Holding Court

Sometimes I get it right. Or maybe my kids are just in a more receptive mood. I don’t know. Sometimes it just all works out as it should.

I was taking my shower this morning when Hal came into the bathroom blubbering about something. He was holding his arm and speaking incoherently. When it became apparent that I wouldn’t be able to hear the story with water cascading around me, I turned it off.

As I coaxed the story out of him, my mind analyzed the subtle clues. Is the crying real or forced? Is he truly in pain or just mad? Or are his feelings just hurt? Deciding it was real, I worked on piecing together the story of how his brother had come to squeeze his arm so hard and dig his thumb into the muscle.

Working backward from the point of injury, I learned that Daryl had squeezed the arm in response to Hal telling him to shut up. Hal had told Daryl to shut up after Daryl told Hal to shut up. When asked why Daryl had told him to shut up, Hal became reticent to continue unraveling the full story. Ahhh, I thought. I’m getting somewhere now.

Hal was being too loud. When asked whether Daryl had previously asked him nicely to be quiet, Hal claimed no. That’s when Daryl, who had apparently been lurking just outside the door interjected with protest.

The court is now called to order.

The defendant sits on a chair next to the sink. The accuser sits across the room from him at a safe distance on the toilet. The judge stands in all her naked glory with water dripping from her now-getting-cold body inside the glass judge’s box.

Before she can begin her questions, the defendant attempts a counter-claim. “He shoved me really hard before coming in here.”

“This was after you squeezed his arm?” she asks.

“Yes.”

“OK, retaliation isn’t right but it was in response to you hurting him. Did you tell him to be quiet?”

“Yes your honor.” (So maybe I added the “your honor” bit, but wouldn’t it be nice?)

“Where was he when he was being too loud?”

“In our bedroom. And I could hear him all the way down in the kitchen.”

The accuser is, amazingly enough, waiting silently for the trial to progress.

“And where were you when you asked him to be quiet?”

“In our bedroom.”

“And did you invoke Charley?” (Our house guest sleeping in a room near the kitchen).

“What?”

“Did you tell Hal why he should be quiet?”

“Yes. I told him he might wake up Charley.”

“Hal?” Says the judge, turning to the toilet. “Did Daryl ask you to be quiet first?”

{Silence.}

“Did he ask you to be quiet?”

“Yes.”

“And did you hear why?”

“Yes.”

“And you didn’t do it.”

“No.”

The judge, noticing the cold soaking into her skin and the slimy soap still hanging out where the sun doesn’t shine, is ready to deliver the verdict.

“Ok, see? This is where it started. A member of the family – it doesn’t matter who – asked you to do something and gave you a good reason why and you ignored him. Do you see that?”

Hal nodded dejectedly.

“Now,” the judge says, turning her attention back to the defendant’s chair. “It’s never OK to respond with physical violence. You understand that, right? What are you supposed to do when he’s not doing what he’s supposed to do?”

{Silence.}

“Daryl, what are you supposed to do?”

“Come tell you or Daddy.”

“Right. And then I could have called him in here and talked to him.”

“But Hal,” the judge shifted her attention back to the accuser. “It started with you. It started when you disregarded another member of the family. If you had listened and responded appropriately, he never would have told you to shut up and then you wouldn’t have told him to shut up and then he wouldn’t have squeezed your arm. Do you see that?”

“Yes.”

“OK. I want you to apologize to your brother for ignoring him.”

“I’m sorry I ignored you Bubba.” (For the record, this was a very sincere apology.)

“It’s OK.”

“And now I want you to apologize to Hal for hurting him.”

“I’m sorry I hurt your arm.” (Another sincere apology.)

“It’s OK.”

“Now if you don’t mind, I’ve got soap in places I didn’t need it to stay so I’m going to resume my shower now.”

Court is adjourned.

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Silence, Please!

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I went to see Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 with some friends yesterday. We enjoyed the movie, but I’m honestly not sure if there was more drama on the screen or in the seats. There were a dozen of us in the theater – maybe 20. We heard the usual warnings about silencing your cell phones and all but one actually did. With the exception of some occasional laughter and sharp intakes of air, it was silent.

Until the baby started crying. It started off relatively ignorable. OK, not really. But it was quiet enough that if you really focused on the screen, you could still hear the actors. The crying didn’t stop though so I thought for sure the person caring for this child would remove them from the theater.

Nah. The kid ratcheted it up a notch. Then two. Which is to be expected when a kid’s needs aren’t being met. I soon realized as the kid started talking loudly that the kid was not a baby but a young toddler. At a loud and violent PG-13 movie. Great.

The mom started whispering to the child. The child quieted for a bit. Then the child cried again. And then the spanking started. Which any idiot could have predicted was going to make the child cry harder. So no surprise to the rest of the movie-goers when the screams got louder than the whispering in the quiet, intense scene on the screen.

