Punishment genie

"LLW Aladdin genie" by Jerry Daykin from Cambridge, United Kingdom - Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:LLW_Aladdin_genie.jpg#/media/File:LLW_Aladdin_genie.jpg

“LLW Aladdin genie” by Jerry Daykin from Cambridge, United Kingdom – Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

There’s this idea in society that the punishment should fit the crime. It’s at least as old as Dante’s inferno, though I would guess that it goes back much further than that. This idea frequently shows up in parenting. It feels to me like parents are generally expected to come up with suitable punishments for the things that their kids do. Suitable meaning that the punishement has some relationship to the thing they did wrong. Supposedly this type of punishment helps kids in some way? I can’t remember ever reading anything on the subject, but I feel like it’s the sort of wisdom that lots of people just believe.

I think it works to a point. If a child isn’t playing nice with the other kids, then they get a time out so they can’t play for a bit. Or if a child refuses to pick up their toys, then the gunny sack comes and takes their toys away.

Here’s the problem. What do you do when your child behaves badly in a weird or unexpected way? For example, sometimes my kids get out a bunch of food and mix it all together (when I’ve told them not to do that many times), wasting a lot of food and making a big mess? What’s the punishment that fits the crime for that? I can’t deny them food for an extended period of time. I can’t make them pay for the waste with their own money because they don’t have any. I can’t make them cook dinner for the family for the next few days because they’re too young. So I make them clean up and then I put them in time out. What does that have to do with making a mess and wasting food? Nothing. But it’s easier, simpler, and more immediate.

Trying to come up with creative punishments that fit the crimes makes me feel a little like one of those jerk-face genies who grant wishes but always in stupid ways. Like you say “I wish money would always come to me” and you spend the rest of your life being pelted with small change. It like you have to ask yourself “how can I twist what they have done to make the punishment something related but really unpleasant?”

Another example. My kids turned on the hose (strike one) left it running and wandered off (strike two) and had the end sticking into the garage (strike three). I luckily got there and turned it off before there was much damage done, but there are definitely things in the garage that shouldn’t be sitting in water. So what’s the punishment for that? This is complicated by the fact that they were trying to clean the car to surprise me. Good intentions have to count for something, right?

So the solution that I, as the sadistic punishment genie, have come up with is that they have to clean up the whole family room (which is quite a mess). I’m typing this as they’re (more or less) working on that. The rationale is that they did something destructive to the house, so they now have to do something constructive to the house. Thus the cosmic scale will be balanced. I have no idea if this is a good punishment or not, but at least we’ll get a clean family room out of the deal. So there’s always that. Take the small victories where you can get them I guess. If anyone else has a better way of handling these things, I’d love to hear it. In the meantime I’ll just head back to my lamp.

Minor Rant About Scripture Mastery

On a whim I started having the kids memorize a scripture. I think it happened because we were trying to do a faster version of bedtime one night, which sometimes involves reciting a scripture rather than reading. The kids seemed to like it, so we started saying it every night to practice. Most of my best parenting ideas have their origin in laziness.

The scripture that we’ve been working on is John 3:16. At this point they’ve actually got it down pretty well, so we’re working on verse seventeen too. I picked the verse because it was the first one I thought of. On further reflection, though,  I think it’s a very appropriate verse for first one that the kids learn. It encompasses the central idea of Christian belief. If you only know one scripture, that’s not a bad choice.

Since this little habit has been going well for us, I’ve decided to continue it and have been looking for a nice list of scriptures which I could use to get good ideas for memorizing. Naturally, having participated in the seminary program, I thought of the scripture mastery verses. I looked them up, all ready to cross off our first one.

Unfortunately, John 3:16 is not a scripture mastery verse.

I’m sure there are reasons that this verse was omitted, but I found it extra strange because there is another verse in John 3 that did make the cut:

John 3:5 – Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

It’s a fine scripture, but it seems like it was included because it’s a scripture in the Bible that can be understood as saying that baptism is necessary. Not even everyone will read it that way (quick story, on my mission I brought up this scripture with a guy and he viewed it as meaning that your actual birth was being born of water, and your acceptance of Jesus was being born of the Spirit. Based solely on the text, that’s not an unreasonable interpretation.) Here’s the thing, there are much clearer scriptures about the necessity of baptism. How about this one:

2 Nephi 31:17 – Wherefore, do the things which I have told you I have seen that your Lord and your Redeemer should do; for, for this cause have they been shown unto me, that ye might know the gate by which ye should enter. For the gate by which ye should enter is repentance and baptism by water; and then cometh a remission of your sins by fire and by the Holy Ghost.

