While Babygirl napped this afternoon, I decided to take my couch-potato, GameBoy-playing sons for a hike. I took them back to the trails at Point Defiance, which were so lovely that even the memory of Babygirl weeping and wailing as she hiked did not deter me.
The air was still, cool. The boys chattered incessantly as we briskly walked down the trail to the beach. I’d point out the trilliums and they wouldn’t quite yawn, but really, all they wanted to do was find a good stick. I described the process of decaying tree trunks and new growth and they scarcely blinked. I used the word “ecosystem,” but it didn’t spark any flicker of recognition.
The tide was low today and so the beach stretched out before us. TwinBoyB nearly fell on his head as he carelessly scrambled down the last ten feet of the trail. Then he slid on his bottom as he tiptoed across a fallen log. He finally screamed, “I HATE WALKS!” I ignored his outburst and carefully picked my way down the stairstepping roots of the giant beach-side tree.
We meandered down the beach. TwinBoyA was intent upon finding “aquatic life,” as he called it. We immediately came upon a pink and blue sea star. YoungestBoy held it and I photographed it. Then we discovered symmetrical holes in the rock, which turned out to be mudstone which contained oblong-shaped clams called piddocks. The piddocks opened like gaping bird mouths. If touched, they’d squirt and then sink back down into their holes.
We found rocks which crumbled in our hands and then it dawned on us that the rocks had broken off of the soaring walls of the bluff which bordered the beach. I think the rock was probably gypsum–it was soft as a bar of soap. We each carved our names into the rock wall. We could break the rocks with one hand, as if they were chalk.
TwinBoyB began to complain and suggest that we turn back. He is a whiner extraordinaire and always has been. His complaints are so tiresome and have ruined many an adventure. Today was no different.
We eventually turned back and found the roots of the tree which marked our trail. As we began our ascent up the trail, I said, “Children who do not complain will get a treat! Children who complain will get no treat!” I did not want to hear any bellyaching as we climbed back up the steep trail. I prompted YoungestBoy to tell the twins where we’d have our treat (Dairy Queen).
And then we trudged uphill. Although the trail was quite steep in places, it was not impossible. TwinBoyB immediately began a tirade of complaints: “I’m tired!” “I hate walking!” “Why did we have to do this?” “My legs are going to fall off.” “I’m going to explode!” “I think I am going to die. Seriously. I mean it.”
I realized that this boy would get no treat or my words would have no value. I even commented out loud and so in a great dramatic performance, he collapsed in tears and slid on his bottom on the path. His brothers were shouting encouragement and giving him their walking sticks. He cried, his face red, his attitude stinky. I dreaded what was about to happen. His brothers were frantic, cheering him on.
Just as we reached the parking lot, I mentioned that he would not get a treat. He wailed and gnashed his teeth, begging for another chance, for mercy. “Mom, what do I have to DO?” I said, “You needed to walk without complaining the whole way.”
His tantrum reminded me of Babygirl’s fit the other day. By now, his brothers were desperate. “Mom, PLEASE, you have to give him another chance!” YoungestBoy went so far as to suggest that if I’d been in his class the other day, then maybe I would have learned to think how I might feel if I were in another person’s shoes. TwinBoyA cautioned me, “Mom, God is frowning on you! Whatever happened to mercy and compassion? Huh? Huh?”
I said, “Look. I told you the rules. I made a promise. I have to keep it. He made a choice, a bad choice, and I’m sad for him, but I can’t break my promise.” At that point, TwinBoyB broke into a mournful yell, “JUST KILL ME! KILL ME NOW! I WANT TO BE DEAD!”
I stopped the car. I said, “Get out. When you’re finished, you can get back in.” He stopped screaming and looked at me through narrowed eyes. I started the car again, he started crying again and the TwinBoyA, in a great show of moral support, burst into loud weeping. He hid his face behind the sleeve of his fleece jacket. I think he was faking.
Behind me, YoungestBoy joined the chorus, sobbing so hard he could barely speak his accusations aloud. “You are so mean!” I turned to see tears running down his pink cheeks. All three boys were now crying in unison.
I wanted to roll my eyes. I wanted to laugh. But I calmly pulled the car over–again–and warned everyone to stop. I explained again why TwinBoyB would get no treat.
I think they expected me to crumble–and how I wanted to collapse under the weight of their collective disapproval–but I held steady. I pulled into the drive-through lane of the Dairy Queen and said, “What do you want?” to YoungestBoy. Then I asked TwinBoy A. I ordered a hot fudge sundae and two Georgia Fudge Mud Blizzards (one for me, one for TwinBoyA) and told TwinBoyB that I was sorry he didn’t get a treat.
He accepted his fate without a sound. TwinBoyA rose to the occasion and shared his whole treat with his brother. Before we’d gone a block, the sound of pleasant laughter filled my car.
I can only hope TwinBoyB learned something. I know I did. I need new hiking companions.