By Kent McDill
Once again, I offer a precautionary tale, and it comes with an immediate precaution:
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DON'T LET YOUR KIDS READ THIS COLUMN!
Our oldest child Haley went off to college at the end of August. It was a sad moment.
Over the summer, Haley spent her time in two pursuits -- working in order to make money for college, and spending time with her friends. She did not spend much time attending to her responsibilities around the house, which pretty much is just making sure her room is clean.
When her mother, Janice, or I would scold her for her lack of support at home, she would say, "You are going to be sorry. I'm going to be gone in (select a period of time) and you are going to be sorry you spent so much time yelling at me."
That sentence from Haley (we will call it "The Haley phrase") is the part of this column your kids should not read. Those are powerful words. They are not to be used without proper training. Only a true Jedi can wield such power safely.
Every time Haley used that weapon, it worked, at least a little bit. You do stop for a moment. You think, "I'm going to miss her." You battle with yourself over whether it matters that her room looks like a landfill.
Eventually, of course, you come to your senses. I've got two months, you say, and that room needs to be cleaned. I've got one month, you say, and you tell her to clean the bathroom after her shower. I've got two weeks, you say, and you remind her to put her clothes away.
But when the time comes, those words come back to haunt you. You say goodbye at her college dorm room, and you think that she is never going to say those words to you again. Because she is gone. And you do feel sorry. You can't help it.
Our twins, Dan and Lindsey, are juniors in high school. They heard the Haley phrase aimed at my wife and me numerous times. Do they think they can use it against us, this far away from leaving?
"You're going to be sorry," they will say. "I'm going to be gone in two years."
Two years? Get real. Clean your room.
But any parent will tell you those two years go by in a blink. You sometimes feel that you can literally turn around and see the years fly by. Two years is nothing.
Kyle is entering eighth grade, five years away from leaving for school, assuming we let him or the twins go away to college. After the pain of seeing Haley leave, we have told them there are some fine community colleges in the area, and the University of Phoenix offers a fair curriculum.
Kyle should not be allowed to use the Haley phrase yet, since he is five years away from departure. But it might work best for him, because he's the baby. The last one. When he leaves, it's over.
I wonder if we parents can use that phrase against our kids. "You'll be sorry you called me names. In a year from now, I won't be there to be insulted." The problem is, of course, you will be there to be insulted. You aren't going anywhere. Not really.
For parents of multiple children, let me tell you that the Haley phrase does not work with siblings. Haley tried the "You're going to be sorry" on Lindsey and Dan, and if it affected them, it did not show. Lindsey was ready to stop fighting with Haley over clothing, and Dan wanted Haley's bedroom.
Of course, Lindsey no longer has a girl in the house to discuss wardrobe. Dan's older sister can't help him with schoolwork anymore.
The lesson to all this is that you have to appreciate what you have while you have it. In fact, I think that is the most important lesson I want my kids to have learned from me, even more than the Golden Rule, or squeezing the toothpaste tube from the bottom.
The other thing I know for certain is that if your kids use the Haley phrase against you, it will sting, at least a little bit, no matter how affectionate you are to your child.
That's why it is such a lethal weapon. It never fails to find its target.
• Kent McDill is a freelance writer. He and his wife, Janice, have four children, Haley, Dan, Lindsey and Kyle.