Janet Sheridan: What once we dreaded
Hair pulled, cheeks red, tears flowing, nose running, and feelings hurt, I headed to my bedroom, taking my time so I could be certain Bob — arm scratched, face fiery, anger flaring, voice indignant — also obeyed Mom’s ultimatum: “You two need to take a nap! Right now! I don’t want to hear a peep out of you for an hour!”
Then this afternoon, house quiet, cell phone off, hearing aids out, kitchen uncleaned, I stretched out on the couch and treated myself to a blissful nap.
My mandated nap of old and my pleasurable snooze of today illustrate a recent Facebook meme: “My childhood punishments have become my goals” followed by list of disciplinary measures children hate and adults find enjoyable. The punishments follow; the embellishments are mine.
No TV. When Mom told me I couldn’t watch TV until I finished folding the laundry, my anguished wail, “But the “Mickey Mouse Club” starts in five minutes!” made my baby brothers cry and our dog bark. Now, however, I’d happily give up TV, especially daytime programming. If the choice is watching true crime stories featuring blood splatters, home-shopping networks selling indispensable goods, and political analysts babbling personal opinions, I’d choose to organize my sock drawer or yodel.
You can’t leave the table until you eat every bite. With my hearty appetite, I avoided this punishment. I once turned down Mom’s offer of some pickled pig’s feet, and she seemed delighted to find something I wouldn’t eat. Now, with my goal of eating smaller portions of rich desserts, I’d rejoice if told to eat every bite because I could lick the platter clean.
No telephone. During my childhood, this punishment would have had no meaning. “Big deal! I can’t use our only phone, a party line, which is shared by three neighbors and everyone in our family except Dad, who’s too busy timing how long we talk.” Now, however, my cell phone distracts me from more important, necessary, or enjoyable activities, and I could use a mandated break. Recently, I left it in the car Joel took to the golf course. At first, I was anxious, “What if I fall and can’t get up? Or go on a walk and get hit by a car? Or forget my name? I couldn’t call anyone!” When I regained my sanity, I had a wonderful, phone-free afternoon.
Time out: When young, I hated involuntary isolation. Now I’d see it as an opportunity to take another nap.
My friends told horror stories about other childhood punishments, not on the list, that I never experienced. Some unfortunates had their mouths washed out with soap for using bad words. Dad rescued my siblings and me from this fate. We believed swearing was his responsibility and doubted we could ever achieve his mastery. Though, sometimes, when we were alone, Bob tried.
Others were spanked. My siblings and I weren’t, but Mom’s veiled threats of doing so undid us. When she quietly said, “Go away. I can’t deal with you right now. But I will punish you, and you won’t enjoy it,” we assumed she needed a rest to regain her strength before spanking us. The wait was torture; and she knew it.
Sometimes naughty children were told, “You wait until your father gets home. ”I was visiting a friend when her older brother smashed our mud pies and tried to make us eat them. Her mother intervened and said, “Just you wait until your father gets home,” which puzzled me. My mother delivered punishments on the spot, while the crime was fresh and indisputable, and never involved our father; so I decided Mrs. Larsen must be suffering from a very serious illness. And told her daughter so.
I also heard stories about another dreaded punishment where children who misbehaved didn’t receive their allowances. If Mom had tried this, my response would have been, “OK. What’s an allowance?”