Responsibility taught early

Published 12:04 am Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The things that pop into my head amaze me. Lately, I’ve remembered something that happened when I was about 3 years old. Yes, I have memories from that long ago and this may be something I wrote about in the past, but it‘s back again for another visit.

What I recalled was the day I first heard the word responsibility and got my first lesson in the emotional cost of feeling like you haven’t lived up to your responsibility. It happened in a big old house in Florala; we lived there briefly when I was a child.

A screened porch stretched across the back of the house, and this was the designated play space for my two younger brothers and me. Now if I was only 3, that means they were barely toddlers.

As is the case for most play spaces used by small children, this one tended to look a tornado hit it. Picking up and putting up toys was not a concept we understood. So in an attempt to teach me that concept (since I was the oldest and probably the only one who could understand what he was saying), Daddy sat me in his lap for a little talk.

He explained that he and Mother wanted the porch kept in better shape. He said we needed to put our toys away when we finished playing. Then came the kicker, he said the word responsibility.

“You are the oldest,” Daddy said. “So it is your responsibility to make sure the porch is cleaned up after you play.”

I vaguely remember smiling and rolling the word “responsibility” around in my head. That was a big word for a little girl and I sensed that it was an important word to Daddy.

I’m not sure what went on the rest of the day, but for years, Daddy told the story of what happened when he got home from work. He said I met him at the front door sobbing, big tears rolling down my face.

“What’s wrong?” he said.

Between sobs I answered

“Come see what those boys did to my responsibility,” I cried.

I don’t know the rest of the story because that is where Daddy always ended the tale, laughing. I’ve often wondered if he looked at the porch to see why I was so upset. How bad was it? Did he tell me it was OK? Did he say he knew I’d done my best? Did he try to explain to the boys the concept of their responsibility? I’ll never know the answer to those questions.

What I do know is on that day I experienced feeling as if I’d let someone, my daddy, down. I didn’t quite understand what being responsible meant, but I knew I didn’t like feeling that I hadn’t been responsible.

Sitting here now as a 60-year-old woman, I realize that Daddy’s expectation that I manage the behavior of two toddlers and control my own was a bit much to expect from a 3-year-old. I also understand how one experience like this can color things and stay with you for a very long time.

Why I’ve been thinking about this lately is a mystery and perhaps something that needs a little meditating upon. I guess it might be time for grownup Nancy to tell that sobbing little Nancy that it is OK and that she did just fine with her responsibility.