From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul 2

Wasting Water

It was a Friday evening, and I had just settled into bed with a new novel when I heard it: The kitchen faucet had been turned on. Evidently someone in my family was getting a drink of water before bed. Normally, this action would immediately go in one ear and out the other, but tonight was different. Having just spent several weeks educating our two children about conservation, specifically electricity and water, I was overly attuned to every fan blade turning, every drop of water, every flush.

Anyone who has ever paid the household bills will agree that the humid, unrelenting heat of summer can be especially brutal on the pocketbook. Family funds designated for monthly water usage are flushed down the toilet— literally. Electric bills can fry even the most generous of budgets.

So, it was with a large amount of righteous determination that I laid out the rules: Lights and ceiling fans must be turned off when you leave the room. Don’t waste the water. Keep the air conditioner on eighty degrees. Turn off the television when you aren’t watching. Such simple ideas! I thought. Of course we can do this!

On this particular Friday night, perched in bed reading, I turned my attention away from the running faucet and was temporarily lost in the pages of my paperback. One chapter later, I came out of fantasyland long enough to hear the distinct sound of the kitchen faucet still cascading at full speed.

It couldn’t be! At least five full minutes had elapsed since the faucet was first turned on, and it hadn’t stopped flowing yet! I was mortified, angry and desperately wanted to punish whoever was blatantly ignoring Rule #2, “Don’t Waste the Water.”

I leaped out of bed, ready to blast into the kitchen and reprimand the evil-doer, realizing nearly too late that my scantily clad self would not get the respect I needed for this particular lecture. So I stuck my head around the corner, saw my ten-year-old son, Christopher, and exploded, “What in the world are you doing? That water’s been running for over five minutes. Are you trying to put our last penny down the drain?”

I stomped back to bed and pulled up the covers, satisfied that my point had been made, but it wasn’t long before I heard another noise coming from the kitchen. It wasn’t the water running. The faucet had been turned off immediately after my verbal assault.

No, the sound was much worse. It was the unmistakable echo of a muffled sob.

Quickly slipping on a pair of shorts, I ran out into the kitchen. What I saw sent my heart into that tiny place in your throat where it sticks and threatens to make camp. I couldn’t swallow. I could only cry.

There was my son, carefully wiping down the stove top, his silent tears mixing with window cleaner as they dropped softly onto the range. I looked around the kitchen that I had been too tired to clean before bed. It was spotless. Dishes were put away, the countertops sparkled, and my sink was once again white. Even the microwave was fingerprint-free.

Stunned that Christopher would take such an initiative on his own, and thoroughly disgusted with myself I slowly walked up behind my son, and gently encircled him with my arms.

“I’m so sorry, Son. I was wrong. Terribly wrong,” I whispered, my hot tears now dropping onto his back.

“It’s okay, Mom,” he replied faintly. “I understand.”

My son’s decency and forgiving nature prevailed over my unfortunate behavior.

So who is the adult here? I wondered, as I turned him around to face me.

“Please forgive me,” I half-stated, half-asked, mostly begged. “I shouldn’t have flown off the handle without checking first. I should have taken the time to see what was happening. I should have trusted you more. I was wrong.”

His hug was strong. We held on to each other as he struggled with forgiveness and I suffered with regret and guilt.

“Christopher,” I finally said, “you have taught me to take my time and be cautious when accusing anyone of wrongdoing. You’ve taught me never to assume anything. You’ve taught me a great deal about your character and about trust.”

He was silent, taking in the apology.

“It’s awfully hot tonight, isn’t it?” I asked, attempting to establish some positive communication. Then, acting on impulse, I blurted out, “Go get your bathing suit on.”

Christopher gave me a questioning look but did as I requested, even though the hands on the kitchen clock were approaching midnight. In two minutes we were both outside in the yard with the sprinklers running hard at full tilt. We raced around in circles, laughing, cooling our bodies and acting silly until finally, Christopher asked the inevitable.

“What about the water bill, Mom? It’s going to be huge.”

“Water, schmater,” I replied, letting a shot of spray hit me directly on the rear end. “It’s only money, Honey, and you are much more important than any stack of green paper.”

The moonlight cast a strange glow upon his face, and I saw what appeared to be a single teardrop falling from one eye. Or maybe it was just the water dripping from his wet head. It really didn’t matter because he walked over to me, gave me a high five and whispered, “I love you, Mom.”

We romped and played outside that night for nearly an hour. The water ran continuously, but not once did I envision currency being sucked down the drain. And when the bill came later that month, I paid it, with contentment in my soul and joy in my heart, for now I know the simple truth: To err is human, but to be forgiven by your child is truly divine.

Susan H. Hubbs

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