Breakfast at Midnight

February 2, 2008

It wasn’t until we were all seated around the breakfast table that we heard the story.

The truth is, I sleep so soundly, that I never heard what had happened.

But Margie did.

It was just after midnight when she woke up to a rather strange night sound.

At first, she could not be sure, but as the clouds of sleep left her mind and she listened more closely, she could distinctly hear the sound of footsteps in the kitchen.

Of course, Margie’s first inclination was to reach over and rouse me with a warning that someone was in the house. But then, she noticed another noise. Had someone just opened the cupboard and got a mixing bowl out?  Now it sounded like drawers were being opened and spoons, measuring cups, and the Bosch attachments were coming out!

What was going on?

Margie decided to investigate on her own. Sliding out of bed, she went upstairs.

The whole of the dining room and kitchen were ablaze with lights. The ongoing sounds of food preparation could be heard as faithful and diligent hands reached for this spice, that bucket of flour, and another scoop of sugar.

“Esther!  What are you doing up?”

Without even a flinch or a glance in the direction of my astonished wife, our wonderful 10-year-old daughter replied over her shoulder, “Making breakfast Mom. I thought we’d have some lemon poppy seed muffins.”

Silence.  Margie didn’t know what to say.

At last, Esther, sensing that something was amiss, turned around and looked at Margie.

“What’s the matter, Mom?”

“Well, it is 12:18 in the morning. I’m just surprised that you are up already.”

“WHAT?  It can’t be!  I set my alarm for 5:30am and it just went off a little bit ago,” Esther returned in disbelief and shock.

“No, really, look at the microwave clock.”

Sure enough, 12:19 glowed brightly on the face of the clock.  With a somewhat sheepish grin Esther set everything down and walked over to Margie. “Well, Mom, I guess I can finish this in the morning. Let’s go to bed.”

We later discovered that earlier that day, her clock had been unplugged by our rather curious 2 year old. Esther had plugged it back in and reset the clock… but not the alarm, which remained stubbornly at 12:00 a.m.

For the past 3 months before the preparations for the midnight breakfast, Esther had taken  over the responsibility to make breakfast each morning. And true and faithful as ever, she had simply jumped out of bed and got to work when the alarm went off.

Margie and I reflected on that experience over the next few days.  What had caused a 10-year-old girl to jump out of bed at midnight, in the middle of the winter and cheerfully go about doing her chores?

Besides the fact that this precious daughter of ours is an angel, we have come to several conclusions:

1.    High Expectations – Margie and I have always made the assumption that our children are wonderful, responsible, and obedient. And we have never let their temporary shortcomings prove us otherwise. We expect the best out of them and tell them so in plain, unmistakable terms. Not only that, but we send that message to them through our actions and by holding them accountable to high levels.  If a job is not done right – they feel our disappointment, “We expected more than this sloppy job out of you.  Will you please do it right – the way we know you can?”  And when they meet or exceed our expectations (as they usually do) we praise them lavishly, “Great job!  You did awesome!  Really, this is incredible!  But, it is nothing more than we expected… we knew you could do it all along.”

2.    Freedom to Rise… or Fall – With that expectation, we give them the freedom to rise or fall, to win or fail, to succeed or wallow in mediocrity.  But, no matter how they perform, they know it was their baby, their stewardship. The tasks and jobs we give them are not just perfunctory jobs to keep them busy. We make sure that they are essential aspects of running the house and keeping this large family alive. Like making breakfast. If we don’t eat, life is pretty uncomfortable.  And Esther knew that. She knew deep inside that we were all counting on her.  Hyrum knows the same thing about taking the garbage out. Joshua feels that pressure when the dishes need to get washed and put away. They all feel the weight of responsibility. They all have their stewardships. They all are left to do their duties as best they can and as they see fit.  They LOVE the pressures of duty, responsibility, and a family dependence on their actions.

