Putting Out

Consider the scenario: It’s a hot summer Saturday afternoon. Mom has been inside with the children all day (with no car). Desperate for a break, she arranges a walk to the store--with acceptable incentives for the children (ages two and five). A good time is had at the store. After half a block of the walk home, both children announce that they’re tired and can’t walk anymore. There are five and a half blocks to go.

Consider the options: Scream until somebody comes to help. Try to carry them both--along with the bag from the store. Announce that they will walk whether they want to or not, and drag two desperately crying--and stubborn--children five and a half blocks. Terrorize them even more, knock all the spirit out of them and walk home with a couple of zombies. Turn in your resignation as a parent, leave them there and walk home yourself.

Although the last option certainly seems most attractive, it, too, has its limitations. With all these options considered and discarded, Mom surveys her inner resources: limited. She does not want to be creative. She does not want to put out any extra energy, she does not want to bribe or jolly them out of their position, and she certainly doesn’t want to listen to how they feel. She just wants to get home.

It seems that the most is required of us when we have the least to give. Maybe our children can smell out a scarcity of resources and go for everything while the supply lasts. Maybe our desperation is contagious. Or maybe it doesn’t happen this way all the time, but when it does, it’s so awful that those are the times we remember.

Turning point: Mom remembers that she’s been in this kind of pickle before. Although, with all her heart, she doesn’t want to put out any more energy, and is thoroughly resentful of being forced into such a position secretly she knows that this is what is most likely to work. So she steps into he nearest telephone booth, emerges with a “SUPERMOM” emblazoned on her chest, energy radiating in all directions, and takes charge.

Resolution: “Let’s pretend we’re on an adventure in Africa looking for wild animals,” she says. “I’ve heard there are tigers around here” (deep, suspenseful, thrilling voice). “I wonder who will be the first to spot them.” Miraculously, energy surges into two pairs of previously inert legs. Tigers are spotted down the block, and the chase begins. Giraffes are suspected even further on. The streets become rivers, dangerous to cross because of all the crocodiles, but the bold explorers look both ways and make it safely across. Insatiable, they want to catch everything, and go off in hot pursuit again and again. The youngest can’t make it all the way across the continent without a lift, but he’s done remarkably well. Surrounded by a treasure of wildlife from Africa, they all make it home in great good spirits and record time.

Moral: Children are irresistibly attracted to adults who exude playfulness and energy. They will drop anything or go anywhere to be around such people. The trick is for Mom to think far enough ahead to see the potential savings (a skill that Moms around the world are renowned for). If I put out enough energy now, even though my supply feels so precious and scarce that the urge to save it is practically overwhelming, I’ll release some of theirs and end up with a plus. This saves having to put out even ore to overcome the inertia or resistance that my signal of lack-of-energy evokes--which always comes out a minus. It’s a tricky equation, but a remarkably dependable one.