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 Long-Awaited Honest-to-God Secret to Being Happy


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.

Flying By Night novel

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.


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