Phillida kicked off her shoes, relaxing into the big armchair. A large mug of steaming coffee and a plate of choc-chip cookies graced the table alongside the chair. She flicked the TV remote, grateful for an afternoon alone while Laurence attended a weekend seminar. She flicked through the programmes on offer.
Ah, this looked interesting. She laid the remote aside and picked up her cup and a cookie, giving her attention to obedience training for dogs. Pups and older dogs of all makes, colours and sizes responded to commands, learning to sit, stand, come or stay, at the sound of a voice and the expectation of a reward. Watching the programme Phillida was reminded of the training of her five small children. Reflecting the remembered responses of the children she saw the same responses in the dogs on show.
Leaning back with her eyes closed, fuelled by coffee and cookies, she closed her eyes and drifted back to long ago events when she too had used rewards to reinforce the lessons she taught her children.
They were camped on the side of a recently completed dam, far from the luxuries of civilisation. For the first week they were the only campers at the campsite. The caretaker offered them rides in his boat when he crossed to check on levels and inflows. He advised the best walks, pointing out the limits and off-limits areas. Except for Phillida the family were not keen walkers but agreed to a day when they would take one of the more extended walks. Sandwiches, fruit and drinks were packed into Phillida’s back-pack, treats into her pockets. They each selected a stout stick and led by Laurence set off across the dam wall.
The complaints began soon after they started the climb along a stream side. The grass was too long and the day was too hot for walking. The sun was only beginning to climb up the sky, but Phillida conceded that walking was hot work, and doled out the first of the treats. Chocolates don’t travel well in pockets so it was well to eat them early. Soon the sticky sweetness of the chocolates led to the next complaint: they were thirsty. A second halt was called while she poured the lemonade.
Laurence kept them moving steadily but there were difficult stretches of path where rocks or fallen logs barred the way and the smaller children need to be helped or lifted over. Phillida sighed as she watched Laurence’s eyebrows descend to the inner corners of his eyes and his mouth tighten into a straight line. Laurence was not a natural walker either. Perhaps the children followed the paternal bent – but they weren’t following it too well just at the moment.
“Hurry up there. We’ve still got a long way to do. There’s no time for dilly-dallying!”
But Thomas had a stone in his shoe and could not take another step until the stone was removed. While this was done the others threw themselves down for a needed breather, grumbling loudly when it was time to get up again. Phillida judged that it was time for another encouragement: another drink and a boiled sweet.
In this way they made their climb, stopped at the top of a rise and had their lunch of sandwiches and more lemonade. They sat for a short while looking around at the hills and valleys, tracing the course of the stream after it left the dam. It was warm and drowsy in the shade of the trees with the sun high overhead and a scattering of clouds gathering from the east.
Laurence made the first move.
“Time to go, you lot. We need to get back before dark.”
Phillida dealt a round of toffees and cookies to keep the energy flowing as they set off down the hill at a gallop. There was no time to waste as they hurried, crossed the stream below the dam wall and climbed back to the camp site. The time on the camp clock was twelve noon.
Phillida grinned, reaching for another cookie. The plate was empty. The discovery brought her upright.
“What? Did I eat all those cookies? Couldn’t have!”
But she had, and the realisation brought another thought. All the rewards given over the years were like her cookies: junk food! The impact of this thought brought another to her mind. What about their spiritual food? Appalled, she squinted at the lives in her mind and relaxed. She saw the heart ticks!
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