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Getting in Hot Water for Nothing

September 14, 1989|MIKE SPENCER | Times Staff Writer

Mark Twain once said that humans were the only animals to blush, mainly because they were the only ones who had any reason to.

He also told a wonderful story about being punished by his mother (she kept a thimble on her middle finger for thumping heads) for something he hadn't done.

Both stories came to mind this past weekend when I did the former because I almost committed the latter.

Walking stocking-feet through the living room, I discovered a large wet spot on the carpet in front of the television--in the exact spot where my younger son often sprawls. I asked him if he had spilled something. He insisted that he had not, so I asked my older son, who denied even being in the room for at least three days.

"Well," I pointed out with clear logic and fine sarcasm, "water just doesn't appear in the living room. It doesn't rain indoors, you know."

Obviously someone was not telling the truth, and it just as obviously had to be one of them, considering that only the three of us live there and I certainly hadn't spilled anything (for one thing, I wouldn't have left any evidence).

So it was time for one of those talks about the importance of truth, no matter how difficult to tell, being better than a vile lie, blah, blah, blah, of never having to be afraid of telling your father anything, blah, blah, blah. You know the talk--it's the one where their eyes roll back into their heads at about the second blah, blah, blah.

Lecture completed, I made a magnanimous gesture. We'll all clean it up and the incident will be forever forgotten, but in the future, blah, blah, blah.

The problem was that all the sponges and towels in the house (and all the king's horses and all the king's men, too, for that matter) couldn't soak up the water. The spot was growing.

I was wrong. Water can just appear in the living room.

With the help of a plumber and his miniature jackhammer, we were able to find a broken hot water pipe under the concrete (which, of course, is under the carpet, under the mat, under the wood) that had probably been leaking for a month or two.

So it was my turn for a lecture, which I hope I accepted a little more graciously than certain unnamed people receive mine.

I guess I'm just lucky they don't own thimbles.

There's no indignation that matches that which comes from being falsely accused (except, of course, that which comes from being justly accused).

Like Twain, I can remember being wrongfully indicted by my mother. The exact incident eludes me, but the indignation remains. Twain's mother's response was to tell him to consider the thump on the head punishment for something he'd gotten away with.

My mother just changed the subject.

At least I had the sense to apologize, but I often wonder whether we're not all doomed to repeat dumb things our parents did or said to us.

How often have you caught yourself telling your child something you had considered absolutely ridiculous when your parents said it to you years before?

For example, my rather strict father insisted that my brother, sister and I be in bed with the lights out at 8:30.

"Go to bed and go to sleep," he would say, as if without the complete instructions we would go to bed and play baseball or field hockey. Then, if he heard any noise, he would pop in and say, "I told you to go to sleep!"

My brother and I would spend another half hour very quietly discussing the silliness of ordering someone to go to sleep as if it were like flipping a light switch on and off.

We also swore that if we ever had children, we'd never say something as dumb as that to them.

Yet. . . .

The evening after the pond-in-the-living-room incident, I was helping my younger son prepare for an outing scheduled the next morning. We agreed he should get to bed early.

About 9 he was still up fooling around with something, and I suggested he'd best be getting to bed--now!

Another hour passed and I noticed the light still on in his room. I popped in, turned it off and sternly said, "I told you to go to sleep!"

Making Allowances

Do you give your children an allowance? If so, how much do they get and on what is the rate based?

Burning the Midnight Toil

If you're one of the millions of Americans--from nurses to police officers to convenience store clerks--who work through the night, we'd like to hear from you. Do abnormal hours preclude normal family relationships? Tell us how you cope.

Spare the Rod

How do you punish your children--by spanking them or by restricting their activities? Or do you have some other method? We'd like to know.

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