Every parent will experience this moment. No matter how much you swore to yourself up-and-down as a child that you would never torture your own children with that phrase, you will hear it out of your mouth. And then (GASP!), out of your child’s mouth.
We were driving away from church yesterday when Eliza asked if we were going to the pool. And I said something like, “We can probably do that, but after naps.” And she said, “We can do it the easy way or the hard way.” Gulp. There it was. I heard this Larry-ism (my dad) echoing in the recesses of my brain and realized that there was no way she came up with that on her own. Especially because when she said it, it didn’t make any sense.
“We can do this the easy way or the hard way.” It hung in the car and Greg and I looked at each other. I envisioned all those mornings before school growing up. I thought I had forgotten these terrible memories, but I had not. My dad has a growlish sound to his voice when he’s angry. You knew you had tested him to his limits when he got to this point. And he got angry just about every morning when it came time to brush my teeth. (As an orthodontist’s daughter, I was destined to rebel against dental care.) I have obviously blocked out what I could have possibly done to deserve that phrase. But I can imagine that the exchange every day included at least these three things:
“Why do I have to brush my teeth?”
“I don’t want to.”
And the best one, “You can’t make me!”
I understand now so clearly how frustrating I was to my dad. I always knew that we had reached the end of the battle when he would bark, “Christine, we can do this the easy way or the hard way.” And he would sprawl me horizontally on his lap and pin me down as I screamed, kicked and twisted my head. The torture of it all! How dare he brush my teeth!
Looking back, I think I so hated this phrase because it signified defeat. I do not like to give in. And here I am. Thirty years later, I have done this to my two children. I have pinned their puny arms down with one of mine while saying this weighty phrase and forcing a toothbrush into their little traps. At least I believe I say it rationally and calmly, without the growl. These days, the kids are both great at allowing us to brush their teeth. They generally don’t fight it at all. As with anything involving children, though, it is an unpredictable pattern and I have no idea if we will regress back to these necessary teeth-brushing battles. And so the phrase will live on, despite my desire to retire it. There are some matters in which children do not have a choice. I can’t think of a better way of explaining to them that there are some things they must do; the power they have is in how they do them. There is an easy way and a hard way for a lot of things.
Just as I eventually stopped squirming in my father’s arms as he tried to be a good dad, I will give in to using this phrase, and at least attempt to use it only when needed – and even then, without the growl.
Have you heard your mom or dad speaking through you?