The Return of the Prodigal Son

We have had a day. A day that was a bit of an emotional roller coaster, and we all know what roller coasters do to my equilibrium.

Not pretty.

It all started first thing this morning, with the chores.

The boy has the usual amount of chores, which Hubs and I make sure he accomplishes throughout the week: Weed the garden. Milk the cow. And the goat. Haul the water from the well. Harness the horse and plow the field. Knead the dough for the bread. Sew his own patches on his shirts. Split the firewood. Pick the cotton. Gather the eggs.

Oh, I jest. We totally take his shirts to the seamstress to be patched!

In reality, the boy’s list of chores looks something like this: Garbage duty. Cat box duty. Bathroom sink duty. Bedroom floor duty. It’s a hard life. Seriously, hard. The poor kid is required to actually pick up his toothbrush when he’s finished brushing and put. it. in. the. medicine. cabinet. Same goes for the toothpaste. He has to actually hold a Clorox wipe in his hand a couple of times a week and scour the sink clean, until it shines enough to pass inspection.

It’s because he insists on spitting toothpaste into the sink bowl and yet refuses to rinse any of it down with water. This creates great abstract art with the blue Crest gel streaked across the white porcelain, but it’s art that Mama doesn’t appreciate.

The boy is always the first one to complain about his chores, as he is not a lover of the act of doing them.

Today was no exception.

Except today, I added some Bonus Chores, which are just nice little additions to the weekly lineup, simply because the kid lives here. Today he would vacuum the family room.

The obligatory eye rolling happened when I made the Bonus Chores Announcement. The BCA tends to irritate the boy no small amount.

And then…nothing. Absolutely nothing.

No sound of a vacuum cleaner running.

Because really, when you’re under a blanket in the family room, watching a movie on your new iPod Touch at a very low volume, it is almost impossible to hear it if the vacuum cleaner is on.

The boy was told again to get the vacuuming done.

And again.

And somewhere I lost track of how many times I actually said the phrase, “Get busy with that carpet downstairs, Boy!”

Since vacuuming was a very low priority for the boy, he won the Consequences Lottery this morning, and I doubled his list of chores. Oh, yes, I did. I gave him all kinds of fun things to do, which started with cleaning MY bathroom sink.

The vocalized complaining was worse than any union I’ve ever dealt with. I was surprised that he didn’t demand insurance benefits and tax cuts. Instead, he reminded me of how his friend, So-and-So, doesn’t have to do chores at his house. I reminded him that I wasn’t So-and-So’s mother (Oh, I’d waited TEN YEARS to use that one!), and that if So-and-So lived at our house, he would be spending the morning dancing a waltz with the Hoover straight across the family room’s carpet.

The attitude worsened, until it culminated at the lunch table when the boy announced to his dad, “And she (he couldn’t even bring himself to call me his mother at this point), made me wash down her bathroom sink, and I didn’t even get it dirty in the first place!”

Hubs took a long drink of his Coke and replied, “Well, she didn’t wear your clothes, either, but she was nice enough to wash them, dry them, and fold them for you, and she didn’t eat off of your plate, yet she washed that for you, too.”

With that said, the boy quietly — oh so very quietly! — got up from the table and went downstairs. Two minutes later, he came back up the stairs, lugging his little orange suitcase, which his aunt gave to him for Christmas when he was five, behind him.

Hubs asked, “What are you doing?”

The boy growled out, “I am so sick of doing chores, that I am moving out on my own!”

“Where will you go?”

“I am going to go live in my playhouse, and you cannot stop me!”

Well, then. Hubs and I finished our lunches together, while the boy packed. He stuffed his little orange suitcase to the brim with life’s essentials: Seven pairs of underwear, seven pairs of shorts, seven shirts, his toothbrush, his favorite teddy bear, a blanket, and a flashlight.

And then he headed for our back door, grumbling the entire way.

Hubs asked, “What will you do for food?”

“I’ll just come inside and get some when I’m hungry!”

“Oh, but this food belongs to me and Mom. We shopped for it and paid for it, so we can’t just give it to you for free. You’ll have to get a job to buy your own food with.”

“Fine! I’ll water Mom’s flowers, and she can pay me money for doing it!”

I said, “Oh, I don’t have that many flowers outside this year, so I can water them myself. It’s not worth it to me to hire someone for that job.”

Stomp. Stomp. Stomp.

I told him, just before the door swung shut, “I love you. And I’ll miss you dreadfully.”

He glared at me and said, “You’ll see me next Monday. I only packed enough clothes for a week, so I’ll be back inside this house next Monday to get more clothes!”

I told him, “Go to bed at a decent hour tonight. You need your rest.”

He responded by saying, “I’ll go to bed when I feel like it! I don’t want to do chores, and I want to stay up really late!”

And then…

…Slam!

He was gone.

Hubs burst out laughing and said, “Well, your afternoon just got really interesting. Let me know how it all works out.” And then…blam! He was gone, too.

I kept an eye trained on the boy. He moved a chair from his playhouse onto the playhouse’s deck, and that’s where he sat. Hugging his teddy bear. He looked three instead of ten.

Later, he took a break and jumped on his trampoline.

Then he was back in the chair on the deck. Back hugging the bear. Looking a little lonely.

An hour and a half later, he stomped back inside our house and made this announcement: “I have wasps in my playhouse! You need to come get them out!” He was still using his angry voice.

I told him, “Honey, when you live on your own, you have to learn to solve your own problems.”

The boy stomped back outside.

I continued to keep my eye on him. His Grammy called, and I told her the news. She giggled and said, “I should bring him a blizzard from the Dairy Queen as a house-warming gift!”

Not long after that, I saw the little suitcase being hauled out of the playhouse and back down the ladder. And then it was hauled up the steps to our deck. And then the boy opened our back door, and he came inside. He took one look at me and he burst into tears. He cried and cried and cried, and he kept saying, over and over, “I made a mistake, and I hate the wasps, and I want to move back home now! I’ll do my chores, and I’ll go to bed early!”

I did what any good mama would do. I hugged him, and I welcomed him back home, and I told him that family members never leave each other on purpose. We both bawled our heads off. I told him that his Grammy had been really worried about him, so he told me, “I need to call her and tell her that I’m safe now.”

I didn’t tell him that if he’d hung in there for another hour or so, he probably would have had a Chocolate Extreme Blizzard from the Dairy Queen hand-delivered to him!

And this afternoon?

Well, the boy finished his vacuuming up. And he picked everything up off of his bedroom floor. He scrubbed down his bathroom. He vacuumed the laundry room cabinets out for me, because someone had spilled some cat litter from the bucket in one of them.

I’m not naming names, but it was probably the same little boy who is required to scoop the cat box each evening.

And you know what? It’s mighty nice to have that kid back home, where he belongs!

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