This one is not a scripture mastery (though to be fair, nineteen and twenty, which talk about enduring to the end, are). It’s obviously a lot more clear than the one in John.

If that’s a little long for you though, here’s another:

Doctrine and Covenants 33:11 – Yea, repent and be baptized, every one of you, for a remission of your sins; yea, be baptized even by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost.

Short, to the point, and almost unmistakable in what it is saying.

It seems like the only reason to include John 3:5 is so that missionaries know a scripture in the bible that more or less says the same thing, so they have something to point at when dealing with other Christians.

This might be (probably is) me projecting my own issues onto everyone else, but I feel like I would have been a much better missionary and person if I had thought a little more about John 3:16-17 (like the part about not being sent to condemn the world, for instance) and a little less about John 3:5 and convincing people that their understanding of the Bible was flawed. If you can convince them to read the Book of Mormon and gain a testimony of it (admittedly that’s a really, really big if), then it doesn’t matter where the scripture that you’re using comes from.

In the grand scheme of things, the inclusion or exclusion of specific verses in the scripture mastery list is not really a big deal, but this seems like a microcosm for a problem I see in the way that we sometimes approach members of other religions. We’re too quick to look for doctrinal difference, and too slow to look for shared ground.

Well, as for me and my kids, we’re going to stick with John 3:16-17 for a while. Don’t hold your breath for John 3:5 to come up.

It’s the Little Things That Make a Difference

A few months ago, Bonnie had a bit of a rough day. Admittedly, that description doesn’t really narrow things down much, but I don’t remember the exact circumstances. She was probably frustrated or feeling overwhelmed. As we were sitting in bed, I was messing around on the computer, and she was looking at her phone (don’t judge. You can’t have a deep conversation every night). Anyway, I came across some youtube videos that had us both laughing our heads off. The only one I can remember specifically is the one at the top.

In the grand scheme of things, there’s probably not a lot of value in the massive number of ridiculous, mindless videos on the internet, but a good laugh was something we both needed. I think there’s a kind of beauty to the idea that even something silly and small can be just what someone needs.

This sort of thing translates very well into a good approach when we’re trying to offer comfort to those who are struggling. People often ask Bonnie and me what they can do, looking for some big (or small) way that they can change our lives for the better. While there have been a few instances where we needed a big thing (moving comes to mind), the truth is that there usually isn’t anything they can do to actually change our situation. Most of the time that will be the case. Instead, the things that I remember and the things that mean a lot to me are usually the small things:

– People saying hi to me – not the “pity-eyes” sort of greeting, but a real friendly hello.

– People who talk about things other than cancer, college and kids. (I considered spelling all three of those with a “k” so they would underscore the alliteration, but that would make an unfortunate acronym).

– Basically anyone who acts like I’m still a normal person and not a project.

In essence, I’m finding that small gestures make a difference. As I was writing this, I remembered a story that President Eyring told in the Oct. 2010 general conference:

Once I was at the hospital bedside of my father as he seemed near death. I heard a commotion among the nurses in the hallway. Suddenly, President Spencer W. Kimball walked into the room and sat in a chair on the opposite side of the bed from me. I thought to myself, “Now here is my chance to watch and listen to a master at going to those in pain and suffering.”

President Kimball said a few words of greeting, asked my father if he had received a priesthood blessing, and then, when Dad said that he had, the prophet sat back in his chair.

I waited for a demonstration of the comforting skills I felt I lacked and so much needed. After perhaps five minutes of watching the two of them simply smiling silently at each other, I saw President Kimball rise and say, “Henry, I think I’ll go before we tire you.”

