“Oh my God, Mom! You actually did this! Something is wrong with you!”
The screams came from my frustrated 14-year-old, who’d found his underwear cut in half. There were definitely many things wrong with me, but on this day, I believed I had gotten something right.
I had been trying for months to get my son to pick his underwear up off the bathroom floor after he showered. I did the laundry for my whole family and was used to walking from room to room gathering the detritus of the day and loading it into a basket. But this particular, consistent infraction made me so frustrated that one day I had yelled, “If I ever see your underwear on the floor of the bathroom again, I will cut it in half!”
This resulted in the expected eye rolls, followed by “OK, Mom. I’m sorry. I’ll pick up my underwear. Jeez, I don’t get why it’s such a big deal.”
No, he did not get it. But he was about to. His apology and concession did not even last 12 hours. The next morning, when I was doing the rounds after dropping everyone off at school, there they were on the floor. I got out the scissors and happily cut those blue boxers in half, throwing the remains on his bed. I felt lighter the rest of the day.
Driving home from school, I could barely keep it together — I felt like a proud parent on Christmas morning who had found the perfect gift for their child and was waiting to see the reaction.
The screams came instantly, but I didn’t flinch. With all the calm and steadiness I could muster, I said, “Sweetheart, I told you if you left them on the floor again, I would cut them in half.”
“I didn’t think you were serious! Who does this!”
It took even more willpower to just let him scream. I walked away feeling triumphant. Still, the next morning I opened the bathroom door to find, in all their crumpled glory, another pair of boxers. I pulled out the scissors and cut with even more vigor than the day before. That afternoon he went up to his room quicker than usual and screamed louder than the day before.
“Mom, I can’t even believe you right now! Who does this! What is even the point! You need to stop this! Mom, please!”
“Sweetheart, I told you if you left them on the floor again, I would cut them in half.”
Morning number three came and I was confident that I would not need the scissors again. I was wrong. The afternoon screams came right on cue. “Mom, something is seriously wrong with you! Nobody does this! And you’re not making any sense because you’re just going to have to buy me new underwear!”
I laughed so unexpectedly I almost spit out my afternoon coffee. “Yeah, I am not buying you new underwear.”
Day four: discovery, scissors, cutting, screaming. Day five: discovery, scissors, joyful cutting . . . no screaming? That afternoon, my son stomped up the stairs and slammed the door to his room without a single peep. Over dinner we talked about school and friends — a regular conversation.
The next day was Saturday. As I opened the door to my son’s room, instead of a lump under the covers, I found a note: “I took my bike to Kmart to get more underwear because you ruined it all.”
That was the most beautiful note I had ever read. Forget the sweet Mother’s Day and birthday cards; this note, with its hostile declaration of defeat, brought tears of joy to my eyes.
Fidaa Shaheen is a writer in Petaluma, California. Send comments to email@example.com. Tell your story. Email your 650-word essay on a relationship to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.