Tuesday, August 3, 2010

On Lock-Down

How do you discipline your child?  It's not an easy answer, especially if the kid is basically wonderful.  You don't get much practice in creating appropriate punishments if your kid has a good heart and a fear of disappointing you.  Those two attributes are usually enough to keep him on the straight and narrow.  If he slips, by forgetting to hold the door for you after he's passed through it or by giving his younger brother a wedgie for the 5th time that hour, a simple stern look is usually enough to right the ship. 

But what happens when the kid does something that is over the top?  Something that requires a serious response and which demands thought, consideration, concern and creativity.  These things are often lacking at the moment of discovery - at that point you are primarily interested in stopping the bleeding.  But once the dust has settled and you're assured that there is no risk of ongoing damage, then you have to have a plan.

G'ma never interrupted me when I would snuggle with my boyfriend after a date.  Her reasoning stayed with me for the last 40-some years:  "And if I saw something??  I would have to deal with it."  I go back and forth on this.  When I'm feeling charitable towards her parenting skills,  I think that she knew she could trust me.  She had confidence in my taste in men (ok.... boys.... but still....) and she knew I had respect for myself and our home.  When I am wondering how I managed to get out of my nutty household alive and semi-sane, I opt for the less flattering analysis : she was lazy, frightened, unwilling to open a can of worms on a subject which made her uncomfortable.  Writing it here, now, I see that G'ma deserves the flattery.  After Soon-To-Be-A-Yalie and I found her snoring in her nightgown on the couch, she laughingly gave up the pretense that she was needed for after-date-conversation.  She dragged herself up the stairs that night, leaving us with this gift for the future:  "From now on, just holler up the stairs when you come in.  I'm too old to wait up for you."  I remember feeling honored - at that moment, my mother had just informed me that I was okay on my own.  

(If you are wondering, Daddooooo deferred to G'ma on all matters of curfew, dress, friends and the rest of life.  His job was to earn the money and fix things when they broke and to plan fun stuff that she would then make happen.  In my next life, I'm coming back as a Dad in the 1950's.)

Just as she had anticipated, I lived up to her expectations.  When I arrived at Cornell, I was astounded by the number of my dorm-mates who stayed out all night just because they could.  I'd gotten over that in high school.  Not from want of supervision, but as long as they knew where I was, my parents were of the opinion that I could get just as pregnant at 8pm as I could at 3am.  They'd either instilled values in me or they hadn't; by the time I was allowed to date they had to rely on the wisdom I'd acquired over the previous 14 years.  I had skipped a grade, so they couldn't use age as a parameter for privileges.  I always knew that I had all the freedom in the world as long as I didn't abuse it.  

I like to think that I didn't.  G'ma doesn't remember me doing anything particularly heinous, so I'm going with this as the truth.

Back to the original question, though.  What happened when I was disobedient?  Our parents were spankers - not belt whippers or over-the-knee paddlers but grab-your-arm-to-stop-you-then-potch*-you-on-the-tuchas* people.  One smack is all I ever remember receiving, but it always got my attention.  Friends were grounded for days at a time, and I was always glad that our situations were resolved immediately.  We were never bruised - we were notified.

Mr. 7 placed himself in a situation (which, to protect his privacy will not be revealed here) which forced Amster to administer a serious reminder.  They went to sleep the first night still unresolved - there was no admission of guilt, and there was no specific punishment in sight.  The immediate damage was repaired the next morning, but Mr. 7 was off to his Dad's home for 2 days, so Amster had some time to think.  She pondered, she questioned, she consulted and she stewed.  

Mr. 7 had suggested several ideas himself, but losing 2 months of television viewing isn't much of anything when your mom only gets two and a half channels because she won't buy cable.  Nice try, kiddo, but no such luck.  He was told to enjoy his time with his father, who would also be speaking to him about the subject, and his face sank.  A serious talk with Dad.... uh oh.

Amster decided that what Mr. 7 needed was time to consider his crimes.  The consequences had to have substance, they had to be noticed by others, and they had to include his taking ownership of his actions.  This was a lesson, not torture.  Maybe not the most fun lesson ever, but a necessary one.  She put him on Lock-Down that night and this afternoon.  Apparently, scheduling punishments when your kid lives in two houses is lots more complicated than a quick smack on the rear.... he had a long time to think about things in between sessions.  He spent the time without toys or DVDs or his brother or his dog.  He was in his room with his books and his furniture, which he proceeded to rearrange before taking a nap on his bed.  Today, he had to skip camp and repeat the process in Amster's office after we finished with Summer School.  No, we could not stop for lunch.  No, we could not go to my house.  "You are on Lock Down.  I wish we could stop, but you got yourself into this situation and now we both are suffering."  My contribution..... a little guilt never hurt anybody........ and I was really hungry, too.

He had to explain his presence in the office to the receptionist this morning, taking ownership of his actions and their consequences.  He wrote letters of apology and made verbal acknowledgment of his sins to those he had wronged.  He thought about it all weekend, and accepted the fact that he had been naughty and he wasn't going to be doing that particular behavior ever ever again.  

At least, that's the hope. 

He will have spent about 10 hours alone with himself and his books and his thoughts.  I can think of worse things that could happen to a kid. 


*potch  - a smack
  tuchas - rear end (G'ma's term for one's ass) 

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