I heard the mom whisper various threats. You better quiet down. You need to behave or I’m going to spank you. Stop that. You need to stop right now. Other people were starting to mutter to each other. It was getting very hard to focus on the movie. I’m not confrontational, but several times I thought of calling out for her to take her child out. But like all the other well-behaved citizens, I just gritted my teeth.

At one point, we could hear muffled crying and my friend commented, “I think they are suffocating that poor baby.”

After the second round of spanking and wailing, though, a woman on my row had had enough. She stood up, turned around to face the back row, and called out, “Will you please take that baby out of here? No one in here wants to listen to her – or him – cry like that! We can’t hear the movie. You are being selfish. You need to take her out.”

The mom became immediately defensive and called back, “If you don’t want there to be noise in here, then why don’t you sit down? You’re making a bigger commotion!”

“Look! I’m sure other people in here feel the same way. They just aren’t saying anything. Please! Stop hurting that baby,” the first woman responded. “Stop spanking her!”

“Spanking?” The incredulous mom responded. “It’s not  spanking – it’s called discipline.”

Hmm… So when she threatened to spank the kid… she… misspoke?

It was getting ridiculous. Now I couldn’t hear the movie or focus on it. The two exchanged some more loud and angry barbs until the confronter sat back down and  apologized to us for causing a scene. While we all agreed with her assessment of the situation, I really just wanted her to shut up so I could hear Katniss.

The mom was beside herself. She began whispering desperately to the person next to her. Soon she was sobbing. I then heard a theater employee, who had apparently walked in, call out, “Please put away your phone.” I have no idea if she was talking to the sobbing mom or someone else, but the confronter took the opportunity to go explain the situation to the employee.

By then mom was outright crying herself. She and her seatmates, and the poor toddler who had been setup to fail by being brought to an inappropriate movie, began filing out. The mom’s cries lasted all the way out the door. Eventually the theater was quiet again and we finished the movie.

I thought about the (obviously) young mom afterwards. She hadn’t been willing to miss some of the movie to take the child out. She expected the child to behave at an age beyond her ability inside the theater. She had no consideration for the fact that the rest of us had an expectation of watching the movie without distraction. She was indignant that she was called out for her behavior. Ironically, she likely left feeling wronged.

I’m not sure what the best reaction is in a situation like that. Do you just sit quietly and politely ignore the rude and inconsiderate behavior (as most of us were doing)? Or do you call the person out (as the one brave woman did)? Should we have clapped to show our support for the woman? Or would that have just heaped more embarrassment on the mom? Do we have an obligation to point out inappropriate conduct to fellow citizens? Who gets to decide what’s inappropriate? Do we do more harm when we call people out or when we say nothing?

I don’t know. Like I said, I don’t know if there was more drama on screen or off. I certainly know which was more enjoyable. At least Katniss was fighting over something worthwhile.

Open House Punch

My son punched me in the mouth. Hard. He didn’t get in trouble for it though.

It was Tuesday evening. We were at the Elementary School Open House. He was smarting off in some way as we headed down the hall, so I reached out and poked him in the butt cheek with my compact umbrella.

He turned around and started throwing defensive Ninja moves my way. I bobbed and weaved as I looked for an in to jab my umbrella at his belly or swat his behind with it. He was good though. He blocked every thrust. So I acted like I was done messing around and then poked him when he turned away.

He then announced that he’d be giving me a slow-motion punch. I grinned as he moved his right hand in a large, wide arc toward my face. He slowly and lightly brushed my chin, turning my head equally slowly away from him. I reached out and jabbed him in the belly with my umbrella.

We messed around for a few more minutes as we waited for Daddy to return with Hal, who had disappeared. Again. He went for another slow-motion punch. I took the opportunity to quickly jab him with the umbrella. For some crazy reason, this took him by surprise. His surprise caused him to speed up. The speed up meant he slammed his fist into my mouth instead of slowly grazing my chin.

I grabbed my mouth/side of my jaw. Jane exclaimed, “Daryl! You just hit Mommy! Mommy, are you okay?!” Daryl just stared at me, wide-eyed with his mouth hanging open. I rubbed my jaw. He began to giggle nervously and apologize. Although he did suggest that my sudden jab to his abdomen might have contributed to the situation.

Which is why, by the way, he didn’t get in trouble. It’d be awfully hypocritical of me to punish him after all those times that one child or another has come to me in tears and I’ve responded with “Well, if you are going to insist on rough housing, someone is bound to get hurt.”

Daddy showed up while I was still holding my chin. He had failed to locate Hal. We walked to the other end of the hall. No Hal. We split, he and the kids heading outside to the portables. I checked the cafeteria. No Hal. We rejoined in the hallway. Hal hadn’t been outside either. The search was getting more frantic and more desperate until a mom I know asked how I was doing and I asked if she had seen him.

“Oh, I saw him a minute ago. He was rolling around on the stage.”

The stage. At the end of the cafeteria.

