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Running Plays

Last Saturday, as the storm that took down many of New York's trees began to brew, I was at Chuck E. Cheese's with my wife and daughter. We were celebrating the birthday of one of my daughter's best friends. The party was fine. Chuck E. Cheese's was a nightmare.

My son, of course, opted not to go and was given one set of very simple instructions: Clean your room. He was on punishment for breaking curfew the night before and had nowhere to go anyway. He had begun the process before we left.

When I arrived home, traumatized by bad pizza, bad children and greasy wings, I found my son sitting in the living room blasting hip hop and playing xBox, which he had attached to my flat screen in the living room.

  • The kitchen was a mess...
  • His room looked almost exactly as it did when we left...
  • The living room looked vaguely like did back when I got my first apartment and didn't know what to do with my freedom --- it was a mess!

His mother was not happy...at all. She asked him to clean up his mess in a surprisingly calm voice. He said, "Okay," and kept playing his game. She asked again and I don't think he said anything. She asked a third time and he relented and went to turn up his music that was playing from the iPod dock in the living. Finally, I had to ask:

"What are you doing?"

"Putting up my music so I can clean."

"In the living room?"

"Yeah, why what's wrong?"

"You had the house to yourself to do what you were supposed to do and do it at your own pace. Turn that off and get your stuff out of the front of the house." (I thought to myself that I desperately need a man room where only my daughter and maybe a dog are allowed.)

From there he turned sulky, put his headphones on and did what he should've done hours earlier. Every time we asked him a question he didn't respond because of the music blasting in his ears. Finally, unable to take it anymore his mother tore in to him, but not as much as I expected - maybe the birthday party had sapped her strength. Right then and there I decided it was time to be honest and earnest with my son, but how was I going to do it in a way that made sense to him?

About 30 minutes later I went into his room and closed the door behind me.

"Turn your music off."
"Turn the TV off."
"Put your phone on your desk."

My son's eyes were wide. I had his full attention.

"You make trouble for yourself...In football what happens when you run your plays right (correctly - for all you English majors out there)?"

"You don't play," he answered without hesitation.

"Let me ask you another question...if you're on the sidelines texting and Coach "I Can't Get Over My High School Fame" calls you onto the field and you say, 'Gimme a second' and then never come off the sidelines, what do you think is going to happen?"

"I wouldn't play."

"Would you get in trouble?"


"Then why is it okay for you to do that here? You have one simple, single play you have to run here: wash the dishes, take out the trash, take out the recycling, clean your room and your bathroom...and there hasn't been a single day that you've ever gotten that unbelievably simple play right. And then have the nerve to have an attitude about it. So what am I supposed to do?"

Gotcha...it was all over his face that there was no way around my question. It didn't matter anyway because I didn't let him answer.

"I before any and all these other clowns you call Coach, am your head coach. Everything that happens in your life either happens because of me or I have somehow signed off on it. It is an insult to me to be blown off when I tell you to do something and you say, 'Gimme a second.'"

He nodded his head.

"I was a boy just like you, so I understand. But you, sir, seem to go out of your way to make trouble for yourself. You had almost 5 hours to get your room clean, and you messed up the rest of the house acting like it's yours? It's not yours, it's mine. An you're not my roommate, you're my son."

"Eventually I got it through my head that if I want them (us) to leave me alone then I gotta do what they ask me to do. I have to not do things that will bring them coming, like being on the phone at 4 in the morning. Best believe had the house or your room been clean, you wouldn't have gotten kicked out the living room."

He sincerely looked like he understood. But I wasn't finished.

"At the rate you're going, I have to tell you, you have one foot already in the door of military summer school. Nothing's been paid for, but the arrangements are already in place."

Shock registered on my son's face. "Really?"

To be continued...

Bottom Line: Speak to your kids in terms, or utilizing scenarios that they can understand. It will make things a little simpler.

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