A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker
"SHE NEVER SAW THE CAKE"
Cindy glanced nervously at the clock on the kitchen wall. Five minutes before midnight.
"They should be home any time now," she thought as she put the finishing touches on the chocolate cake she was frosting. It was the first time in her 12 years she had tried to make a cake from scratch, and to be honest, it wasn't exactly an aesthetic triumph. The cake was . . . well, lumpy. And the frosting was bitter, as if she had run out of sugar or something. Which, of course, she had.
And then there was the way the kitchen looked. Imagine a huge blender filled with all the fixings for chocolate cake -- including the requisite bowls, pans and utensils. Now imagine that the blender is turned on. High speed. With the lid off. Do you get the idea?
But Cindy wasn't thinking about the mess. She had created something, a veritable phoenix of flour and sugar rising out of the kitchen clutter. She was anxious for her parents to return home from their date so she could present her anniversary gift to them. She turned off the kitchen lights and waited excitedly in the darkness. When at last she saw the flash of the car headlights, she positioned herself in the kitchen doorway. By the time she heard the key sliding into the front door, she was THIS CLOSE to exploding.
Her parents tried to slip in quietly, but Cindy would have none of that. She flipped on the lights dramatically and trumpeted: "Ta-daaa!" She gestured grandly toward the kitchen table, where a slightly off-balance two-layer chocolate cake awaited their inspection.
But her mother's eyes never made it all the way to the table. "Just look at this mess!" she moaned. "How many times have I talked to you about cleaning up after yourself?"
"But Mom, I was only . . . "
"I should make you clean this up right now, but I'm too tired to stay up with you to make sure you get it done right," her mother said. "So you'll do it first thing in the morning."
"Honey," Cindy's father interjected gently, "take a look at the table."
"I know -- it's a mess," his wife said coldly. "The whole kitchen is a disaster. I can't stand to look at it." She stormed up the stairs and into her room, slamming the door shut behind her.
For a few moments Cindy and her father stood silently, neither one knowing what to say. At last she looked up at him, her eyes moist and red. "She never saw the cake," she said.
Unfortunately, Cindy's mother isn't the only parent who suffers from Situational Timbercular Glaucoma -- the occasional inability to see the forest for the trees. From time to time we all allow ourselves to be blinded to issues of long-term significance by Stuff That Seems Awfully Important Right Now -- but isn't. Muddy shoes, lost lunch money and messy kitchens are troublesome, and they deserve their place among life's frustrations. But what's a little mud -- even on new carpet -- compared to a child's self- esteem? Is a lost dollar more valuable than a youngster's emerging dignity? And while kitchen sanitation is important, is it worth the sacrifice of tender feelings and relationships?
I'm not saying that our children don't need to learn responsibility, or to occasionally suffer the painful consequences of their own bad choices. Those lessons are vital, and need to be carefully taught. But as parents, we must never forget that we're not just teaching lessons -- we're teaching children. That means there are times when we really need to see the mess in the kitchen.
And times when we only need to see the cake.
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--- (c) Joseph Walker
Look for Joe's book,"How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through www.Amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com.