By Every Family’s Got One Guest Writer — Janet Garber

family stories

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Alex has consecrated fifteen years to mastering the fine art of procrastination and manipulating it to his purposes.  Yes, I do believe it began in the womb. 

Whatever it was he was doing there, he had no intention of stopping, until the doctor pried him forcibly out of his entrenched position with a giant pair of tongs. 

Every one of Alex’s appearances...

and acts since has required a magician’s trick to coax, cajole, threaten, bribe Sir Alex to perform, conform, reform.

Whether he’s to come to dinner, get to school, wake up, fall asleep, eat, fast, run a mile, pick up a quart of milk, buy a birthday card, bake a cake–you get the picture – there’s always a price to pay.  And guess who’s paying it?

My obstetrician…

set a precedent to save my son’s life–now I’ve got to try to reverse that first grievous lesson.  “Son,” I could say, “you would have died if left to your own devices. 

Sheer stubbornness bade you keep your head at that infernal angle and would have eventually cut off your oxygen supply. We saved your hide once.  That was totally appropriate. 


we don’t have to keep saving it, minute by minute, day by day.  No, I will not write today, ‘Please excuse my son for being late.’  It’s time to face the music, bub!”

Alex is a lovely chap, except he does not see why he should do anything without prodding or pulling.  He is used to a big deal being made about every one of his efforts. 

Whenever I act as if…

he’s just a little mature and grown up now, and can be relied upon somewhat, he quickly shows me I am wrong. For example, I assumed I no longer had to examine his homework for completion, errors, tidiness. Wrong. 

He presented me with a gift – a report card full of 50’s and 60’s. He’s a crafty one. 

I told him…

“If you had gotten 85 in Health instead of 50, I probably would have said, ‘Good work,’ and left it at that.  But with this 50, I’ve been harping for weeks on How Does One Get a 50 in Health Anyway??? I’ve had you palpated, shrunk, talked to by your father, uncle, grandfather, worried about your hormones, blemishes, lack of braces, girlfriends, boy friends. Boy, what a lot of attention you’ve gotten for yourself.  Mazeltov!”

Words like “I forgot” have taken on a sinister bone-chilling ring in our household. 

I wonder if…

any mother ever killed in response to those words?  I myself fantasize often about putting Alex in a chokehold, shaking him to bits until he admits that he really did remember and only pretended to forget. 

“No, Mom, really, I forgot,” he says innocently.  “Don’t you ever forget anything?”

Repressed response: “Yeah, I forgot to wring your neck!” GRRRR.  I roar, I rage, I am utterly helpless.

I have tried…

to reverse the stakes, forgetting to cook dinner, wash clothes, buy socks.  But it’s so against my very nature and so transparent.  Alex knows what I’m doing and knows I cannot keep it up.  He also knows I am doing it deliberately, something he insists he is not doing. Effect: 0.

I slowly let Alex suffer the consequences of his actions and non-actions. 

Chronically late everywhere…

he is the butt of some classmates who hiss, “Pathetic!” whenever he enters the room.  His friends lie to him about the time they need to depart and physically come to our house to shake him awake.

Sometimes Alex realizes his game is backfiring and causing him problems. 

He is getting…

too much attention at times, unwanted attention.  So he cries, “Help me, Ma.  I can’t help myself.”  He gets mad at himself, briefly, but usually turns it against me. 

“Why didn’t you wake me, remind me, make me do it or do it for me?”  Effect: 4.

Yet I think…

Alex knows something I do not.  I never keep people waiting; I cannot bear to wait. Do people value me more for my punctuality?  I doubt it. 

Maybe I lack self-esteem and feel inwardly they would not wait were I late?  I am not important enough.  I am not worth waiting for.  He definitely feels he is worth waiting for.  And waiting for.  And waiting for.

We have been playing…

this game a long, long time, Alex and I, since he made me late for work over and over again when he was 2 by refusing to let me dress him. Once, I threw him outside half-naked–it was Spring–and I walked away. 

Effect: 10.  But I doubt such tactics would work today.

Should I be…

rewarding him more when he does something on time?  (But when is that?)  I am not worried for myself but for him (and his future wife and kids and bosses). How can he ever hold down a 9 to 5 job? 

Luckily he has some significant artistic talent–I am praying that a little eccentricity is understood and built into the system. 

He is amazingly…

disciplined when he is doing something no one told him to do–cartooning for 6 hours straight or fixing up his remote control car. 

Will someone pay him more than minimum wage to do these things?

He says…

“Mom, I don’t like the pressure of having to be a professional.”

I say, “Hey, you could always be a carpenter in Vermont for all I care.”

He says, “MOM, that sounds great!”

I say, “Alex, it takes a lot of money to be a carpenter in Vermont.  Go to college first then you can do what you like.  But without that degree, you won’t get the recognition and respect you deserve.  You may find you do not really like Vermont or carpentry and want to try something else.  An education gives you options.”

He says, “Aw, Ma, do I have to?”

This kid tests…

my 60’s liberality, my artsy pretensions, my middle-class assumptions. Isn’t Thoreau one of my favorites? Why can’t I accept a son who “listens to a different drummer?” 

In my heart of hearts, I know he’ll succeed at whatever he wants to do.  He has the intelligence, spunk, creativity, gift of gab. . . Do I know what will make him happy?  Of course not.  Let go, mother, let go.  Let my child go.

“I was going to, but I forgot!”

A version of this story entitled “Too Late,” was originally published in Working Mother Magazine in 2012.

family stories

Janet Garber, M.A., has been published in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, New York Post, HR Magazine, Working Mother Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, and elsewhere. Dream Job, Wacky Adventures of an HR Manager, was a Runner-Up in 2016 Shelf Unbound Best Indie Book contest and a Finalist in the 2017 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.

If you have any tips on how to bribe Alex into returning to the States from Israel to be a carpenter in Vermont (or elsewhere)—or just want to say hello— connect with her at


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