I grew up in the Spanking Era. When kids did something wrong, they got a walloping. No one gave it a second thought and no one called the police on their parents.
My father spanked me. Not for infractions like a C on a report card or a messy room. I’d get spanked for being disrespectful or mouthing off, but never, ever without a warning.
“If you say one more word…”
And of course, I always did.
Once I had kids, spanking was so totally out of vogue, I didn’t even have to make a conscious choice not to do it. It was in the same vein as not using a car seat. It just wasn’t done.
Instead, we adopted parenting practices designed to raise self-esteem. We try reasoning with toddlers in the midst of full-blown tantrums and sequestering naughty children in time outs. And if all else fails, we go to family counseling.
Molly was four years-old when Leo was born, with Max in the middle. Simple math suggests that three kids spaced equally over four years will create chaos. The kind of chaos that doesn’t let up until they are 22, 20 and 18, all residing in different states.
When I was living the seven, five and three year-old equation, I was still trying to prove my worth as a productive stay-at-home working mother. One day, I was writing a particularly challenging brochure for a company I knew virtually nothing about. I was waiting for information from my boss’s boss, an enigma of a woman to whom I had never spoken.
I warned my kids that I’d be getting a very important call and that they had to be really, really good or I’d lose my job and they’d never eat again. I promised them we’d go to the park the second I was finished but they had to please, please, please be very, very quiet.
The phone rang at the precise moment that A Bug’s Life completed its second loop.
I gave Molly my finest evil eye glare and mouthed, “You’re in charge!”
I fled the basement, phone to my ear, trying not to sound winded as I climbed the two flights to my bedroom.
No sooner had I locked the door, when Leo, the three year-old, started.
“Mom! Mom! Moooooommmmmmm!” his screams got closer and closer. I grabbed a pillow to muffle the mouthpiece of the phone, lifting it only for my short, but intelligent-sounding responses.
Then came the knocking. Knock! Knock! Knock! on my bedroom door.
“Mom! Let me in!” he whined.
I crawled to the far side of the room.
Then came the banging. Bang! Bang! Bang! on my bedroom door.
“Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom!” he screeched.
Then came the kicking. Kick! Kick! Kick! on my bedroom door.
I darted into my closet and pulled the door shut. The boss’s boss kept talking and talking.
“OPEN THE DOOR!” Leo screamed.
“Great, thanks! I think I have all I need now!” I said, ending the call as cheerfully as I could, knowing I hadn’t retained a single word that was spoken.
I flung open the door and poor, slumped-against-the-door, thumb-in-his-mouth, tear-stained Leo toppled into the room.
“I’m hungry,” he said.
I cursed him silently (or maybe not so silently) and headed down the stairs into a way too quiet living room.
My eye went immediately to the ecru-colored wall, newly decorated with red crayon. Nothing fancy, just a single red stripe.
Then came the screaming from the playroom.
“Gimme back my fire truck!” Max whined.
“No, you gimme my book first!” Molly whined back.
Clunk. Scream. Cry.
The two of them bolted into the living room, forgetting all about their desecration of the wall. They were hitting and screaming and pulling hair and pushing each other and now Leo was crying again because he was still so, so hungry and I kept thinking about the brochure I had to write and how I’d never get another job and how their father wouldn’t be home for hours and how was I going to get the crayon off the wall and why couldn’t my children be like Susan Landers’ children and I had never been so mad in my whole live-long life.
And that’s when I decided it was time for an old-fashioned paddling.
I grabbed a wooden spoon from the kitchen and charged back into the living room, steam coming out of my ears, daggers blazing from my eyes, rage coursing through my veins.
I snagged Molly by the shirt and dragged her to the couch. I flipped her face down over my knee, holding her tight as she squirmed and squealed.
I raised the wooden spoon.
And that’s when Max and Leo burst into uncontrollable, full-bellied laughter.
“Me next!” Max screamed.
“No, Me! Me!” begged Leo, jumping up and down.
Well, the years have passed and somehow we survived many, many more wooden spoon-worthy days. The brochures got written, the graffiti faded and the tantrums subsided. And, amazingly we made it through without a single spanking.
But it wasn’t for a lack of trying.