Written by Brendan, #1

As the oldest sibling in a large family, I have the distinct honor of usually being the first one to accomplish something. First one to get their driver’s license, first one to graduate high school, first one to move out to college and the first one to get married.

However, the first that I will never forget was when I became the first Thomas child to really screw up with my parents. And I don’t mean the “let’s go call your father” or “no screen time today” screw ups. This was an “oh crap, please let me continue to live under your roof” screw up.

I was 10 or 11 years old and had a Little League game that evening. Anyone who knew me then knows that baseball was everything for me. I was the kid who, even when the game wasn’t until 5:30, was in my uniform the second I woke up in the morning. This particular day, however, my uniform was still dirty from my last game a couple of nights earlier. To me, this was unacceptable. I mean, how was I supposed to be able to be at my best for the game if I was not in uniform by 7:30 a.m.??

So, naturally, I was upset as I ate my pancakes in my “civilian” clothes. Making it worse was that mom did not appear to be doing anything about it. Even while I ate a delicious hot breakfast alongside four other siblings, I did not hear the washing machine running.

My choice of attack … “Mom, what do you even do around here?”

Even as I was halfway through saying it, I knew I had messed up big. I knew I was in the wrong and needed to reverse course. But for some reason, I decided to stick to my guns. As I saw mom just go stiff and slowly turn around, giving me the chance to apologize and minimize the damage, I just returned the glare.

And then I was dumb enough to repeat the statement.

I was old enough that I was rarely spanked anymore (yes, we were spanked and I truly believe it made us better people, but that is a topic for another time) and I had never been grounded. As I was sent to my room, I figured the worst that I could come up with a sappy apology and settle with losing my computer and TV privileges for the next few days.

Instead, mom and dad came up with their most creative (and effective, it turned out) punishment yet.

I was to switch roles with mom for the day. I would take on all of the responsibilities of a mother of five while she would play the role of an 11-year old boy on a bright summer day.

So we set about our respective days. I cleaned up the breakfast dishes, changed the diapers of the two youngest, made snacks and lunches for all my siblings (including mom), put the younger ones down for their naps, washed and folded multiple loads of laundry (washing my own uniform in the process) and cleaned the house.

Meanwhile, I watched mom do all the things that I loved to do. She threw a tennis ball off the chimney and the back roof for hours (although I’m sure she had no idea how to keep score the way I did in those imaginary games), played my computer games and watched the afternoon movie after the younger ones woke up from their nap.

As the day was winding down, I had successfully fed, cleaned, and otherwise taken care of my younger siblings as well as conquered the other household chores I was told had to be done. I came down from changing another diaper with the feeling that I had beaten the system. Little did I know that five words were about to break me. As I was getting ready to (finally!) get into my uniform, mom came into the room and said: “Time to get dinner ready.”

I lost it. I just started bawling right there. I’m not sure why getting dinner ready was the breaking point for me.

I was incompetent in the kitchen (Yes, Mom, I have gotten better. Ask Meg), but I could pass with some eggs and toast. Regardless, those five words brought my defiance all day to a crashing halt. I professed my sincerest apologies, probably the first apology I had truly meant. Mom could tell that their creative punishment had done the trick. Mercifully, I didn’t have to prepare dinner.

I have told this story countless times (as I am assuming mom has too) to friends. I especially like to break it out when they describe how “tough” they had it as kids when their parents took away their video games for a whole weekend. What good does that do? Bummer, you had to play outside or play board games with your siblings. Try losing an entire day, especially a precious summer day, of your childhood when you had to play the role of an adult. And not just any adult, but a parent with five kids under the age of 10.

I’ll tell you, I never questioned Mom ever again. And I have always made sure to thank her for doing one of the more thankless jobs in the world.

And on that, it’s been a while.


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