51: The Summer of Their Discontent

51: The Summer of Their Discontent

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less

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The Summer of Their Discontent

Things are only impossible until they’re not.

~Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation

It started out as the summer that I officially became the worst mother in the world. Don’t believe me? Just ask my four children who were left home alone together over a long summer vacation. They already knew that there’d be no excursions to a pool and no trip to an amusement park. I had to work all summer so they were staying home. And the story gets even worse.

As a single parent, money was always an issue. So, when the June cable bill arrived reflecting yet another rate increase there was only one solution. I cancelled our cable service. Okay, it seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, I could just hook up the antenna, right? Wrong. Apparently, hooking up the antenna was well beyond my technical abilities. Now, I had no television combined with four cranky children at home during the heat of the summer. Even the air conditioner was temperamental.

The first few days were beyond agonizing. At work my phone rang constantly with reports of “he’s doing this” or “she’s doing that.” Most of the calls were to repeat their mantra: “there’s nothing to do.” Everyone in the office frowned each time my phone rang. They knew who it was before I even answered. I tried desperately to whisper my responses but it was useless. Everyone knew it was my kids calling. Again. Oh, how I missed the television — I might have missed it more than the kids. At least when they could watch television they’d sit quietly together and I could work in peace.

Thankfully, the phone calls eventually slowed down from one every ten minutes to only one per hour. At home the phone calls were replaced with a different kind of parental torment. Every evening I battled bumper-to-bumper traffic to get home. There, four scowling faces and four pairs of accusatory eyes greeted me. And silence. The words hung unspoken in the air. “It’s all your fault that we have no television.” The grimacing faces and sour dispositions were an improvement of sorts. I still felt bad about their summer but I didn’t know how to fix it. It seemed hopeless. Short of robbing a bank I had no idea where to get the money to turn the cable back on.

Then one day it happened. Do you remember the first time your baby slept through the night? That was exactly what it felt like when the phone calls from home stopped. I looked at the clock and realized that it was lunchtime already. Lunchtime and the kids hadn’t called! My hands shook as I dialed our home number. One ring. Two rings. Three rings. My heart was pounding. A million scenarios ran through my head. Something was wrong.

On the fourth ring the oldest casually answered. I tried to sound casual too, but my words shot out, sounding like an accusation: “Nobody’s called me. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” was her one word reply.

“Is everything okay?”

“Yeah.”

We weren’t getting anywhere. I knew that she was okay, but what about her sisters and brother? Were her siblings tied up and tossed in a closet somewhere?

“Are you sure everything’s okay?”

“Yeah.”

And then silence.

“Can we call you later, Mom? We’re busy.”

I knew it! Every mom knows that “busy” is the code word for “trouble.”

“Busy?”

“Yeah, we made up our own board game and we’re playing.”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry tears of joy. They’d found a solution to entertain themselves. Their summer of discontent had turned into a summer of creativity. They made up board games and card games. They wrote stories and one-act plays. Their imaginations had sprung into action, blossoming and growing. They had found creative ways to fill their days — all because they couldn’t watch television.

It’s funny; they still remember that summer as “the good old days.” I might have even lost the title of World’s Worst Mom. They have carried their love for board games and card games into their adulthood. They still get together to play and enjoy each other’s company. Sometimes, you just have to have less to realize how much you really have. Oh yeah, and turn off the television.

~Debby Johnson

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