I was leaving a meeting at about 9:00 PM on a Thursday night when I heard my cell phone beep. It was a text message from my wife Jody. It read: “Did you get my other message?” And I thought: uh oh…that meant I had missed something important.
I saw that there was indeed another message waiting for me. I opened it and read. “Please pick up a dozen eggs from the supermarket for Shabbat.”
Well, it could have been worse. Still, I groaned. It was late Thursday, a night notorious for the worst in Israeli supermarket behavior – wall-to-wall customers pushing and shoving then depositing their carts in the checkout line and leaving for a half an hour to continue shopping.
I picked up the phone, called Jody, and started making excuses.
“Nu…how do you expect me to make the cakes for Shabbat?” Jody replied, rather curtly I might add.
“Can’t we get the eggs tomorrow?” I responded. “You’re not really cooking any more tonight, are you, sweetie?”
“Tomorrow you wanted to go on a tiyul with the kids, remember?”
Now, the entire time this conversation was taking place, I had already been on my way to the store. That’s the thing about me. I complain royally but I always do the right thing in the end.
As I headed home, eggs in hand, I couldn’t stop my internal monologue: If you know you’re going anyway, why does it have to be such a pain to get there?
Fifteen-year-old Amir and thirteen-year-old Merav were both still awake when I got home. Amir was furiously fingering his Nintendo DS while Merav was in front of the computer watching the blooper reel from the final season of Friends on a DVD.
There were two bags of garbage waiting by the front door plus a smaller bag of recyclables.
“Can one of you guys please take out the trash?” I heard Jody ask as I lay the eggs on the counter.
“Do we have to?” Merav snapped back.
“Yeah,” Amir added, “Can’t we wait until tomorrow? We’re busy!”
That sounded way too familiar…
How did we get to this point as a family, where everyone is seemingly out for themselves? Where we don’t know – or never learned – the meaning of the word “teamwork?”
And what could we do to turn things around?
When I used to work in a big office, we had all manner of team building exercises: treasure hunts, climbing walls, sushi nights. But these seemed more like gimmicks. They might produce some short-term results, but we needed some serious behavior modification.
No, there was only one real choice: brutal, disarming honesty…mixed with a little reverse psychology.
On the walk to shul the following night, I announced “I have a confession to make.”
Now, my kids love a good sob story, so I had their rapt attention…for at least a few seconds.
I started in and related the story of the eggs in all its self-centered glory. “So has anything like this ever happened to you guys?” I asked.
Amir and Merav looked around nervously but said nothing. Eight-year-old Aviv was the first to respond.
“Hey look at that rock over there. It looks like a face, right Abba?”
How does he do that? Change the subject so deftly? No matter. I was ready with my curve ball. I stepped up to the blame plate.
“Listen guys,” I said. “I know it’s all my fault. It’s me. I am the cause of all our bad un-team like behavior. If I wouldn’t kvetch every time your mother asked me to do anything, you wouldn’t either.”
“Don’t be silly Abba,” Amir said at once. “We’re kids. That’s what we do. Even if you weren’t around, we’d still complain.”
“OK, sure. But maybe if you had a better model you’d at least complain less,” I countered.
“We need to be able to count on each other,” Jody added. “Not only with chores.”
“Right,” I continued. “Like, if it’s raining, Amir. Don’t you count on either Imma or me to pick you up from school?”
“You know what I would love when I ask you guys to do something,” Jody said. “I’d love to hear you say ‘with pleasure, Imma. Of course I would be glad to clear the dishes.’”
“But it’s not a pleasure to clear the dishes,” Merav said quickly.
“But you could say the words,” Jody said, “even if you don’t mean it.”
“What’s the point of that?” Merav shot back.
“I’m going to do it,” I announced with a flourish. “From now on, whenever anyone asks me to do something, I’m going to say ‘with pleasure’ and just do it.”
“So, can you give me 100 shekels,” Merav jumped in. I glared at her.
“Anyway, just think about it tonight when you’re davening in shul, OK?”
The next night during dinner we tried out our new approach.
“Amir,” Jody asked. “Can you get the hummous out of the fridge?”
“Only if I get some first,” Amir barked.
“OK, with pleasure.”
It didn’t sound so genuine. You know, this might not go as smoothly as when we went total cold turkey a couple of years back and snapped our addiction to television. Yes, it might take time.
But if we stay the course, if we as parents are consistent, maybe there can be some trickle-down behavior.
If everything goes well, it will truly be my pleasure to report it to you!
Brian Blum is a journalist and entrepreneur based in Jerusalem. He writes the weekly column This Normal Life (www.ThisNormalLife.com). His latest startup Bloggerce (www.bloggerce.com) provides online publishing solutions for budding bloggers. Contact him at email@example.com
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.