The neighborhood where I grew up had road humps. Not speed bumps. Road humps. Huge – like three feet wide. We also had a very scary dip – but the seasoned residents knew how to swerve to the more shallow right side and avoid scraping our license plates on the concrete. But you still had to drive slowly or risk serious damage to your vehicle.
Michael used to love driving through my neighborhood for no other reason than using his fake British accent to declare, “ROAD HUMPS HO!” He’s funny, that one.
Road humps force you to slow down. They force you to put on the brakes and pay attention. They wake you up from your mental cruise-controlled state.
Not unlike your children.
About a year and a half ago, the hammer came down on our middle child. His attitude and behavior sent the entire family into a tailspin, and as his parents, we had to slam on the brakes and redirect. Painfully ugly, but beautifully redemptive. Since then, his angry outbursts have been fewer and farther between, and on the rare occasions when he does lose his temper, he apologizes within ten minutes. He knows that the consequences simply aren’t worth it.
Until last month. Maybe enough time had elapsed since he lost EVERYTHING that he forgot how painful it was. He forgot my reminder that I am legally required only to provide food (it’s in the kitchen; go fix it yourself), clothing (enough for a week, not necessarily your favorite things to wear), and education (I’ll give you a ride) – everything else is proverbial gravy on life’s mashed potatoes. The law does not require me to provide toys, help with homework, praise, or even conversation.
Or maybe we slowly became complacent and let him get away with behavior that previously wouldn’t fly. Maybe we got lazy in our parenting. Maybe we were too tired to care.
In any case, the alien snuck back into the house when we weren’t looking – and, once again, we were dealing with some serious ugly.
Beginning with some back-talk, cruising through some yelling and sibling throwdowns, crossing the finish line into total disrespect for the entire family. We scolded him, grounded him, threatened him – and nothing worked.
ROAD HUMPS HO!
Slow down. Pay attention. Redirect.
About this time, fire ants invaded our kitchen. Pest control visited us four times, and still the ants threw a party in our kitchen sink – one of those parties where one ant invites another, and that ant invites all of his friends, then the word gets out, and before you know it, it’s a full-blown carnival.
I noticed a huge stack of bricks, leftovers from the construction last year, by the outside wall behind our kitchen sink. We never bothered to move them. I wondered if this stack of bricks was the ants’ secret passageway into our kitchen sink.
The bricks needed relocation. Griffin was busted. How fortunate for me – and how unlucky for him. Especially since we do not own a wheelbarrow. He had to carry bricks – three or four at a time – from the side porch, around the house, through the backyard, behind the pool, all the way to the shed on the edge of the woods.
He started out okay. When I left the house for an errand, he was dutifully carrying bricks. When I returned an hour later, he was not. And he had reportedly thrown a big ol’ fit, beat up his brother, and threw pencils at his sister.
The afternoon quickly sped downhill from there. More yelling, more unkindness, more disrespect. And now he was throwing the bricks and breaking them on the driveway.
Time for Operation Garbage Bag.
I marched up to his room holding two lawn & leaf bags, and I began removing as much as I could. During last year’s Operation Garbage Bag, half of our belongings lived in storage, so cleaning out his room wasn’t nearly as arduous. This year’s edition featured waaaay more stuff. So I didn’t bag up everything. But I did take his lovies, his favorite pillow, his toys, some of his books, his favorite clothes, and every poster and picture from the walls. Everything was taken to an undisclosed location behind a locked door, where it will stay until he earns it back, one item at a time.
You can imagine how well that went over with him.
Additionally, he was banned from his last two basketball games and his soccer games that weekend – which I think was a bigger blow to him than the garbage bags.
Michael’s reaction and my reaction greatly contrasted. Michael – the tenderhearted, patient, loving parent, who also happens to be the parent who leaves the house each day to work in an office with (mostly) well-behaved adults – was grieved. Not because we made the wrong decision in bringing the hammer down, but because Griffin forced our hand. Our son’s behavior sent Michael into a dark place.
Me? I was simply done. I had no sympathy. My sympathy left my body when my son sucked out my very soul and left me a lifeless mess of gray hair and cellulite. I didn’t care that all his belongings were now in garbage bags and he was reduced to a puddle of tears. The little punk had it coming.
Predictably, the alien headed back to his home planet the next morning, and my loving, obedient son returned. And we had a great weekend – all of us. The kids played together all day – laughing, chasing, having a great time. Nathan wasn’t annoying, Meghan wasn’t critical. Everybody loved everybody – all because one kid decided to turn it around.
Parenting is tough. Raising responsible, godly kids requires a long hike up a steep, rocky path. The smooth, easy scenic route isn’t an option. There will be all kinds of brambles and thorns and potholes. And road humps. Lots of road humps. We’re going to get lost. We’re going to stray down the wrong path. We’re going to make bad decisions. We’re going to get bruised, scratched, scraped, and bumped. But, as tempting as it is, we can’t plop down in the middle of the path and refuse to take another step. We have to keep going.
And I’ve heard the view at the top is worth the hike.