The Wilsons Tackle Empowerment



Jen returned to the kitchen to find Matt immersed in the F-MOS report. He was frowning and slowly shaking his head.

        “What’s the matter?” she asked.

        “I’m looking at the results about Empowerment,” Matt replied. He shook his head a bit faster, more than a bit dismayed. “III guess I just have a hard time believing it.”

        “Hard time believing what?” Jen asked.

        “A hard time believing that the kids don’t know that they’re empowered,” Matt replied. “How can they not know that?”

        Jen gave a sympathetic shrug.

        “I mean, just last night,” Matt said. “After dinner, we took the kids to The Eyes Creamery – and don’t you just love their logo? The way the two eyes appear over the top of an ice cream cone? I’m not so sure I like the eye-brows being there, though. Depending on how the light hits them, sometimes it can look like two caterpillars crawling on top of a couple of chocolate chips, you know?”

        “Focus, Matt, focus. Empowerment? The kids? Last night?”

        “Oh, right. Anyway, we let them go to the window while we waited in the car. Wasn’t that Empowerment?”

        “And did we tell them what to order for themselves?” Jen said.

        “We did not!” Matt added.

        “No, we didn’t,” Jen continued. “I ordered the rum raisin. You had the butterscotch swirl.”


        “Excuse me?”

        “You said that I had the Butterscotch Swirl. At The Eyes Creamery, it’s called Butterscotch Delight.”

        “Swirl. Delight. That’s not the point!”

        “You’re thinking of Sweet Treats. At Sweet Treats they call it Butterscotch Swirl. At The Eyes Creamery, it’s Delight.”

        “Fine. I stand corrected. Now…”

        “Remember when they opened, and their sign had a typo so that it said ‘Sweat Treats’ instead of ‘Sweet Treats’? Maybe they were going for something nouveau there, but Sweat Treats doesn’t sound very appetizing, does it?”


        Matt caught himself again. “Right, sorry. Anyway, did we tell them that they had to order Rum Raisin or Butterscotch Swirl? No. Did we say that they could only order off of the left hand side of the menu? No. They have – what? Thirty-five, forty other flavors?”

        “You’re right,” said Jen. “And they could have ordered any of them. Chocolate. Vanilla. Rocky Road. Tyson Knockout although I think it’s about time they removed that one from the menu. Black Raspberry. Cookies and Cream.”

        “’n,” said Matt.


        “It’s Cookies ’n Cream not Cookies and Cream. Just like your store is Jonquils ’n Stuff.”

        Jen reached for a napkin and dabbed her mouth. “The point is that the kids were empowered last night, and they’re empowered today.” She pointed to the stairs leading up to the bedrooms. “Every morning, they pick out their school clothes from their own closets. Do we tell them what to wear?”

        “Well,” Matt began, a bit hesitantly, “sometimes we kinda do.”


        “Remember that time about a month ago, when Jess came down the stairs looking a little, wellshe looked kind of…”

        “Slutty?” Jen’s eyes blazed. “Is that the word you were searching for? Slutty?!?”

        “I was going for something more like age inappropriate,” Matt replied.

        Jen was having none of that. “Do tell! At just what ‘age’ will it be ‘appropriate’ for your daughter to dress like a slut!?!”

        “I’m just saying that you came down kind of hard on her,” Matt said.

        “You’re damn right I did! And the next time she uses such poor judgment, the hammer’s coming down again!”

        “Do you think maybe that’s the sort of thing that might make them forget that they’re empowered?”

        Jen was on a roll. “Empowerment is great. But if we go too far, we’ll have anarchy around here!”

        Matt was nonplussed. Stalling for time, he took a napkin out of the holder. “I think you’ve got another toast crumb right over here.” He pointed to the corner of his mouth and reached across the table toward Jen’s. “Let me get it for you.”

        She batted his arm aside. “And what about the other parents?”

        Now Matt was completely bewildered. “The other parents?”

        “They’ll think we’ve abdicated our responsibility as parents!”

        In his time as a high-powered management consultant, Matt had faced many situations like this. He knew that it was time to make a subtle adjustment to the trajectory of the discussion.

        “Hey!” he suddenly declared. “How about those Sox? They won again last night! What’s thatsix in a row?”

        Jen did not seem interested in a discussion of the American League East pennant race, but Matt forged ahead anyway.

        “And how about that Pedroia? Isn’t that little scamp something? Struttin’ around out there like a little banty rooster!”

        “I’m concerned about anarchy and abdication and you want to talk about the infield fly rule and barnyard animals?!?!?”

        Thirty seconds of silence – a very long thirty seconds of silence – followed. As Jen’s blood pressure began to come back down, she realized that she might have gone a bit too far. “Sorry,” she said, then added, “I think I could use that napkin now.”

        It was still in Matt’s hand. He began to reach across toward Jen’s mouth.

        “That’s okay,” she said, taking the napkin from him. “I can handle it.”

        Calm more or less restored, Matt spoke next. “I think we’re in agreement that the kids are empowered, right?”

        “Right,” Jen said.

