Greek mathematician Archimedes famously yelled “Eureka”, or “I have found it”, when he discovered a law of physics while splashing about his bathtub. Earlier this summer and also near water I, another polymath, uncovered a truth of equal significance.
I share it with excitement, for while I loathe with the intensity of a thousand suns those who overuse hyperbole, this insight quite simply will change your life. Parents of teenagers, anyway. I’ll tell you what happened and what I learned, but first, a question.
If I offered you a shirt of unknown size, style and quality, would you want it? Probably not. After all, the shirt may not fit. Or it may fit, but only as a dreaded tank-top. Last, it may fit nicely as a classic T-shirt, but one that reads “I’m With Stupid” or another inelegant message.
This leads to my groundbreaking insight. Why does everything change when the mystery apparel is shot out of a T-shirt cannon?
It momentarily puzzles, no less than wondering what major-league pitcher Tommy John’s elbow surgery was called when he first received it. But the T-shirt cannon surely changes everything. I know: I witnessed it earlier this summer.
I was at the pool celebrating Independence Day with 300 or so of my closest friends. I stood outside the pool fence, carrying on a telephone conversation with my wife.
The topic was forgettable, and hearing the comparative watery frolic within earshot I sensed, like a government employee newly assigned to Area 52, that greater excitement was tantalizingly nearby.
How right I was. Within moments shouts of joy reached the heavens, the kind you’d expect when Springsteen encores, or The Alan Parsons Project doesn’t.
Had an international celebrity entered the pool area? Better. It was the T-shirt cannon guy, promising to blast no more than three shirts into a chlorine-sea of three hundred.
People went nuts; young, old, everyone. Yes, they were shirtless, but they also were in a pool, so I discounted this as motive. My 8-year-old son Jack, who is far enough away from school-year math drills to think three out of three hundred is good odds, dove in like he’d spotted a precious ocean pearl.
I observed to my wife how our youngest looked like a baby zebra crossing a river of hungry crocodiles. She suggested, using words that would blush a sailor, I hang up and get him out of the pool. Before I could, Jack emerged victorious, holding one of the T-shirts.
So, what is my eureka moment? Only this: the human brain can be rewired to like things it otherwise dislikes, provided those things are shot out of a T-shirt cannon, preferably at close range.
How does this relate to parenting teenagers? Simple. Junior won’t fold his laundry, take out the trash or leave his filthy running shoes in the mudroom as he’s been told?
No more feckless pleading – it demeans you both. Buy a T-shirt cannon of your own and load it with great fanfare. (Here I cannot lie: “Sirius” by The Alan Parsons Project is perfect mood music.) Then blast the projectiles in the direction of your once lethargic teen, who’ll now want desperately to possess whatever you’re firing. Even muddy shoes.