“Family Meeting,” Friend, Nov. 1991, 16
Hanna twisted the dish towel and snapped it at the imaginary enemy in the middle of the kitchen. “Take that, Black Knight!”
Her friend Ashley leaned against the counter, holding her sides. “That towel makes a silly sword, but I’m sure you finished him off,” she laughed.
Hanna made a cape of the dish towel and put her foot on the imaginary evil knight.
Her mom peeked in. “Speaking of finishing things, girls, if you want me to drop you off at the skating rink, you’ll have to hustle. I’m leaving in ten minutes.”
Ashley jumped. “Let’s hurry.”
“Don’t worry,” said Hanna. “We’ll let the rest soak and drip dry.” She dumped the silverware and utensils into a bowl, squeezed in some soap, and turned on the tap. The mess was soon lost in bubbles. Hanna and Ashley turned over the clean, wet dishes and pots to dry.
“That looks better,” said Hanna. She doubted whether her mom would get angry in front of Ashley.
Hanna’s mom reappeared. She scowled at the dishes, but then smiled. “Well, let’s go.”
In the car, the girls talked about skating backward and about rounding corners on one leg. Hanna stopped in the middle of a sentence when her mom pulled to the curb, reached across their laps, and opened their door.
“What are you doing, Mom? We’re only halfway there. We’ll be late for our lesson.”
“I know,” said her mom.
Hanna looked confused, but Ashley tugged at her friend’s arm. “Come on, we’ll walk the rest of the way.” Then she thanked Hanna’s mom for the ride.
The car pulled away. Hanna stared at Ashley. “Why did you say thank you?”
“That’s just the kind of thing my mom would do. She calls it a ‘consequence,’” answered Ashley. “Remember, we only did half the dishes.”
“Yes, but we were counting on my Mom’s help,” objected Hanna.
“And she was counting on ours.”
“Now you sound like a parent,” Hanna said. She looked betrayed. “Consequence sounds like a fancy word adults would use instead of punishment.”
“In our family it isn’t. We have meetings where everyone decides what rules will make us a good family.” Ashley found it hard to explain. “Come to our family meeting tonight, Hanna. You’ll see what I mean.”
“Right after I do the dishes,” joked Hanna.
That evening Hanna cleaned up quickly. She was curious about family meetings. As she slipped through the gate that separated their yards, she thought about Ashley’s comments.
Ashley invited her in and told her that the family knew that she was there to watch. Then she led her to the kitchen, where the others had gathered. Beth, the oldest of the four children, had a notepad and pen. John was combing his hair, and Eric tapped the table edge as if it were a drum. Ashley’s mom and dad greeted her with smiles.
It doesn’t exactly look like a courtroom, thought Hanna. She took the empty seat and leaned forward.
After a prayer, John started. “Beth borrows my basketball and doesn’t let me know. I don’t mind sharing, but I’d like to be asked.”
“I know how you feel,” said Beth. “Ashley borrows my T-shirts without asking.”
Hanna waited for an argument to start.
“Sometimes we all forget to ask before we borrow. Let’s talk about consequences that would remind us to ask first,” Eric said.
“How about fifty lashes with a wet dish towel?” Ashley winked at Hanna. Everyone laughed. “Seriously,” she went on, “how about, whoever you borrow from gets to claim something of yours for a day?”
Everyone nodded. “That was easy,” said Beth, jotting down the decision.
“Here’s a problem that doesn’t seem simple,” said Ashley’s mom. “What should we do about people being late for dinner?”
“That seems easy to me,” snickered John. “The people who are on time get to eat it all.”
“That’s a consequence,” admitted Ashley’s dad. “But it’s too tough. We could keep a plate of food warm in the oven.”
“Then it would seem like my consequence,” said Mom, “especially if I want to clean up right after dinner.”
“The late person could have to settle for a cold sandwich,” suggested Eric.
“That doesn’t sound like a bad consequence to me.” Hanna wasn’t sure she should participate. Her face reddened. “I love peanut butter sandwiches.”
“Hanna is right,” said Dad. “Sometimes that consequence would seem more like a reward.”
“Mom did say that cleanup is harder if there are stragglers,” said Beth. “I think the consequence should involve cleanup.”
“That’s logical,” agreed John.
Mom smiled too. “How does this sound: anyone who is late for dinner will be responsible for putting away leftovers and clearing the table. And whoever misses the meal does the dishes alone.”
Everyone liked the idea. Beth added it to the family notebook.
“Does anyone else have a problem to work on today?” asked Dad.
“Just one,” said Eric. “I made a carrot cake and some cocoa. Now I have to find someone to eat them.”
“I think,” Hanna said, smiling at Ashley, “that we should get ready for an enjoyable consequence.”