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The voice in my head: For the record, I’m not nearly that lazy

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312_stopthepresses“You are the laziest person God ever gave breath to.” The voice in my head was planted there courtesy my mother. Spoiler alert: I’m not nearly as lazy as the sentence would suggest.

But mom needed things done when she needed them done, which was right now, not in a minute, not whenever you could get around to it.

Now.

Mind you, the earliest memory that I have of being referred to as “the laziest person God ever gave breath to” is around age 5.

How many 5-year-olds do you know who wouldn’t be considered “lazy” by adult standards, you know? Industrious 5-year-olds are at best lollygaggers judged alongside the output of the average 10-year-old.

I heard this phrase thrown at me literally millions of times growing up, to a point where I was convinced for years that I was naturally just plain lazy, and needed to do something about that.

It didn’t occur to me then, and really only occurred to me very recently, that not many 5-year-olds were tasked with vacuuming the house, washing the dishes, that only a few kids that age were held responsible not only for how they behaved, but also for their little sisters.

All I knew was, my mom thought I was lazy, and that I had to do something about that.

So I tried harder. I didn’t wait for mom to tell me that the living room needed vacuuming and dusting; I just did it.

One year, I think it was the year I turned 8, the backyard needed to be mowed before my birthday party. I didn’t wait for somebody else to do it.

I wasn’t as good at keeping my sister out of trouble, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. She just didn’t listen, and when she did something to get in trouble, I got in trouble, too, which I didn’t think was fair, but there was a lesson there, too.

Here I admit, now, that I hated hearing my mom say those words. “You are the laziest person God ever gave breath to.” It was just stuff my mom said, but still, it bothered me to no end.

I wasn’t lazy by nature; I was a kid.

And I’m not sure mom was trying to instill any hard-love lessons in me. Her parents were children of the Depression, and they expected a lot of their kids, and she was paying it forward, expecting a lot out of me.

She resented a lot of what her parents did when she was a kid, the classic Depression-era parents’ gambit of putting whatever you didn’t eat from dinner back in the refrigerator to eat for your next meal being one that we heard about often. Mom was lax on making us eat foods we didn’t like, which is precisely why I don’t have a wide variety of interests in different food tastes.

But the stuff about doing our part to help around the house was passed down from one generation to the next.

The adult me sees the obvious benefit. I can’t think unless the house is in order, to a point of being OCD about things being exactly where they need to be, and clean – things need to be clean and in order.

I even have come to not resent the “laziest person God ever gave breath to” line that I strove so hard to avoid having lobbed at me as a kid.

It plays on an endless loop pushing me further in life.

My next-door neighbor said something to my wife the other day about how the lights in our home office seem to be on late at night. She tried to cover for me there saying that we just leave the lights on, but that wouldn’t explain the guy sitting at the desk at 1 a.m. doing work.

When I’m out for a run, training for the Richmond Marathon coming up later this year, trying to get myself closer to the 7:25 mile pace that I’ll need to hit to qualify for Boston, I hear mom’s voice when I start slowing down.

She’s going to push me past the finish line yet.

I know that times have changed from her generation to the current one. Tough love is out; you’re supposed to pat kids on the head and tell them they did fine even when they didn’t, that at least they tried hard whether they lifted a finger or not, that you’d better make sure to give them a ribbon or trophy just for showing up, at the risk of having Child Protective Services show up at your door.

The kids of today’s generation may very well grow up to be successes in their own right, maybe even take things to greater heights than we could because they don’t carry the baggage of being tough-loved into doing things.

I’m not a child psychologist, so I can’t speak for what works best in every situation, or any situation, other than my own.

I just know this: that I’ve been trying since I was 5 to please my mother to the point where I’d get her approval, in the form of no longer being considered the “laziest person that God ever gave breath to,” and if there’s a reason that I escaped the trailer park, graduated second in my high-school class, graduated with honors from college, won a bunch of writing awards, wrote five books, won distance races and continue to stand upright today, that’s it, right there.

For the record, yeah, I probably am naturally lazy, so thanks, mom, for browbeating that out of me.

– Column by Chris Graham

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Have a guest column, letter to the editor, story idea or a news tip? Email editor Chris Graham at [email protected]. Subscribe to AFP podcasts on Apple PodcastsSpotifyPandora and YouTube.

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