Primary Punishment

My mom and dad definitely had a low-key parenting style. I have no memories of raised voices, nasty arguments, belittling comments or threats of any kind. Their preferred disciplinary methods included Being Sent to Our Rooms, the Time Out, the Lecture, and in serious cases, Grounding. Spankings happened when we were very young, but my sense is that neither of my parents really had the heart for this particular form of punishment. And there were exactly five spankings total in the family legend – one per child – which right there makes me suspicious about whether they really happened. I don’t remember them – only the discussions about them years after the fact. And those were more like bragging sessions with no indication of any emotional scarring. I seem to remember us all concluding that spankings would have been infinitely preferable to the (dreaded) Lectures. Here are the stories, although I make no promises whatsoever that they are actually true:

Spanking #1 – my oldest sister. As a toddler, she ran out of the house and into the busy street in front of it, stopping all the traffic. The hullabaloo along with my mother’s panicked behavior must have tickled her, because she made a point of doing it again and again. The spanking was a desperate measure to get her to stop this terrifying game. #2 – my oldest brother got mad at me and stabbed a pencil into my baby doll. #3 + #4 – My other sister teased my other brother into a rage and some act of retaliation. She then teased him about his spanking and promptly got one of her own. #5 – me. I hid my carrots in the silverware holder on the dinner table instead of eating them. When asked if I had eaten them, I channeled George Washington and said “Mother, I cannot tell a lie. I did hide my carrots.” Just kidding. I lied.

As much as I disagree with spanking in general, I must say I learned my lesson. From then on I always used the “De-napkin Process” (smuggling unappealing foods to the garbage can when leaving the table).

As we got older, punishments got . . . more interesting. Even creative at times. My oldest sister was such a homebody hermit that grounding her to her room made no sense at all, so my parents grounded her out of her room. When our nemesis, Officer Bartz, escorted my older brother home, my mom stayed cool. But when the same policeman once brought my nearly hysterical sister home after catching her TP-ing with friends, my mom lost her cool and reamed him out. In my case, my mother confronted me on a morning after one of my high school parties. It seems the mean lady across the street – the one with the big lawn that we were never allowed to set foot on – had just called.

“C., I want to talk to you. Mrs. B. just told me that there are beer cans and rotten apples all over her yard. What do you have to say for yourself?”

By this time I knew it was better not to lie.

“We didn’t have any rotten apples!!” I answered indignantly.

My mom failed at suppressing her laughter and my only punishment was to go pick up the two dusty old differently branded beer cans from Mrs. B.’s lawn. Never did find the apple.

As cool as my mom was, there was one transgression that made her irritation and anger become plainly audible – she simply couldn’t stomach it. When one of us did it, a foreign sound came out of her that we immediately took seriously. The first word was drawn out with rising cadence and volume like the wind up for a pitch. The second word came fast and sharp, falling abruptly – it was how I imagine a guillotine blade sounds when it drops:

stop whining

I have to admit, I inherited the same attitude to whining. It raises the hair on the back of my neck and gets me grinding my teeth. I have told both my school kids and my own daughters about how my mom used to react to whining and then imitated the way she said those two words. They laughed and understood the point immediately. They started saying it themselves. The next time it occurred, I didn’t have to tell them to stop. I just asked “What would my mom say??” and they answered back “Stooopp WHINING!” And we laughed again. Problem solved. (Thanks for that, Mom!)

So how did I get on this subject? By spending two days following the Republican debate and then dozens of interviews with the same candidates in New Hampshire. It got harder and harder to listen to and I finally reached the point where I simply couldn’t do it anymore.

Did Ted Cruz’s parents ever ground him for cheating? Did Marco Rubio get detention for playing hookey? Did Chris Christie ever get lectured about bullying? Did Donald Trump’s parents ever teach him that it is not nice to call people losers and pussies? And Oh (!) how I wish that all their parents had effectively communicated the sentence: “For God’s Sake! Pleeeease STOP WHINING!”

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