me in the laundry room. "I need you to put your clean clothes away," I told him.
His shoulders slumped.
"Then I want you to tidy up that mess in the floor of your room. You're living like a pig," I added.
His chin hit his chest.
The brother would have only ratcheted his arm behind his back, twisted the skin until it turned purple, and made him promise to hand over all of his air-soft ammunition. But me? I made him do something painfully useful. He lamented his poor choice as he dragged the laundry basket heaped with pants and pajamas infused with the fragrance of mountain fresh air to his room.
Let me remind you that that was Saturday. Today I went into the lad's bedroom to collect his dirty clothes so I could run a load in the washer. Digging deep into his hamper, I scooped up two armfuls of rotten socks and sinfully soiled t-shirts and neatly folded jeans and sweatshirts. Miffed, I ticked off a long list of infractions on which to convict my child as soon as he entered my radar range again.
Then it hit me that technically he had minded. He did exactly what I told him to do. He put away his clothes, just as ordered. I didn't explicitly tell him not to put them away in the laundry hamper. Too, he had tidied up the mess in his lair, just as charged, loading all the dirty garments from the floor into the laundry hamper, as well. Still, obedience or not, nothing brings out the rabid cat in me quite like finding folded garments carelessly combined with smelly undershorts.
You're probably calling me an idjit to my face in the paper right this second, because you know exactly what I did next. You know I washed everything, again. But what choice did I have? The clean clothes, although folded, now smelled like fermenting cabbage. And everyone who came into contact with my son dressed in said aromatic attire would turn up her nose at his personal hygiene. Who, I ask you, would well-meaning teachers blame for the kid's horrid odor? Why me, of course. I would get the blame.
You're yelling "idjit" even louder now. I can hear you from here. You're lecturing me on natural consequences, blah, blah, blah. After a few days of smelling like cabbage soup the little man would learn his lesson and turn himself around, blah, blah, blah. Well, a lot you know about boys. If I allowed him to wear those clothes, he really would have received the natural consequence he has sought since birth.
He wants nothing more than to stink! Left to listen to his own drummer, he would strap boiled cabbage in his armpits. He would stuff his shoes with four-day-old fish heads. He would wear caps made of wet dog fur. He would roll in dead worms. He would soak his fingertips in the juice from canned cat food. Even you probably know that the only water a little boy will touch without coercion is muddy. Boys LOVE to stink.
... Which is precisely why my kid hoped to get away with seasoning his clean school clothes in the dirty laundry hamper.
(Lucy Adams is a freelance writer, newspaper columnist, and the author of If Mama Don't Laugh, It Ain't Funny. She lives in Thomson. Lucy invites readers to send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and visit her web site, www.IfMama.com.)