Sister and I stood by the front door, waiting for it to be time to go to school. I was around 9, and she was around 5. I can’t exactly remember why, but I’d decided to entertain myself by opening and closing the screen door. Sister was not amused, and she insisted that I stop. I ignored her and continued to open and close the door.
“Do that again, and I’ll punch you in the stomach.”
She’d issued an ultimatum, but I certainly didn’t take her seriously. Undeterred, I opened the door and wham. She wasn’t kidding. Sister drew back her tiny kindergarten arm and punched me square in the stomach. I doubled over, upset and shocked more than anything. Sister and I didn’t ever fight physically; we usually just sassed each other. I made a fuss and Parents rushed over to see what was the matter. I explained the situation, and Mom, who is usually a decisive parent, was lost for words.
I could see the wheels in her head turning. “She really shouldn’t have punched her sister, but at the same time, she did warn her…” Eventually, Mom and Dad both gave up trying to referee the situation. Neither of us were punished, but Mom told me to stop opening the door and told Sister she shouldn’t probably punch people anymore or issue threatening ultimatums.
This incident has remained salient in my mind because it’s been a huge joke among our family, but also because it is a poignant example of unpredictability. I can’t read the minds of my parents, but I’m guessing that by this point in our lives they probably had the parenting thing down, especially when it came to our bickering. They knew how to placate both of us and how to swiftly judge who had to say sorry to who. But this incident was something they had absolutely no idea how to make a judgment call on. Who was to blame? Obviously Sister shouldn’t have punched me, but at the same time, I had to have partial culpability for completely ignoring my sister’s warning. There is no way my parents could have predicted this absurd situation would happen.
As I’ve begun to apply for summer internships and look at jobs, I find myself scared of unpredictability. What if they ask me to do something I haven’t done or something crazy happens and I don’t know how to respond or I respond incorrectly? The fact is that, like in the case of the punching ultimatum, life is full of uncertainty. There will be times where you’ll react well, and times where you’ll react incorrectly. One time, while working as a receptionist for Mom’s business, I answered the phone and mistakenly gave a telemarketer Mom’s personal cellphone number. Years later, she still gets calls. Whoops. If that isn’t messing up, I don’t know what is.
Regardless, you can’t ever be completely prepared for what life throws your way. Whether it’s at your job or as a parent (I hear that one is particularly unpredictable), life is going to throw you things that you’ll have no idea in the slightest how to respond to. All we can hope for is that we will possess the wisdom to at least make a half-right decision. This summer, I’m hoping what I’ve learned here in college and in life will serve me well in a career. I’m also hoping no one will threaten to punch me in the stomach.
Inspired by the wordpress prompt “With or Without You.”
Some other excellent writings on the subject:
Drawing a line in the sand: Daily Prompt | alienorajt
Brandon’s Mentor And The Daily Prmpt | The Jittery Goat
Fighting Ultimatums | Ana Linden
Nicki Minaj and A Free Fall. | meg lago
Giving Ultimatums To Cats