My parents were whatever the opposite of helicopter parents might be called –– submarine parents? Their goal, Mumsie explained later, was to raise up independent children who could think for themselves.
As a result, my sister and I mostly handled our own little problems.
Then came the trouble with Mr. Jarosz, my sixth-grade teacher. Mr. Jarosz made a habit of assigning "lines" for punishment. Such as, "Please write out 200 lines of 'I will not take shortcuts, Amy.'" Somehow, lines had accumulated over the semester until it had reached a ridiculous level: upwards of 25,000 lines.
I was a talker-back, a smart-aleck with a big vocabulary, and I doubled my punishment more than once by getting busted writing the lines out as "I, I, I, will will will, not not not, take take take, shortcuts, shortcuts, shortcuts..."
His Delphic cave was the living-room counter top that we called "the bar," where he stood for hours, gazing into the beautiful vista of Lake Ontario, smoking cigarettes and sipping beer.
I poured out my tale of woe and asked what to do. Daddo took a drag from his cigarette, considered the quandry for a lengthy moment, and then made his pronouncement: "You can't get blood from a turnip, honey."
Back in my room, I pondered turnips and blood and the usually mild-mannered Mr. Jarosz. How ridiculous it would be to actually commit 25,000 lines to paper. Did I even have enough notebook pages?
Eventually I parsed Daddo's phrase to my advantage: be a turnip. A turnip might just hold tight and wait for the squeeze. Or it might just pretend that the huge task had never been assigned. No blood, no fuss.
From that day forward, I never mentioned the debt. Neither did Mr. Jarosz. It was a huge relief to turn turnip on the subject. I think the teacher was likewise happy to let the thing go. In any case, there were no consequences of not handing in all those lines.
Which, come to think of it, makes yet another solid vindication for a well-placed shortcut.