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Goodness for Goodness' Sake

Parenting often has a way of inspiring me to do the right thing instead of just the easy thing, even when I resist.

It’s happening again.

In my quest to become a better parent, so as to avoid heavy therapy bills later in my son’s life,  I am inadvertently becoming a better person.

I always find this to be an obnoxious side effect of conscious parenting. It often requires much more effort to live this way.

Before my son came along, I was inclined to just do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. Now I have to think about the things I say and do and evaluate their impact on those around me.

For example, I have never been one to pick up another’s trash. It’s not that I am opposed to keeping the planet clean; it’s just that it never occurred to me that one might do something like this. I mean, if you didn’t put the Popsicle wrapper in the bush, why should you be the one to take it out?

While walking on with a close friend of mine last week, I noticed she did this. She didn’t make a fuss about it. She just quietly picked the wrapper up and placed it in the nearest trash can.

Hmmm … that is an interesting approach, I thought to myself. If I didn’t know this woman better, I’d have suspected that she had just done something terrible and was now trying to establish some karmic balance.

A few days later, while pulling into our carport, I noticed that the pile of recyclables that I had walked past earlier that morning was still scattered near the recycling bins. There was a broken bottle, a torn paper cup and some tattered envelopes and papers strewn about the concrete.

“Boy, somebody should really clean that up,” I muttered.

My son, always quick to offer his two cents, piped up from the backseat, “We could clean it up.”

I had no response. I looked at my watch. We were not late for anything. I began gathering the grocery bags from the trunk.

“That’s a great idea, Justin. Let’s drop these groceries off inside and come back down with a broom.” I tried to smile at him with my mouth and eyes so that he wouldn’t see the grumbling going on behind my cheerful facade.

Oddly enough, after we swept up the mess and put the items in the appropriate bins, I felt better. I felt good about myself and good about the example I was setting for my son.

Upon entering the kitchen to make dinner, I noticed that the dishwasher still needed to be unloaded and reloaded. It was my roommate’s turn. She wasn’t home. I had a choice. I could go my usual route and be a jerk and call her on her cellphone and leave her a grumpy message. Or I could take a cue from my friend and my son, and just do the dishes because they needed to get done.

Annoyed at the incessant call from the Universe to be a kinder and more loving person, I began putting away the plates. I asked Justin to help me, and he started on the silverware. As we went along with our chore, he began telling me about his day at school. I heard about recess, his new teacher and how exciting he found multiplication and division.

Before I knew it, we were done. He returned to his Legos, and I started working on the pasta. I felt strangely calm. I felt oddly peaceful.

My roommate came home a few minutes later. “Oh, sweetie. I’m so sorry. I know it was my turn to do the dishes. I thought I’d be home before you and ….”

“It’s no biggie.” I smiled at her to let her know that I wasn’t doing that passive-aggressive thing I often do where I say it’s all OK but really I am keeping score (and, according to my calculations, I am always winning).

She eyed me suspiciously.

I told her about the wrapper in the bush and the trash on the driveway. I told her that I was embarrassed about the way I was always keeping score and only willing to help out when it was specifically my responsibility or my turn. I told her that I was surrounded by people who were eager to just do the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing, and that I wanted to become one of those people.

We sat and chatted and laughed over some wine while the pasta boiled. As we began setting the table, she casually asked, “Did you happen to get a chance to check the mail today?”

“No. It’s your turn. I checked it when…..”

I stopped myself and offered her a sheepish grin.

Oh well. Progress, not perfection.

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