It's said that you can't teach an old dog new tricks. No one actually says that in front of me, because I'm known to take umbrage when I'm compared unfavorably to the arthritic, untrained dog.
But after almost 22 years of parenting I figured that I had all the tricks down (that's my mother laughing in the background). I'd seen the failed geometry tests and the dented cars and I won't say I haven't met one or two police officers in my time.
Of course, it hasn't all been a "Law and Order" episode. More often, I've been to the blue-ribbon art shows and watched the valedictory speeches and been to awards dinners and will soon be misting up through two Eagle Scout ceremonies.
Several years ago, I wrote my single most controversial column. In it I suggested, back then when I still hadn't seen it all, that perhaps the best thing I could do as a parent was to treat my child not like my customer, but as my result. That giving my child excellent customer service (anticipating her every need, satisfying his every request and, above all, believing that the customer is always right) was not the best way to ensure that the wee fiends would someday be able to conduct themselves responsibly as adults. That letting children fail sometimes was a good way for them to learn about responsibility and follow-through and natural consequences.
Well, I had no idea that this was such a revolutionary concept. Email poured in, though I use the word "poured" loosely; my readers are nothing if not tasteful, dignified and quiet. Many approved of my opinion, but there was one vocal outlier: The Twinkie Lady.
We fondly call her that because her name has vanished into history. Twinkie Lady scolded me, saying that it was, in fact, my job to anticipate and meet every one of my middle-schooler's needs, and added that the next time my poor under-loved son needed anything he should call her on the cell phone number she provided and she'd bring it to him, up to and including Twinkies and hot dogs if he forgot to take his lunch to school.
Son Interrupted refused her phone number, but for years we would confront family crises with a chorus of "Hey, do you still have Twinkie Lady's phone number? She has hot dogs!" Dad Interrupted kept wanting to call her but I told him he'd have to root around in the clean laundry for his underwear just like the rest of us.
But it was this week that I learned the important, unexpected and paradoxical corollary to my theorem: When my child becomes a responsible adult, and has earned herself a full college scholarship and is working two jobs and is earning straight A's, nothing will make me happier than anticipating her needs and satisfying as many of her unstated requests as I can. Buying groceries for the family at home is a chore I'm grateful I can do; buying groceries for a child who just got off her second split shift of the week is an honor I look forward to. She may never be my customer, but to me she may be "always right."
Twinkie Lady: You were right. Just not at the right time.
• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Elizabeth Evans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears monthly.