Columns

Consequences and ice cream

Originally Appeared in : 9903-1/31/19

Growing up in the 1980s, there was one constant when it came to communicating to the outside world: a landline phone.

 

It was customary that every working-class home in America had either a tan or cream-colored rotary dial telephone, with middle class homes stepping up to touch tone models, sometimes found in exotic colors like olive, and even orange. 

 

Or, if you were my uncle the VCR repairman (remember those?), you could spring for the rare cordless phone with the eight-foot-long metal antenna that begged to be used as a lightsaber or to poke at siblings.

 

And when the ringer sounded, children of all ages would sprint to pick up the receiver to see if Grandma or mom’s friend from college was on the other line.

 

For as much as technology has changed, a child’s reaction to the phone ringing hasn’t changed all that much in the subsequent 40 years.

 

Which means that as we’ve had more children grow tall enough to reach the counter, I genuinely never know who’s likely to be on the other end when I call Magan’s phone these days.

 

“Hello daddy. I had to get a bath because I was soaking wet all over my hiney,” AnnaMarie volunteered the other day from her mom’s purple iPhone as Magan shouted rhetorically, “AnnaMarie Lee, what have I told you about picking up my phone?”

 

“How’d you get wet?” I asked, waiting with bated breath for her reply.

 

“I fell in the cr...eek,” she said, slowing down toward the end as she realized she was giving away a detail that could get the whole house in a heap of trouble with daddy.

 

“How did you fall in the creek?” I asked, keeping a pleasant tone like any good interrogator, hoping to use my feigned indifference to uncover those ultimately culpable for her soiled clothes.

 

“It’s just that Jesse had tried to get to Simon’s island, so I followed him. Jesse had to get a bath, too,” she added, indicting her brother as she realized mid-sentence that the jig was up.

 

Insurance companies and municipalities consider swimming pools “attractive nuisances,” usually requiring fences to be built tall enough to prevent children from ending up in them; oh how I wish they’d broaden the definition to include creeks.

 

Roughly four hours earlier, as I was heading back to the office from lunch, Simon, Jesse, Eli and AnnaMarie were all out at their fort 20 yards away from the roaring rapids of Strawberry Creek. I shouted my goodbyes through the treeline along with a louder, “Have fun but do NOT go near the creek.”

 

That evening, I walked through kitchen door to find most of the the children between the sink and stove waiting for the judge to enter the courtroom.

 

The CliffsNotes® version of events went something like this: Simon wanted to build a fort on a sandbar across the creek. Jesse figured, “If he can, so can I,” which was doubled down on by AnnaMarie.

 

I was mad, to say the least. Not only had they disobeyed my direct order, they had also each put someone else at risk for more than a wet hiney by being anywhere near the creek.

 

I dished out early bedtimes to the guilty, along with a threat to tear down the fort if it ever happened again.

 

Meanwhile, as a sign to the guilty that an equal and opposite reaction awaited those who heeded my rules and requests, Elijah (who had played sweetly in his homemade yurt beside their fort while they all got wet) was dished a bowl of Birthday Cake ice cream with sprinkles. I wanted to impress Genesis 2:17 deep in their minds.

 

Instead of gloating as you might expect from a child receiving a reward in front of his punished siblings, though, Eli cried.

 

“I’m sorry you don’t get to get ice cream,” Eli said, teary-eyed, as he hugged Jesse.

 

Eli had proven not only to be the most empathic of his siblings, but also the most repentant, even for others’ guilt. So, essentially, a really good Catholic.

 

“Do you guys see Eli crying?” I asked. “He’s crying and he didn’t even do anything wrong.”

 

Like Caesar crossing the Strawberry-er-Rubicon, I seized my moment and drove home the fact that God felt a similar pain when he sent Christ to die on the cross even though Jesus had done no wrong. (Yeah, I went there.)

 

I wasn’t trying to deny my children joy or restrict their freedoms; I was trying to protect them from pain, suffering, and possibly death. God aims to do the same with the rules he set forth in the Ten Commandments and throughout the Bible.

 

Proverbs 16:20 makes it clear what happens to us when we follow God’s rules: “He who gives attention to the word will find good, And blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.”

 

By the time all of my kids become parents, the phone will have been replaced by a variation of Alexa or Facebook Portal, but that just means it will be that much harder for them to miss the wet waistlines on the other screen as they come home in their self-driving cars.

 

Jason Halcombe has five sons and two daughters. He and his wife, Magan, are members of Immaculate Conception Church, Dublin.

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