Touch of Spice: Good enough for the dog

I arrived at the babysitter's house after a long day and found three girls with long faces seated as far from each other as the "L" shaped couch would allow. There was no talk, no laughter, no play.

A big sign on the door couldn't have said "uh oh" half as well.

Clearly something was afoot.

It didn't take long for the story to spill out. Apparently a gaggle of five neighborhood friends had been told sternly, and more than once, exactly what the boundaries of their adventures were. And, if that wasn't enough, the four-foot fence should have been.

Apparently it was not.

Minutes after the fourth telling, the five (ranging in age from 3 to 6) slipped through the gate and across the street. They were found doing nothing wrong, but certainly in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The two youngest hung their heads as the three oldest spouted excuses and pointed fingers. I was told the speed at which those excuses were formed was something to behold.

Play dates were canceled and plans for overnight stays nixed. Two of the five remained across the street to bear their punishment, and the other three were marched back to take their licks.

That's where I came in -- to see my poor children and their friend being horribly abused by being forced to sit quietly and watch cartoons.

Oh, the humanity.

Katie (who I've no doubt was the leader of their ill-fated expedition) sat stonily with her best "Doesn't bother me" look. Nikki (who should have known better, but couldn't resist following her big sister) dissolved into tears.

Each child responds differently to discipline.

Stoic Katie is a mystery to me. Reprimands and punishments don't faze her, but she'll start leaking tears at the slightest provocation. This morning, she cried about a hypothetic scenario.

Sweet Nikki is easier to understand. She just plain hates being in trouble and expresses genuine remorse when she is.

That I can handle. Katie still has me stymied.

I'm learning, though.

Katie's current problem is her tendency to wander off. (Obviously.)

I nearly had a heart attack after Nikki's preschool graduation when I finished saying goodbye some of the staff members and turned to find no trace of Katie. When a search of the lunchroom, the hallway and the entryway turned up no sign of her, I moved into the early stages of panic -- where you're visualizing all the horrible things that could have happened, but retain enough reason to be concerned about what others will think of you if you give voice to the alarm rising within you.

You're thinking, "A good mother would be more concerned about her children than herself in that situation."

I was thinking, "A good mother doesn't misplace her children."

Neither puts me in line for an award.

In one last attempt to keep my inadequacies from becoming public knowledge, I ran to the car. Not only was Katie in the car, she was hiding on the floorboards giggling about what a great joke she was playing on mom.

She didn't laugh for long. She didn't listen for long, either. My speech, carefully crafted to instill a touch of fear without impeding some measure of independence, though beautifully delivered, lacked that punch that gives it a lasting affect.

A few weeks, and about a dozen modified versions of the same speech later, I took the strap off my duffle bag and clipped one end to Katie's belt loop and the other end to mine.

What carefully selected words didn't do, a little public humiliation did. Katie was mortified and spent the rest of the day underfoot.

Of course, kids have short memories. That brings us to three pouting girls, one small boy demonstrating his discontent by kicking dirt as he circled the driveway and a baby-sitter who completely nonplussed by the fact that there were mere minutes between the lecture and the escape. After six children and 13 grandchildren, very little ruffles her. I think she was dismayed that not one of the five even tried to curry a little favor by passing on some Intel -- a.k.a. "tattling."

The two that thought they were saved when mommy came in the door learned a heartbeat later that mommy backed grandma 100 percent. In fact, when plans were laid to fix the latch on the gate so that it locked, it was mommy who suggested that no one go to that trouble.

Big tree, long rope. Problem solved.

Yes, I'm one of those parents who was aghast the first time I saw a parent connected to their child by a leash.

Two kids later, I think they should hand 'em out at the hospital.

I have to keep the dog within 8 feet, but my kids are free to roam.

Seems backwards -- there's always obedience school for the dog ...

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