In my last post, I may have made the life of a parent seem too easy. At first glance, my account of the Rule of Seven makes it seem as though the battle-weary papa or mama has only to make a list of everything the rowdies should remember, bring them in one by one, and repeat each item on the list seven times.
Would it were so simple.
What complicates the situation is that, in kiddiedom, commands are self-expiring. Every order papa issues contains within itself an expiration date, so the moment it enters a childish ear the count-down begins. My seven-fold “Shut the door” injunction went bad, so to speak, exactly one hour later: it ceased to have any authority, as though it had never been spoken. It arrived in the juvenile mind with a label, “Best if used before 7:00 p.m.,” and by 7:01 it wilted and turned to ash. Grandpa began yelling at children as they breezed in and out, “Number eight: Shut the door when you go through!”—but with just as little effect as when the evening began.
By contrast, all permissions last forever. They are like forever stamps, redeemable no matter how many years have passed. If a child be once allowed to take a paper cup from the downstairs shelf, then three years later that child will freely help herself to paper cups without asking. If commands are like unpasteurized milk, permissions are like beef jerky.
So if a tired mama begins with 683,812,076 problems, she can apply the Rule of Seven to bring it down by one almost instantly. But one hour later—perhaps twenty-four hours, if she is particularly impressive about it—the problem will be back. And in the meantime, every permission she grants will become a problem at some point within the next five years.
683,812,077 and counting….