3.    Side-by-Side Training – The freedom and responsibility that is heaped on their shoulders is not without training and love. In fact, in the beginning, when they are first given those assignments, we work very closely and repeatedly by their sides. Esther learned to make muffins by helping Margie do it dozens of times, with more and more of the work slowly being transferred to her.  The knowledge to make a perfect pancake from scratch (a feat she now does effortlessly and with great skill) came from working with me repeatedly over hot skillets. Joshua, Jared, and Hyrum handle every aspect of keeping four goats, 25 chickens, and 2 bulls alive and healthy without even a word of supervision from me because we have worked for hours on end in the barn together.  We have found that working closely with our children and slowly transferring duties to them, works miracles that barking orders at them can never accomplish.

As parents, we sometimes catch glimpses of the growth and learning of our children. We find unusual moments when the lessons we have endeavored to impress on their hearts come shining through with a strength and glory that causes our hearts to burst with pride and joy.

Breakfast at midnight was one of those moments for Margie and I.

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Missing Pants and Real Men

January 4, 2008

With a no small effort, I steeled myself to what would come next.

Looking at the black bag next to me, I knew that my sons would soon discover that our agreement was a serious one.  Though I did not see them, my ears followed them past my office, down the hall, and into the bedroom.

Silence.  Then rustling through drawers and laundry baskets.  Silence… thoughtful silence.

“Dad… mom… where are my pants?  Where is my shirt? I can’t find my shoes! Where is everything?”

I dropped my head and a small, sad smile crept over my face.  This was not going to be easy – that accounted for the sadness, but I felt deep inside that it would solve the problem – hence the smile.

“Son, come on in here,” I called.

I didn’t say a thing as he walked into the office, only pointed to the black bag.  Looking down, there was a flash of confusion, followed by a dawning of remembrance that spread into understanding.

A few days before, we had talked about the chaos of the dressing room.  In our house we have the washing and drier in a large room that also has all of the boy’s dressers.  It makes life infinitely easier on Margie when doing laundry because all dirty clothes, dressers, and cleaning equipment are in one handy location.

But it also means that five boys are constantly coming and going, changing clothes… and leaving enormous messes, compounded by the one location thing.

We gathered the family together and discussed how to handle this pigpen free-for-all.  Mutually, we had agreed that if clothes were left uncared for on the floor, then they would be confiscated… become victim to the magic parenting act of dropping it into a large black plastic bag. The only way to redeem a piece of clothing was to do an extra bit of work around the house or yard.

For the first few days, the fear of losing clothes had kept the room reasonably clean.  But then came that fateful moment when, consciously or subconsciously, they each decided to test the resolve of their parents and validity of the agreement.

“No dad!  I have to have those clothes right now!  I promise, I won’t leave them out again, just let me have them… please!” (this with a deadly charming look of pleading, mixed with pity, mixed with a cry for mercy)

“Does it really matter?  Just give the boy his clothes. Who cares if the room is a disaster zone? That’s just the way children are.  You’re being too tough here.”  These were the thoughts running through my head as he bore down on me with those big brown, sad puppy dog eyes.  It was almost more than I could bear.

But then reason snuck back in.  “If you give in now, your promises, agreements, and authority will be lost for now and maybe irreparably damaged for the future.  There are too many lessons at stake here… far more than a clean room.  Integrity, honesty, the power of an agreement and keeping your word, respect for authority, etc… the list goes one. No matter how tough it is, you’ve got to hold firm on your word.”

“You bet son!  I’d love to give all this back to you!”  (Pause for effect… his eyes glowing in triumph!)  “That is, just as soon as you clean out the car and mop the floor for the extra jobs you agreed to.”

Arrrggggg!  Victory was turned to sulking, frustration, and grumbling.

“Sorry, son.  You agreed and you broke your word.  You’ll have to be a man and keep your end of the bargain by submitting to the punishment.”

And he did.

Since that day, we have had to bring out the black bag on a few more occasions, but it is infrequent and the redemption work is done quickly and willingly.  The room has been upgraded to “moderately clean, most of the time”, and downgraded from a nuclear warfare zone.

But, more importantly, we see our boys turning into men of integrity, commitment and honesty.

And having real men for sons is WAY better than a clean room… and having both is the best of all.