Oh, Ben

Family Therapy Sterling VA

This week’s blog comes in the form of a guest post from my friend Amanda Strand. Amanda is someone I met during my days teaching group fitness classes; she is an energetic, inspiring, and thoughtful person with whom I felt an immediate connection. Today, she’s the creator of BANG Power Dance and Freedom Barre — amazing fitness classes that she creates herself and then trains others to teach in a growing number of gyms across the DC area and beyond.

Last week, Amanda shared the story below and I enjoyed it so much that I asked her if I could share it on the blog. I love what it says about parenting and I hope you will, too.


 

My older teen children used to try to convince me that any punishments or groundings should not affect “other” people. Missing homecoming, or a movie date with friends to celebrate the friend’s birthday, for instance. I was informed by my very intelligent, beloved children that I should pick a punishment that only affects them.

I can remember my dad asking my brother to do the lawn. It was a half acre that included bare patches, roots, rocks, and an occasional in-ground yellow jackets nest. Oh, and did I mention we had a mechanical mower? Powered by being pushed. If you pushed hard enough the blade would work up a good spin. It was heavy, so if you were nine you pushed downhill where gravity helped, and then pulled it backwards back to the top and then pushed down the hill again. My brother was strong for nine so he could push it both ways. We finished by swinging the golf club. (It wasn’t really a golf club, but we pretended it was. It was a 7-inch blade with a handle so you could swing it. It could also take someone’s nose off, if they got too close to you while you were swinging.) We swung it along the edges to get the hard-to-reach areas. There were no trimmers in those days. Some people had power mowers, but plenty didn’t. It was a big job.

Anyway, this one Saturday, my dad asked Ben to do the lawn. And Ben set to work. Pretty soon his friends started to appear. They had planned a basketball tournament at the hoop down the hill. The whole neighborhood somehow knew and a few kids swung by our yard to pick up Ben. They waited there for what seemed like an hour, watching Ben work. You gotta remember that this was before video games. We spent a lot of time in someone’s yard waiting for them to finish chores so the gang could be together for whatever project we planned that day – Kick the Can, look through the window of the haunted house, build a fort in the woods. Well. Finally, after a hundred years, he was done.

He went to tell Dad. Dad came down the front steps. He looked to the left. He looked to the right. He walked a little way around the house. And then he said,

“Oh, Ben.”

Now, “Oh, Ben” can be said five thousand ways. But this way of saying “Oh Ben” or “Oh Amanda” meant we had to do it again — whatever it was; dusting, vacuuming, sweeping, mowing, dishwashing. It meant we had not done a thorough job. We had cut corners – anxious as all kids are to go out to play. He knew it. We knew it. In that “Oh” was his sadness at having to deliver the news. He was not a cruel man. When it was even close to a good job he would let us go play. But when we were sloppy — he held the line. Quietly. Firmly.

“Oh, Ben.”

All the kids and me standing there watching my father be a father.

Then, Ben would look over at his friends and say, “Go on ahead, I’ll catch up.” And he would put the gloves back on and do again whatever patches Dad said needed redoing.

It took something out of my Dad to do it. It took a tiny piece.

I was thinking about this as an email came in from the school referencing a poor choice one of my children had made — the same child who had already given up the privilege of aphone earlier in the week. When I knew I was now going to ground her, that it would affect other people, I heard, “Oh, Ben.”

As I supervised the two hand-written letters of apology and wrote an email to someone that there would be no skating for our child this weekend, that’s what I heard. And it took a tiny piece out of me to do these things. But then I realized it wasn’t a tiny piece of me — it was a tiny piece of my dad.

The one he had given us all those years ago. And I was passing it along.