Chapter 31 Summary

Let’s Make a Deal

While he is in graduate school, Pausch gets into the habit of tipping back in his chair at the dining-room table at his parents’ house. Whenever he visits them, he tilts his chair back and, predictably, his mother scolds him for doing so. She calls him Randolph when she scolds him, of course, telling him he is going to break the chair.

Pausch likes leaning back in the chair. It is comfortable and, despite his mother’s admonition, the chair seems perfectly adept at holding him up on only two of its four legs. Because of that, Pausch leans back in that chair, meal after meal, and every time his mother scolds him for doing it.

One day Pausch’s mother tells him to stop leaning back in his chair; this time she adds the warning that she will not tell him again. That is something her son has been waiting to hear, so he suggests they develop a kind of contract—a document between parent and child, in writing. The terms are fairly straightforward. If Pausch breaks the chair, he will not only have to replace only the broken chair; he will have to replace the entire dining room set, something his mother hopes will be an inducement to quit tipping the chair. (Plus, the set is twenty years old and replacing just one chair would be virtually impossible.) As long as he does not break the chair, though, his mother agrees not to harangue him. No broken chair, no lectures.

It is true that his mother is right; tilting a four-legged chair so that only two of the legs support his weight does put stress on the chair. Pausch and his mother agree that their contract is a way for them to avoid such consistent arguing. He acknowledges his responsibility in case the chair gets damaged, and she is in the perfect position to tell him he should learn to listen to his mother if, in fact, one of the legs cracks.

The chair has not broken. When Pausch goes home, sits in the chair, and tilts it back against the wall, the agreement is still in effect and there are no arguments or cross words. In truth, the entire dynamic has changed. His mother has never actually encouraged him to lean the chair back, but there is no doubt in her son’s mind that she has had her eye on a new dining room set for a long time.