Never in the history of parenthood has a single declarative sentence been so fraught with loopholes. The sentence is this:
No television or playing outside with friends this afternoon.
Today, in a solar eclipse of juvenile delinquency, both of our children managed to earn the same punishment. The girl failed to be ready for school at an acceptable time, and the boy (in deference to his mother) arrived home from school with a note stating he had talked excessively during class. Both children were punished in the same manner: No television or playing outside with friends this afternoon.
It felt straightforward when I uttered the words. Easy to understand. Simple to enforce. But these children. They are confused. So very disoriented by this whole “no tv or friends” business. A sampling of the clarifications they have requested:
Does watching a show on the computer count as “television?”
Does watching a show on my phone count?
When will the “afternoon” be over, and am I to assume that I can play outside with my friends tonight once the “afternoon” has concluded? Because that is how it sounds.
Can I play outside without my friends?
Can I play with my friends inside my house? Inside one of their houses?
Can I bring Kate this pamphlet about band camp? I won’t play with her. I just need to bring her some time-sensitive information.
Can I go outside to feed and water Cottontail (i.e. the pet rabbit) if I promise not to play with her?
If I should happen to see one of the neighborhood kids when I am outside feeding Cottontail, may I wave? Say hello?
Can I play a game on the Wii? It isn’t really television. It is a game.
What do you expect me to do all afternoon?
Rest assured I am standing firm. I know full-well what the consequence of the childrens’ respective offenses was meant to be, and I will not cave. The punishment is working. On whom, though – that is still unclear.