        “Then the problem would seem to be,” Matt continued, “that although the kids are empowered, they don’t seem to know that they’re empowered.”

        Jen could only nod, since the napkin was still in her mouth.

        Matt pressed on. He had an idea to further lessen the tension. “What we have here,” he said, “is a failure to communicate.” And as he said this, he grinned and leaned forward in anticipation.

        Now Jen was puzzled. “And you said that using that strange, nasal voice because…?”

        Matt leaned in even further. “Strother…?”

        Jen had no idea what he was talking about.


        Nothing from Jen.

        One more try, one more lean. “STROTHER…???”

        Jen was more perplexed than ever. “Did we just start playing Password?”

        “Strother Martin!” Matt finally explained.

        “Okay. I give up,” Jen replied. “Who’s Strother Martin? Did the Sox just trade for him to back up your rooster buddy?”

        “Strother Martin was the guy who played Captain in Cool Hand Luke! The guy who said, ‘What we have here is a failure to communicate!’”

        “Oh, now I get it,” Jen said, reaching for another napkin. “Two things. One, please stop talking in that silly voice.”

        Although this bruised Matt’s feelings, he quickly recovered when he heard what Jen said next.

        “Two,” she continued, “you’re right. Or maybe it’s Strother that’s right. Either way, we do have a failure to communicate. We need to make sure that the kids understand that they are empowered.”

        Sensing that the momentum had shifted, Matt seized the moment. “So what are some of the things we can do to make sure that the kids understand that?”

        “For one thing,” Jen said, “we can make sure that we tell them more often that they’re empowered.”

        “Good,” Matt said, writing the idea on the flip chart. “What else?”

        Jen was getting into things. “How about signs all around the house that say: ‘YOU ARE EMPOWERED!’”

        Matt built on Jen’s idea. “We can make up stickers…”

        Jen completed the thought: “…that they could put on their backpacks!”

        “Yes, yes!” Now Matt was getting fired up. “Or we can use the old Uncle Sam posterthe one with him pointing!”

        “And he can be saying: ‘I want YOUto be EMPOWERED!’”

        “That’s great!”

        “Thank you!”

        Matt jumped up, excitedly shaking his fists in front of his chest. “And we can glue letters to the top of their bathroom mirrors! Do you know what those letters would say?!?!”

        “What would they say?!?!”

        “They would say: ‘I AM EMPOWERED!!’”

        “Why would we want to tell the kids that you’re empowered?”

        “No, no,” Matt explained. “It would be on the mirror! So when they’re reading it, they’d be seeing themselves!”

        “Brilliant!” Jen exclaimed. “It would be like the thought balloon coming out of their heads!”


        Now it was Jen’s turn to jump up, fists shaking. “How’s this? We get some shirts made upon the breast pocket it will say ‘THE EMPOWERMENT COMPANY!’”

        “I love it!”

        “Thank you, but wait! I’m not done yet!” Jen said. “Right below the words, there would be cartoon figures of you and me and cartoon figures of Skipper and Jess and between us there would be a lightning bolt!“

        “YES! A lightning bolt!”

        Matt and Jen sat back down and beamed at each other. Matt thought to himself: THIS is a High-Performing Team!

        “What about coffee mugs?” he asked.

        “With the artwork from the shirts?” Jen asked.

        “I’ve got something better!” Matt said, moving quickly toward a box that had been part of the car-trunk-to-kitchen cache. “Aha!” he exclaimed, as he pulled out a two-foot-long baton of rolled-up-paper.

        He unrolled it to reveal an image reminiscent of the 1960s-vintage “Power to the People!” poster. But instead of saying “Power” it read “(Em)Power(Ment).” And instead of the iconic clenched fist, it showed four fists of varying sizes representing Matt and Jen and Jess and Skipper.

        “I remember that!” said Jen. “It was from the Empowerment program we ran, whatthree, maybe four years ago?”

        Matt pointed to the one of the fists. “Remember how you can tell this is Skipper’s?”

        Jen shook her head no.

        “See the ring finger?” Matt explained. “How it’s all distorted just like Skipper’s is from all that bowling? The way they really crank the ball now instead of rolling it like we did back in the day, when I captained the team…” As he said this, Matt had a far-off look in his eyes.

        Jen leaned in for a closer look. “That’s Skipper’s finger all right. So you’re saying this is what can go on the coffee mugs?”

        “Exactly!” said Matt.

        “Perfect!” said Jen. She paused, adding, “But the kids don’t drink coffee, do they?”

        “Why not? After all,” said Matt, with a broadening smile. “They’re fully empowered to do so!”

        Jen stood up.

        High-five time! thought Matt, as he started to stand.

        But Jen brushed past him again, heading for the bathroom and calling over her shoulder, “Great work, honey!”

        “You too, hon!” Matt replied, running his hand through his hair.

© Copyright 2015, by John Guaspari


Subscribe below to John Guaspari’s blog—Musings—to be notified when a new chapter becomes available.

You can purchase Otherwise Engaged —the complete book— at Amazon.