My father left for work each day in Betsy, our anthropomorphized station wagon, leaving my mother stranded at home with three busy children and a lot of housework.
Of course, my father regretted not being able to help out more at home. Of course, he wanted to show his support. My mother felt weary and somewhat isolated. My father racked his brain.
“Hmmm…what would be most helpful? A second car? A nice evening out on the town? A listening ear? A few bucks for a mother’s helper now and then?” Then it hit him:
“Words! By George, my bride needs Rules and some good, strong Words!”
He wrapped them and presented them to her. First he gave her Rules to use with us children. These are self explanatory.
Then he gave her Words.
These mighty Words were to provide the active ingredients in many powerful incantations. Carefully combined with ordinary words, their potential was limitless. Here are just a few of the spells they created:
“Do your chores!”
“Don’t talk to me that way!”
“Stop kicking your sister!”
“Come back here right now!”
“Go to your room!”
These spells, properly cast, would do the same thing as the magical comb and towel in the story of Baba Yaga. Thrown to the ground, the comb burst into a dense and impassable forest; the towel into and unfordable river. The Words would create a barrier to bad behavior and protect my mother from inconvenience and exhaustion.
What neither my father nor my mother realized was that the power of Words grows weaker and weaker with use unless they receive a regular application of Deeds. Deeds are prescriptions which prevent Words from vaporizing before they strike their target. In case you are unfamiliar with the language of magic, the word “Deeds” is frequently translated into English as “discipline.”
Unfortunately, Dad was weak on Deeds. Maybe he had figured Words would be enough. Maybe he was lazy. Mom was better at Deeds but was afraid to use them without Dad’s support. Deeds can be difficult to wield alone.
Within a few days, the Words had no effect at all. My mother was outnumbered. Desperate, she reached for the Unspeakable Words. Yes, she did.
“Wait ‘til your father gets home!”
Dad approached the house, tired after a long day at work. An introvert, he had long exhausted his bank of words and Words and was feeling desperate for a little peace and quiet. Exasperated, Mom waited by the door, wringing her hands and holding up her own empty jar of Words.
The use of so many Words in the absence of Deeds had created a buildup of flammable vapor. The metallic click of Dad’s key in the lock was all that was needed.
I think I’ll stop the story there.
Parents: Punishment and discipline are not the same. Please remember this.
This post is part of Family Rules. For the prior post in the series, click here. For the next post, click here.