Gail Sheehy, and other neo-psychology majors crowding into her "Passages," brought us the modestly novel concept of adults "going through a stage." What these revelators failed to tell us -- and what the world sorely needs -- is a sequel to bringing-up-baby books that is designed for grownups.
Bringing up an adult is a lot tougher than raising kids, we can assume you. Take the relatively simple task of cleaning up a bedroom. As any homemaker will agree, training a child to perform this task is relatively simple -- a daily introducton to the job for 15 or 20 straight years will accomplish this feat handily.
Training the child's parents to follow suit is another matter entirely. One adult member of our household, who shall remain nameless, has progressed in only 12 short years of marriage from dropping his bathrobe on the floor to tossing it thoughtfully across our bedroom's only chair, We won't even mention the nasty habits his wife still has.
Taking a page from Sweden's book, we recognize the futility of spanking said parties, but think we have hit on another well-tested child-rearing technique that might work effectively through natural consequences.
Under this theory, the child who dawdles in the morning and misses his bus must walk to school, thus learning the error of his ways by observing their consequences.
Similarly, those adults who view the great unwashed with a "let them lie where they fall" attitude should have their offices strewn with dirty underwear and unpartnered socks.
Likewise, careless munchers should be forced to walk barefoot over a floor littered with salted, buttered popcorn.
Families where projects to half-finished should be allowed to only drive a half-car (without the engine), play tennis with a half-racket (without the netting), and sleep in a half-bed (three feet long).
Think of the potential this idea holds! Using natural consequences, we could retrain whole groups of adults, such as:
Those who have convinced the Bureau of Land Management that reclaiming strip-mined land actually improves the earth. We could strip and reclaim their swimming pools and tennis courts, using the same advanced techniques that have left West Virginia "almost heaven," but not quite. Those who make their living extracting unsolicited telephone solicitation from others during the dinner hour. We could return the courtesty, at 3 a.m.
Those whose Cadillac bumpers believe that "Nuclear Plants Are Built Better Than Jane Fonda." We could invite them to move into the plant of their choice, for life.
Those food editors whose job it is to dream up "May's Marvelous Menus" -- 31 dinners replete with canned apricots and Mexican Meatloaf Surprise. They could be asked to put their menus where they mouths are, and actually eat a month's worth of such treats.
Those who rail against federal taxes could be allowed to reduce theirs by a dime for each $5 million they lop off the federal budget -- 20 cents if the budget cut affects them personally.
There are nitpickers who would argue that this method of natural consequences already has been applied in our society, leaving us, no better, but worse off. Nielsen raters, for example -- who by their viewing habits give TV producers the idea that America craves visual versions of marshmallow creme -- do, in fact, have to watch each ubiquitous jiggle and hear each measured laugh.
Gas-guzzler manufacturers have to drive -- and fill -- gas guzzlers; pantyhose producers wear and subsequently run their pantyhose; those who buy packaged hamburger stretches consume them at dinnertime.
Perhaps, like the dawdling child, we have not yet learned to trace the cause of our discomfort and thus avoid its painful consequences. Here, then, are some hints:
If the TV is turned off, we would have more of that time we say we're always short of. If we would finish crocheting the sweater we started last August, we could rid ourselves of a closet full of unraveling wool while gaining something to keep us warm next winter.
And if those of us who forget to hang up their stupid bathrobe would remember to do so, we'll stop serving helped hamburger.