I wonder what discipline looked like in your house as you grew up? My loudest memory in that department is of the dread that squirmed through my brain every time Mom squeaked in her most frustrated voice, “Wait ‘til your dad gets home.”
If Dad was involved, so was the threat of the leather belt. Funny thing is, I think Dad only had to use it once, maybe twice on each of us, as looking back, I realize that we only got the belt for the biggies: lying, cheating, or stealing. With a little bit of adult know-how under the belt, the epiphany has arrived that for most other offense, Dad was clueless.
As I’ve written before, Dad was nearly in the grandparent age-range by the time the four of us came along. Kids, diapers, squabbles were a bit beyond him, so he was often an unwilling (and probably unknowing) accomplice when Mom used him as discipline arsenal.
There was, however, a golden moment where he unceremoniously stepped over the threshold into “Master Discipliner.” (Or “Discipline Guru”, as I like to think of him.) I’m sure it was quite by accident, never the less it was a brilliant move.
My brother Robin and I were the powder keg duo out of the four of us kids. I’m not sure what got us going that particular day, but left alone in the kitchen with a meal still spread on the table, a volley of smart-aleck comments led to a giant spoonful of hamburger gravy launched into the air.
I still see it flying in slow motion … landing on the pink plaster wall of the kitchen entry … just inches from Dad’s nose. The aim had been off and so was the timing as neither one of us saw him coming from his office on a coffee run.
The silence was of the very worst kind. His gaze was not on us but on the gravy which was now slowly crawling toward the floor. Then he turned and stared … first at me (the older of the two) … then at Robin. With the beckoning of a single finger, he turned and walked back to his den. We were expected to follow.
Sheepish and suddenly robbed of what we had even been fighting about, we stood with mouths slightly open in an attempt to suck in all the extra air that we could as our hearts upped their tempos. There were still no words as Dad, his back to us, rustled through his desk drawers which stored any number of oddities and supplies. Did he have an especially wicked belt in there?
No belt. Rather, he whirled around with a triumphant look on his face and a ball of twine in his hand. A ball of twine?! I tried not to snicker and certainly lost all desire to do so when he explained himself.
“This goes on your wrists. You may not untie it or even touch it until I say so.” He then grabbed Robin’s right hand and my left hand (did he intentionally use our “good” hands? I’m a leftie) and then roped us together … less than half an inch of twine kept us from actually touching each other.
Dad grabbed our rope-bound wrists and led us to the living room where we were directed to sit on the couch.
“You may not leave this seat. You may not talk. Sit there until I say so.”
Seriously?! I had to sit that close to this slimy brat? I was so mad, I could scream. But I didn’t, for Dad had full view of us from the den. So I sat there, exhaling slowly and repeatedly, not wanting to bloat up my body in any way and actually have to touch my brother. The flare of Robin’s nose and moisture around his eyes told me he was furious too. He managed to whisper, “I hate you,” then turned his head so he couldn’t see my laser beam death stare in return.
Dad worked at home and didn’t have time to be bothered with our fusses … so he re-engaged in his work and forgot about us … for nearly an hour. He probably thought that’s how long it would take for us to mellow, but really about 20 minutes would have done the trick. As soon as we saw that he wasn’t paying attention we started whispering to each other.
The anger had dissipated and these insults were not delivered with the former vengeance. Soon we were giggling.
By the time Dad remembered us, we in all out snorts. He didn’t reprimand us for talking, but looked rather smug as he said that we could get up.
“Oh. No,” he added as I reached to untie the twine. “You can get up, but you have to leave on the rope until I say so.”
“What!” We were mad again.
“Go do what you want, but leave that on,” he pointed to our wrists and walked away.
“Oh, that’s just great,” I whined, throwing myself … oops! … both of us back onto the couch.”
“Stop it,” Robin complained, rubbing at his arm.
Dad moved back towards us … we shut up … he turned back to his desk.
“What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know. What do YOU want to do?”
“I asked you first …”
Thankfully this didn’t turn into another tussle. We made our way back to the kitchen to survey the damage (that we knew we would have to clean up later) and finally made our way outside.
I don’t remember all that we did at that point, but Dad had succeeded. We spent another hour together and actually had fun. No, it didn’t make us buddies from there on out, but I’m certain we were a little gentler with each other, still able to feel the hint of the rope on our wrists. Like a lingering scent, it that was enough to keep us in check.
Dad had succeeded. Discipline Guru!
So, did this bit of genius pass on to my parenting skill set?
Certainly … although it didn’t always have the same result on my girls. They just got more frustrated with each other when bound together and forced into close proximity. However, to my embarrassment, one of Molly’s friends recently reminded my of a time when I had tied her wrist to Molly’s with a bandana. The two of them, about 11 at the time, had refused to cease bickering on a play date at our house.
“Really, I did that?
“Yup,” her headed nodded up and down.
Well … I guess that was risky with someone else’s kid, but must have worked. They’re 21 now and great friends. I guess you can call me the Friendship Guru.