“I thought I had missed the lesson, but it came later. In a quiet moment with Dad after he recovered enough to go home, our conversation turned to the visit by President Kimball. Dad said quietly, “Of all the visits I had, that visit I had from him lifted my spirits the most.”

I think I finally get this story. President Kimball didn’t come in trying to say the right thing. He wasn’t there with some idea about the perfect thing to say to buoy up Henry’s spirit and faith. He also didn’t make him give detailed explanations of his diagnosis and condition. He just came as a friend to see someone that he cared about.

Update on Bonnie

george-michael gif

I feel you, George Michael.

It’s been a long, stressful day. Bonnie wasn’t feeling very good last night, so she was up a lot. That translated into oversleeping for her doctor’s appointment. It’s always nice to start the day out right.

More importantly, it’s looking like her current course of treatment just isn’t managing the symptoms the way that we would like. Bonnie has been falling down a lot and her balance is really impaired, so we’re going to be switching to something more aggressive. At this point, Bonnie’s condition makes her such an outlier that there’s not really a proscribed course of treatment, so it feels a little bit like both we and our doctor are shooting in the dark.

We’re going to try a really high dose of the medicine that she’s on, which will involve some pretty serious time in the hospital. So that’s not going to be fun for anyone.

We also had a visit to the physical therapist, who basically said that there’s not much that he can do to fix things (not really surprising), but he gave us some strengthening exercises for Bonnie to do.

When I write it all down, it doesn’t sound like that much, but I just feel totally mentally spent. It’s the cancer anxiety. You just sit around waiting constantly for something to go wrong. It’s like your brain is stretched out too thin, or you’ve got this constant feeling of falling but you never hit the ground. Then when you get more bad news you just don’t have the energy to process it because of all the energy you spend keeping it together on a normal day.

That’s probably enough whining from me. I still have a great little family, and I’m sitting here watching a little show with L and R while I type this, so the day is not all bad. Even when things go poorly, it’s always nice to get a chance to sit around with the kids at the end of the day. But if you see my lying on the floor, you’ll know why.

Let’s start with a depressing post

IMG_1206My wife is dying and there’s nothing I can do about it.

I’m sitting in the hospital this morning, waiting for her to finish a procedure where they inject chemotherapy drugs directly into her spinal cord to try and slow down the progression of the disease. It’s a treatment which no one even expects to work. The best we’re looking at is buying more time.

She’s 27 and she’s dying of breast cancer.

It’s been a little surreal this last week. On Friday, it was our sixth wedding anniversary. Bonnie called the doctor to get the results of a fairly routine scan. She’s been undergoing cancer treatments for the last year and a half, but we were supposed to be done with aggressive treatments for a while. Instead of the “all clear” that we were expecting, the doctor told her that he wanted both of us to come in on Monday to talk with him. That of course made for a nice, stress-free weekend while we tried not to think about all the things that could be going wrong.

My typical stress-relief strategy of “what’s the worst that can happen?” was useless in that context.

And then of course he gave us the news. That whole situation deserves its own post, so I’ll give you the short version. The cancer has spread all through her spine and part of her skull. It’s pushing on her central nervous system and there’s really no effective way for us to kill it at this point.

When you’re facing the death of a spouse, there are a lot of ugly words. Even words that didn’t sound so bad before have become really ugly:



single parent

leave of absence

hardship exception


One of the most frustrating things about this whole thing is that the grief doesn’t even get to be private for any amount of time. The day we found out about the prognosis we had to start making arrangements. Bonnie called her family, I called mine. I had to start talking to my school, Bonnie had to start working on the insurance. There’s not enough time for grief or silence, for just being alone with each other. The pain is immediately trotted out and shared with the whole world. People want to be supportive and they stop by and call and ask invasive questions, but I wish we could have had just a day or two with each other.

Cancer is a jerk.

People keep asking me how I’m doing, and I keep saying that I’m fine. I don’t even know how I’m supposed to process this situation, much less explain it to anyone else. So in lieu of actually talking to anyone who is physically here, I’d rather just send some thoughts out onto the internet. The internet is like therapy with more cowbell.

I think that’s the reason I decided to start this blog. I need to talk or vent or whatever and the internet seems to have an unlimited capacity for absorbing that sort of thing. Thanks, Internet.