Yesterday I got soap in my mouth.
It’s been rough around here lately. Between too many activities, squeezing my parents for 4 weeks into a house that already felt slightly too tight, and the general emotional chaos of raising a 15, 13 and 11 year old, the words that have been flying in our house are way too salty and way too rude.
Of course, apples don’t fall far from the tree, so what should I expect?
Sometime in my own tweenhood, I paged through my baby book, a white cracking leather album that Mama had stuffed full of photos and mementoes of my early years—our matching wristbands, my dried up umbilical cord, a curled lock of hair from my first haircut, even all the “Welcome to the World” baby cards her friends sent when I was born.
I noticed a blurb under “Two year old memories” written in boxy Chinese characters that I couldn’t read despite being forced to take Mandarin by my parents and asked Mama what it said.
Mama read, “Once when I was scolding Yen-Yen [my Chinese name and what my family calls me], she looked at me and said, ‘If you think I’m so bad, why did you have me in the first place?’”
My jaw dropped. “I said that when I was two?”
She looked at me in triumph and declared, “You see? You see? This is what I was up against! A two year old who would talk to me like that.”
Baba walked into the kitchen at that moment. He chuckled, “Mama was so furious she told me to get you out of the house! We had to go eat jook with fish balls at Moilili Chop Suey because Mama couldn’t stand being in the same house with you!”
If my parents rewarded me with jook with fish balls for mouthing off, no wonder I have an inordinate need to express myself and the inability to control my tongue–especially with family.
Because there’s no higher value in Chinese culture than filial piety–respecting, obeying and revering one’s parents–my parents thought they were raising an American hellion. They were so desperate they even “lost face” by meeting with my youth pastor to talk about their juvenile delinquent teen—the same delinquent who led his youth group, didn’t drink, smoke, swear and even gave up dancing for 2 years (until a youth group counselor challenged me with whether I really thought dancing was sinful or if I was creating a holy excuse to avoid the fear of not being asked to dance. Ouch! Gotcha!)
All 3 of my kids take after me in their unflagging needs to express themselves and challenge parental authority. The noise, conflict and chaos that ensue are overwhelming. If Mama thought I was bad, now she’s staying in a household with 3 mini-me’s and the daughter who started it all.
My husband and I tried to re-set the family a couple weeks ago. We met with each kid individually and started by confessing what we’ve done wrong, then progressed to explaining new consequences for misbehavior, including soap in the mouth for saying “Shut up” and worse. Maybe it’s child abuse, maybe it’s a little too late for this punishment when 2 out of 3 kids tower over me and could take me down if they wanted, but we were desperate and had no better ideas.
Yesterday, when I picked two kids up—an incredibly loving act on my part because they’re supposed to walk home from school, but it was raining—they jumped in the car and immediately began slamming one another. Inevitably, a kid said “Shut up!”
I sighed. “You’re going to have to go home and get soap in your mouth.”
This child protested, claiming the other had said shut up about 5 times in the morning when I was at the gym. Squabbling and tattling and arguing at high volume almost took the roof off our 2001 Corolla. I just couldn’t take it.
“Shut up you two!” I yelled.
Gulp. Did I say apples don’t fall far from the tree?
So I put Dove Cucumber & Green tea in my mouth. My child rushed to the sink and slurped some liquid hand soap before I could dictate the flavor. Eew! Much more soap to taste bud ratio there.
The other child, who I didn’t punish in an attempt to dissuade tattling, jumped around in glee and then complained that I didn’t keep the soap in my mouth long enough. I pointed out that extended soap in the mouth has been the result of screaming and yelling more salty and inappropriate words in the process of getting punished. I cooperated.
Soap may not clean the words in our home—after all Jesus says it’s our dirty insides that are the problem. But there’s one thing I can tell you—jook with fish balls taste a whole lot better than Dove Cucumber and Green tea.