"How did baseball practice go?" I inquired of our 11-year-old.
His face reddened and he spouted, "If I liked to run I would have tried out for the track team instead."
I replied in a calm voice, "If your coach tells you to run, that's what you do. And you do it with the right attitude."
"It's not Coach's fault," he angrily spewed. "One kid always comes late to practice and he never brings his gear. And today we had to run four extra poles because of him."
Not allowing my kid to wallow in self-pity, I offered unwanted and, according to him, unworkable advice on encouraging his teammate to dress out properly and on time for practices.
My husband, on the other hand, who grew up walking to school five miles up hill both ways barefoot in driving blizzards nine months a year, invoked the timeless strategy of a lecture. "That reminds me of Chris Carpenter."
Still naïve to the tactics of her daddy, our seven-year-old escorted him to the podium by asking, "Who is Chris Carpenter?" Her older brothers, knowing full well that a sizable sermon loomed on the horizon, averted their gazes and rolled their eyes.
"When I played football in middle school, we had pre-season, summer practices. One afternoon, the hottest August day on record, after a brutal session, the coach told us to take a knee. He said, 'Chris Carpenter. How many letters in the word cigarette?'"
Our 13-year-old, all too familiar with the structure of his father's speeches - interminably long with a vague message hidden somewhere within - threatened to disappear into thin air.
"Chris Carpenter got caught smoking at school," my beloved explained. Then he addressed our nine-year-old, "Son, how many letters are in the word cigarette?" While the boy concentrated on the ceiling, trying to simultaneously spell and count, his father said, "That's right, nine."
Ignoring the 13 year-old's request to escape to the restroom, the man of the house continued, "Coach made us run a bleacher sprint for every letter in the word cigarette, in full pads with helmets on. Everyone ran except Chris Carpenter. Coach made him watch as his teammates puked in the trashcans between sprints. Now that's punishment."
"Did y'all beat him up in the locker room?" the intrigued 11-year-old wanted to know, likely thinking a thorough pummeling a more satisfying and swifter resolution to his own predicament than the peaceable suggestions I offered.
"No, he saved himself. When we finished, he ran the bleacher sprints alone. Otherwise, we probably would have."
Patiently, we waited for our keynote speaker to pontificate on the moral lesson. Sure that the young man reformed from adolescent delinquency and went on to great things, I prompted my husband, "So what became of Chris Carpenter?"
"He quit football and became a jean jacket wearing punk."
Looking down the barrel of my pointed finger, I abstracted, "There you have it. No jean jackets for any of you."
"Mama," a child exasperatedly alerted me, "you have a jean jacket."
I played along, looking at my clutch through narrowed eyes. "Yes, I've traveled the road to perdition. It's downhill going, but it's up hill both ways in the snow coming back, and I've got the jacket to prove it."
"Do you think next year that boy on my team will be a jean-jacket-wearing punk like you and Chris Carpenter, Mama, and he won't play baseball?" the 11-year-old summarized.
Parenting is up hill both ways, too.
(Lucy Adams is a columnist, freelance writer, and the author of If Mama Don't Laugh, It Ain't Funny. She lives in Thomson. Lucy invites readers to e-mail her at email@example.com and visit her web site, www.IfMama.com.)