The garbage road less traveled

by Wolf Pascoe on October 17, 2013

Life is a series of problems. Do we want to moan about them or solve them?
— M. Scott Peck

We’ve been teaching Nick, now eleven, about garbage. Specifically, how to take it out. If you’re a parent, you know.

The deal is, Nick is supposed to empty wastebaskets around the house whenever they’re full, which he puts off whenever he can.

It goes like this:

Me: “Trash needs to go out now.”

Nick: “When I’m done with my screen time.”

The end of screen time stretches into guitar practice, soft-sword making, audiobook listening. Pretty soon it’s dark.

It goes like this:

Me: “Garbage. Out. Now.”

Nick: “It’s dark. You need to come with me.”

We live in a safe neighborhood. There is no earthly reason for me to accompany Nick on a trip from the front door to the side of the house and back. I tell him this. And while I’m at it I tell him it’s his own fault it’s dark. It wouldn’t have been dark if he hadn’t procrastinated all day.

“I didn’t,” he says. “I need to do all those things.”

“What you need,” I say, “Is to learn time management.”

“What’s that got to do with it?” he says.




I got a brilliant idea. Perhaps you’ve heard of The Road Less Traveled, a self-help book by Scott Peck that went viral a generation ago? What remains remarkable about the book is its first 80 pages, devoted to discipline. When I first stumbled on the book, I hadn’t realized discipline had anything to do with self-help.

In one memorable section, Peck told the story of how, while a psychiatry resident in the military, he learned to take responsibility for his own problems.

The conscientious young Dr. Peck had been spending extra time with his patients and soon found himself overwhelmed. So he went to his boss, Dr. Mac Badgely, and explained how his dedication had resulted in his working longer hours than the other residents. He asked for relief.

“You do have a problem,” Mac Badgely said.

Yes, Scott Peck explained. That’s why I’ve come to you.

“I agree with you,” Dr. Badgely said. “You do have a problem. Specifically, you have a problem with time. It’s not my problem. It’s your problem. That’s all I’m going to say about it.”

I read the section aloud to Nick, including Peck’s summation:

I turned and strode out of Mac’s office, furious. And I stayed furious. I hated Mac Badgely. For three months I hated him. I felt he had a severe character disorder . . . . But after three months I somehow came to see that Mac was right, that it was I, not he, who had the character disorder. My time was my responsibility. It was up to me and me alone to decide how I wanted to use and order my time.

“See,” I said to Nick, triumphant.

“You think I have a character disorder,” he said.

“You’re too young to have a character disorder,” I said. “I should read more of this book to you at bedtime.”

“I never want to see that book again,” he said.

Did I say brilliant?




I left the book out on a table. For the next week, every time Nick walked by it he’d make a face.

One afternoon he said, “You’re not still going to read me that at bedtime, are you?”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” I said.

“I want you to.”

“Sure you do.”

“Really,” he said.




The parts of the book he likes are the stories, not the sermons. Fortunately, there’s lots of stories. I can’t say it’s producing a complete turnaround, but things are looking up. If it were up to me, he’d take the trash out when it needed to be taken out. Instead he takes it when it’s dark, just before bedtime. But he doesn’t ask me to go with him.

“What if it got too close to bedtime,” he said, “And there wasn’t time to take it out?”

“I guess that would mean you’d need help managing your time,” I said.

“No screen time?”

“No. Just no screen time until you took the garbage out,” I said. “If it got too close to bed, then no screens.”

Used to be I would have immediately resorted to no screen time. But I’ve been working on the difference between consequences and effective guidance.

Baby steps.




I’m not your house elf




Truths about Consequences. There is no better wisdom on consequences than this. Believe me,  I’ve looked.




Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)


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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Viv October 18, 2013 at 6:57 am

Being many decades older than Nick I still need refresher courses on time management. Thanks for the reminder! I also like your distinction between consequences and effective guidance. Great parenting advice…


Wolf Pascoe October 18, 2013 at 7:12 am

I wish I could claim credit for that distinction, but it belongs to Janet Lansbury, whose parenting blog is magnetic north.


Privilege of Parenting October 18, 2013 at 11:36 am

I love the road less travelled, but I can’t seem to get back to the main highway, which is faster, or so it sounds, those cars I can’t quite see beyond the woods where I fume and walk in circles… those circles becoming paths perhaps too well trod.

I guess at least I’m a parent because I sure know how to take the garbage out—a road much travelled indeed.


Wolf Pascoe October 18, 2013 at 2:46 pm

I was never sure what the title actually meant, but I think you’ve nailed it. As Adrienne Rich said, “We can count on so few people to go that hard way with us.” Who knew it was all about taking out the trash?


julia October 18, 2013 at 3:49 pm

I need to re-read that remarkable book. Thanks for reminding me. And for giving me a tool when “time to clean the bird cage” comes around!


Wolf Pascoe October 18, 2013 at 4:17 pm

Hey there–it warms me heart to find you reading this. xo.


Barbara October 21, 2013 at 4:34 am

You are so smart. And thanks for the tip on The Road Less Travelled. I don’t think I have a character disorder, but I definitely need help with time management right now!! 🙂


Wolf Pascoe October 21, 2013 at 10:42 am

I don’t have a character disorder either. But I’m pretty sure I’m a disordered character.


D. A. Wolf October 22, 2013 at 4:39 pm

As I drag my own garbage and recycling out (after dark), recalling that I had not one but two boys I reminded non-stop about ‘trash night’ (50% success rate)… I’m thinking I’d take the well lit well traveled highway at this point…


Wolf Pascoe October 22, 2013 at 5:06 pm

If I knew where that well lit, well traveled highway is, I’d be on it at this point. Or as Yogi Berra said, when you get to a fork in the highway, take it.


Pamela October 27, 2013 at 2:52 am

This is so great . Nick makes me laugh. You are a really good dad. I am still learning the balance between consequences and guidance. For me it’s easy to trust consequences but not so easy to trust guidance and I think it should be the other way around.


Wolf Pascoe October 27, 2013 at 11:17 am

Do read Truths about Consequences. It helps you trust.


Planner November 18, 2013 at 8:50 pm

That’s a funny thing about 11-year-olds. If mom or dad likes a thing, they suddenly hate it. My 11-year-old may scoff at something I want to show her today, but curiosity will betray her tomorrow.


Wolf Pascoe November 20, 2013 at 7:14 pm

I’ve noticed that. I say something he ignores or ridicules. A week later I hear him tell it to someone else. On a blog I like, Not Just Cute, I read this sign: “The Way We Talk to Our Children Becomes their Inner Voice.”


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