Thursday, September 12, 2013

Plus Ça Change

This morning we experienced yet another skirmish in the Lunch Bag War. My daughter narrowly escaped a lunch-less school day. Why? Because she didn't return her lunch bag to the kitchen, so it could be washed and refilled. She brings her lunch every other day, and when she comes home, she flings it on the bench along side her book bag and promptly forgets all about it.

The expectation is that she will return it to the kitchen. It is not happening. Is that so much to ask? I think to myself.


My mother used to wash and fold my clothes and put them on the stairs for me to carry up and put away. I was a teenager, and just sailed on by those clothes. I don't know why. My mother would eventually bring them upstairs, grumbling mightily about the injustice of it all.

"I just want you to take them upstairs. Is that so much to ask?"

In his play Our Town, set before the First World War, Thornton Wilder paints a similar picture when George, a young man consumed by playing baseball, neglects to chop wood and fill the wood box for his mother. His father sits him down for an earnest 'talking-to'.

It's just a moment in the play, not a central issue. We don't actually learn whether George took this bit of fatherly advice to heart. I wonder.

Young people, notably adolescents, may seem curiously disconnected from what seem like perfectly sane requests from their parents. And those parents, in the face of continuing failure, may seem curiously devoted to approaching the problem in the same way again and again. Whether in the early 1900's, or the 1970's, or today, we engage in the same struggle.

Expectations and boundaries are good. Teaching reponsibility is good. But it is often a very slow process, and I wonder if we contribute to this as parents by persisting in trying to get what we want without examining why or how. I know I get so frustrated when I am in the middle of the thing that problem solving is the last thing on my mind. I get stuck.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Or, as my mother used to say, "Someday you'll have a teenage daughter and you'll know how I feel."


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