One More Last Chance

My sons had a bowling date with friends at 4:00 p.m. I made a deal with them: Clean up your room, and you can go bowling — and this time, I meant it. My multidimensional role as finder of all lost things, towel retriever, clothes gatherer, shoe location system, bed maker, utility monitor, and chief nagger had grown tiresome. I made my deal at noon, issuing gentle reminders at 1 and 2. At 3, they got a grave but short speech about keeping promises and obedience. Otherwise, I stayed silent on the issue and actively practiced non-interference — not easy for this type-A former litigator.

At 3:45, when the time to comply was up, I entered their room. You’ve seen children’s rooms at their worst: wet towels, disheveled covers, dirty clothes, and stuffed animals co-mingled on the bed, like a torn-over table at a Wal-Mart sale. The closet door stood ajar, jammed open by Mr. Potato Head, a Junior Monopoly box, five unmatched shoes, and an assortment of empty hangers. Every light in the room blazed — as my precious sons had not summoned the energy to raise the curtains, beyond which lay a bright sunny day.

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I said nothing when they looked up from a sea of Lego pieces, small sports cars, and plastic army soldiers and worriedly asked, “How much time have we got?”

I weighed a wide range of responses and chose the simplest: “None.”

This launched their best joint defense strategy. Diplomats rather than warriors by nature, my boys prefer words to missiles. The eldest pleaded, “Oh Mom, one more last chance, please? We’ll do it tonight, I promise.” My younger son fell on his knees, with his hands in prayer, begging, “Oh Mom, we promise.” He looked like a cross between an altar boy and a juvenile delinquent.

One more last chance. I like a particular country song by that name. In it, Vince Gill makes this twangy plea:

Oh won’t you give me one more last chance
before you say we’re through,
I know I drive you crazy Baby —
it’s the best that I can do.

When I was working as a criminal defense lawyer, drawing a paycheck for my troubles, I specialized in criminal clients who badly wanted one more last chance. I pleaded for them.

One more last chance. The steak snatcher came to mind: an older, graying man who stuffed his pants with Safeway prime cuts, then ran. Mr. Rib-Eye had so many prior convictions for the same offense, I wondered why he kept doing something he was so bad at. One day I told him, “It’s over. The judge has to give you jail time — there’s really nothing I can do for you.”

But when my client showed up to sentencing on crutches, I felt relieved as I told the judge about his injury: “You can’t put him in jail, Your Honor. He’s old and hurt and can’t defend himself.” Because we all yearn for another chance, it’s easier to give it than deny it, and the judge agreed to put him back on probation. Walking back to my office later, I saw a man running toward the bus looking jubilant, crutches tucked under his arm. Yonder pranced a suddenly healed Mr. Rib-Eye, joyful in his one more last chance.

Then there was Ethel, an incorrigible street prostitute who once told me, “I’m Catholic too, you know!” with a great gleam in her eye. When the judge locked her up, she called me everyday, begging that I get her out, promising that she was going home to Kentucky and “leaving the life.” I argued for her release with my solemn promise that I, personally, would deliver Ethel to the bus station. The judge bought it. I escorted an elated Ethel to the Greyhound station and she said, with a grateful hug, “Goodbye forever.”

The next morning, the jail called me. They had a woman in the overnight lock-up cell named Ethel who was asking for me. “What’s the charge?” I asked. “Solicitation for prostitution,” the clerk replied. “Get someone else,” I said.

I looked at my sons and felt a laugh tugging at me. My older boy resembled a Saturday morning cartoon with his crooked buzz cut, shocking red hair, and face of freckles. He looked so earnest. My little fellow, on the other hand, still on his knees, reminded me of a miniature Brad Pitt with a “Would I ever lie to you?” look on his baby face.

One more last chance. I yearned to give it to them. I yearned to give them a whole life of one more last chances so that I would never have to do anything hard to them. But did I want them to spend their lives leaping from last chance to last chance, like Mr. Rib-Eye and Ethel? God did not design us for that. He said, “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.” How were my sons ever to learn obedience if I, their own mother, did not teach them?

“Time is up,” I said, trying to combine firmness with gentleness, because I knew this would not be easy. “You broke your promise. You did not listen to me. No bowling.” And I walked away from the moans and pleading, planning to deliver hot chocolate to them when they finally cleaned up their room. Next time they would listen to me. For my troubles, I hoped they would spend the rest of their lives listening to Him.

  • Marjorie Campbell

    Marjorie Campbell is an attorney and speaker on social issues from a Catholic perspective. She lives in San Francisco with her family and writes a regular column, “On the Way to the Kingdom,” for Catholic Womanhood at CNA.

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