Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree Ebb and Flow.
Shannon and I were talking today about punishments. At 16, she’s old enough now—and good enough—that she doesn’t really get many punishments anymore.
The only thing punishment-worthy in the past year was when she forgot to tell me she wouldn’t be home until 7 and I was expecting her at 5. She didn’t call and I couldn’t reach her.
When she arrived home, it was too late—something instinctual had been activated. I’d already gotten in the car to pursue that pre-programmed moment ingrained in the genes of my matriarchal line for millennia: driving up and down the most likely highways to look for our children dead in a ditch somewhere.
Since she’s always quite good about keeping me informed of her whereabouts, I knew something had to be wrong. When she arrived home casually and completely unaware of my emotional turmoil, I was vividly livid. Then I decided instead of getting mad at her, I wouldn’t waste my energy and she’d get an appropriate punishment. One she wouldn’t forget. No, I wasn’t going to beat the hell out of her. Just transfer a little of that turmoil. Why should I punish myself for her screw-up? It’s called behavior modification.
Since she’d failed to call me and keep me informed of her whereabouts, she lost her cell phone for the next week, until the exact time she showed up at home without calling me, as well as her email, IM, texting, and home phone privileges. I did let her made an email announcement so her friends wouldn’t worry and call her boyfriend so he wouldn’t think she was blowing him off, but that was it. It was a tough week for her to be so cut off and disconnected, but now that she knows how I felt when I didn’t know where she was, she’s been great ever since and hadn’t forgotten to call when her schedule gets crazy.
Still, her punishment was radically different from mine when, less than a year older, I came home from a date at 4 in the morning. That was…1979, after I’d spent the summer away at college where there was no curfew. It’s a wonder I didn’t get ulcers before I got home that night. I was so worried about missing my 1 AM “loose” curfew for an out-of-town event with my date and my cousins, but I didn’t call home because my mom knew I was a good kid but I didn’t dare wake my dad. Daddy always fell asleep by the time the 11 PM news was over (in those pre-CNN days) and didn’t wake until dawn. That night, he had an overactive bladder.
So yes, I arrived home at 4 in the morning, with both my parents standing at the door, waiting before we turned into the drive. We probably would have been a lot later had the idiot boy not been driving 105 mph in his old clunker to get me home as quickly as possible. It seems Daddy had his shotgun. It seems that Daddy may have threatened him. I don’t remember for sure. It’s just a shadow in my memory. That and the guy saying, “Yes, sir” and “No, sir” a lot.
But the worst part was that we really had broken down alongside the road, miles and miles from anywhere, hours before. No cell phones in those days and in a rural part of Georgia where you’d easily get shot at for traipsing across the peanut fields and knocking on someone’s back door—and then you’d find out they didn’t even have one dem newfangled thangs called tellerphones. Do you know how hard it is to walk through a field and tall grass in 6-inch disco heels? Le Freak was not c’est chic that night. Forget scrubbing the floor with a toothbrush—I’d already been punished!
Talking about punishments with Shannon led us back to when the girls were little. I refrained from become the child-beater that was in my patriarchal line’s genes. That was an active decision and a pattern I broke early on. I wanted my children’s respect, not their fear. Though I never got the doubled-leather-belt-broken-on-my-back treatment from Daddy, I did get switchings, whippings (a nice euphemism for beatings), and an occasional dead limb applied to my flesh, usually with a barrage of you- ain’t-fit-for-nothing and I-better-not-see-you-cry. Hmmm, how long has that stayed with me?
Of course, if you spare the rod for your babies, you have to come up with other punishments. Time-outs worked well for the girls and suited their personalities. Boring them was the worst punishment they could have. Well, almost.
I did have two specialties I devised just for them.
If the girls got into trouble for fighting with each other or being mean to each other, they had to sit cross-legged on the floor, facing each other, with their arms loosely around each other’s shoulders. Usually for about 30 minutes. They never made it that far. They’d start glum, and within 10 minutes, they’d be playing on the floor with each other like kittens.
The worst punishment was when one of them got sent to the corner and had to put her nose in the right angle where the walls met. This was the most hated of all punishments.
As for me, I grew up willing to take a beating rather than the venom of my daddy’s words. I’ve been promised that the next man in my life will sometimes get angry but he’ll never play slice-and-dice with my feelings. I’ve taken enough punishment in my life.