Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
Each summer I try to find a new angle in my quest to take three effervescent and energetic sons and turn them into gentlemen. It's never easy.
This year we've focused on the concepts of kindness and consideration. I've told my boys that being kind and considerate makes others happy. Making people happy is a good thing; it's something a gentleman does every day.
The logic works for me. Unfortunately, boys under the age of 16 most often know little of logic.
So, I concentrate on the key words. If I had a dollar for every time I've asked, "Is that kind or considerate?" this summer, I'd probably have enough to buy myself an English butler, and we all know that, at the very least, he'd act like a gentleman.
I wish we had a bunch of success stories to report. That isn't exactly the case. I do have a bunch of stories, but the majority of them are about what kindness and consideration are not:
Jumping on your sleeping brother's bed, or more specifically on his pillow, (where his head just happens to be resting) is not kind.
Eating five ice cream sandwiches in one afternoon, when the box holds only six, leaving just one to be shared by your brothers and sister is not considerate.
"Accidentally" kicking your brother in the head is not kind.
Hiding the TV remote control so your brother can't find it is not considerate.
Spitting anywhere, but especially on, around or at your brother's face is neither kind nor considerate.
Perhaps we are learning the hard way - by first doing what we shouldn't, and then learning the opposite. I try to tell myself that, but it gets discouraging. I was ready to throw in the towel a couple of days ago when the multiple failed attempts at kindness began to feel overwhelming.
It was early morning and I'd just sat down with my first cup of coffee to check e-mails when I heard harsh whispering in the kitchen. Two of them were "discussing" something that obviously led to disagreement. Since there were no sounds of punching, pushing or broken dishes, I stayed my ground and listened.
"I want to do it!"
"No, let me!"
"I thought of it first!"
I figured it was only a matter of time before something - or someone - went crashing. Kindness? Consideration? Raising gentlemen? It was a joke. What had I been thinking?
The kitchen went quiet. That can be a bad sign at my house. I was getting ready to head in there and tell them the jig was up and they were free to be wild and nasty to each other for the rest of the summer when they emerged. Smiling.
One brother carried a plate. The other, a napkin. They placed both in front of me. On the plate was half a piece of toast - very thoroughly cooked. It had been sprinkled with something brown, which I discovered later to be cinnamon and sugar. Every mother's favorite.
"Here," said the youngest. "We made you breakfast."
They stood there together - not pushing, hitting or kicking - just smiling. I was speechless, so I did the only thing I could do. I took a bite.
"This is the best toast I've ever eaten," I said. I was telling the truth.
Even though my half slice was a little overcooked and maybe a bit dry, it was prepared with two of the most important ingredients ever, and I'm not referring to cinnamon and sugar.
Maybe it was seeing my boys' newfound kindness and consideration, or maybe it was the sugar rush -- either way, I was rejuvenated and ready to begin my battle anew. I'd get right to it, as soon as I wiped up the cinnamon and sugar that was distributed all over the kitchen floor and counters. I didn't need to see it to know it was there - just like I didn't need to see my boys being kind to know that they have gentlemanly potential somewhere within their depths.
As I finished my toast, I thought about how close I was to quitting the battle this summer. My boys will never know, because I'll never tell. And, just like I was certain there was cinnamon and sugar littered throughout my kitchen, I'm confident that you won't tell them either - will you?
Jill Pertler is a syndicated columnist and award-winning freelance writer. If you enjoy her articles, let her know. Her e-mail is:
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