A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker
THE `THING' ABOUT SOFT ANSWERS
The day had been long and tiring, and I was looking forward to relaxing with the evening paper. But of course, that was going to be impossible as long as Elizabeth and Jonathan were awake.
"OK, guys," I said. "Bedtime."
Big sister Andrea tried to be helpful: "But isn't it a little early . . . ?" I gave her one of my famous one-more-word-and-you-sleep-in-a-tree glances. "Oh, yeah," she continued. "Bedtime!"
So we did the bath thing, then the teeth thing, then the prayer thing, then the story thing. Hugs and kisses and "I love yous" were properly administered -- twice. Warm covers were tucked under chins. Lights were turned off. The last "have a good sleeps" were said, and I was on my way
downstairs to rendezvous with the couch, a bowl of chocolate chip ice cream and the paper.
I had barely spooned the ice cream into my bowl when I heard little footsteps in the hall.
"Daddy," Elizabeth said, "Jon keeps turning the light on."
I strode purposefully to the foot of the stairs. "Jonathan!" I bellowed, my voice firm and slightly menacing. "You turn that light off and leave it off!"
"OK, Daddy," he said softly.
That, I was sure, was that. I returned to the kitchen and had just enough time to put the ice cream back in the freezer when I heard those footsteps again.
"Daddy," Elizabeth said, "Jon's bugging me."
This time I ran about halfway up the stairs. "Jonathan, you leave your sister alone!" I roared. "Now, if I have to come up here one more time, there's going to be serious trouble for one little boy!"
"OK, Daddy," Jon said softly.
I returned to my ice cream, settle on the couch and started scanning the headlines. This time, I didn't hear the footsteps. "Daddy," Elizabeth said, "Jon is singing and he won't stop!"
That's it, I thought as I stormed upstairs. I've tried to be patient, but now it's time to . . .
I burst into his room. Jonathan sat up in bed and looked at me fearfully, uncertain.
"Jonathan!" I said angrily. "What are you doing?"
Tears began to form in his eyes. "Thinging," he said (in those days, Jon struggled with the letter "s"). Then he started to ... well ... thing: "Eenthie-weenthie 'pider went up the water 'pout ..." He stopped.
Then, in a hopeful voice, he asked, "Will you thing with me?"
My anger melted as I looked into his alert, glistening and definitely un-tired eyes. I was the one who had decided to put him to bed so early. Who could blame him for being a little antsy? So we sang a few quiet songs. We gave each other more hugs and kisses. I re-tucked him in, only this time it was gentle and unhurried. When he said his last "good night," his voice was calm and -- believe it or not -- tired. And that was the last we heard from him -- or Elizabeth -- that night.
Maybe the whole process just wore him out. Or maybe I'm the world's worst singer. Still, I'm inclined to believe that we can accomplish more with our children with sweetness, gentleness and patience than we can with anger and harshness. Of course, discipline is an important concept for our children to learn, and parents do them a disservice if they don't hold their feet to the fire of consequence once in a while. But I can't help but think that the writer of Proverbs was thinking of parents when he wrote that "a soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger."
Even at the end of a long, tiring day. Especially at the end of a long, tiring day.
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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.