I was tired of him disappearing like this. I am tired of him disappearing like this. While my husband was gone on his recent trip, we attended Daryl’s basketball game one Saturday morning. Hal disappeared. I looked all over the gym. I went outside. He was nowhere to be found. Then someone said they had seen him at the next building over.

I was extremely firm and serious when I dragged him off the stage this time and sat him down in a chair and looked him square in the eye, all the while resisting the desire to rub my jaw just a bit more. I didn’t yell but I was so serious that he began to cry. He wasn’t happy when I insisted he’d hold my hand the rest of the night either. He made sure I knew it continuously as we headed back down the fifth grade hall and visited Daryl’s teachers.

Open House.

Other parents should be so lucky to have it as good as I’ve got it.

And, yeah, my face is still sore.

Casper, the Friendly Disciplinarian

Jane has reached the age where she quickly hides whatever she is doing anytime I unexpectedly walk into the room. It doesn’t even matter if she’s doing something wrong or not. The phone gets tucked under the blanket. The Kindle gets hidden behind the bathroom cabinet. The hands go quickly behind the back.

Yesterday, I walked into her room and the paper she was writing on was suddenly turned upside down and her hand was placed firmly over it.

“What are you writing?”

“Nothing.”

“Yes, you are. What are you writing?”

“Nothing. It doesn’t apply to you. It’s nothing.”

Jane’s mother is an insanely curious person. Being none of my business does little to quench the curiosity. I sat down on her bed. “Who is it to?”

“No one. It’s nothing.” At this point she crumpled the paper up and clenched it in her fist. Oh, boy, now the curiosity was racing.

“If it’s nothing then why can’t I see it? Who are you writing to?”

“Myself. I’m writing to myself and it’s nothing.”

At this point, the mother part of me realized that she was very uncomfortable and I shouldn’t push. She wasn’t acting like she had done something wrong. She just seemed embarrassed. The curious part of me idly wondered if I might be able to sneak in and find it after she went to bed. “Ok, fine. If you don’t want me to read it, I won’t.”

She pressed the paper back out on her table and picked up the marker she was using. I walked out the door, wondering if I could live with not knowing what she was writing.

Today, I asked her again what she wrote about.

“Do you want to read it?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“OK. You can read it.” She left the room and returned with the paper ball, which she threw at me with a smile. I read it and started laughing. Her father, grandmother, aunt, and her aunt’s boyfriend were all around the table. With her permission, I wadded the paper up and threw it to her dad, who read it and then wadded it up to throw it to her aunt, and so on until everyone had read it.

I got her permission to share it here after telling her that I found it very creative and a cute attempt to motivate herself. Before I share it, you must know that Jane has an imaginary friend named Casper. She knows he’s not real. At least, I think she does. Here’s the paper:

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In case you can’t read it through the wrinkles, it says “Make your bed or you aren’t allowed to txt for 20 days!! I mean it! Love, Casper”

Her bed, by the way, was very nicely made this morning. I guess I need to take a page from Casper’s playbook. The threat of a texting ban was obviously effective.

Hal and the Flute

I have hesitated on whether to share this story because it involves spanking, which is a rather hot-button issue in parenting circles. I’m not interested in joining that debate. I think that many of us are on the fence on whether or not spanking of any kind is ever an appropriate tool in our parenting arsenal. I personally tend to agree with the anti-spankers on the notion that there are usually better ways to administer discipline and consequences. That said, spanking was part of my childhood and that can be difficult to overcome. And sometimes I simply can’t find a way to make the severity of the situation understood by my strong-willed and stubborn children. So, please, if you are opposed to spanking, extend me a little grace, knowing that I struggle with the issue, and please try to see the smiling moment in this tale.

Jane recently acquired a flute and hopes to join the band next year. The day the flute arrived, I had a very serious conversation with Hal about it. I explained that the flute was not ours and was very delicate and expensive and he was not to ever, ever touch it. I used my best stern, I’m-not-kidding-around-this-is-serious mommy voice to make sure he understood.

The next day, I was away from the house for awhile and when I returned, I found the flute case open on the dining room table with the individual parts in disarray on top of it. I bellowed Hal’s name and he reluctantly came into the room.

“Did you mess with Jane’s flute?”

“Yes.” His voice was very small.

“Hal, this is very serious. We talked about this.” I took him firmly by the hand and led him back to his bedroom. On arrival, I squatted down in front of him and took both hands. I looked him in the eyes. “Do you understand that that is a very expensive piece of equipment? It is not a toy and it does not belong to us. You cannot play with it. You must understand that. We aren’t playing around. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“Ok. You are going to get a spanking for this because you had been told.”

As I finished speaking, his little face crumpled and his eyes welled with tears. I expected a protest about not wanting a spanking but that’s not what I got.

In a desperate,yet resigned voice, he cried, “But Daddy already gave me one!”

In that moment, my heart went out to the poor boy. He had let his curiosity get the better of him and had messed with something he knew he wasn’t supposed to. His father had found out and punished him. Then his mother found out and was about to punish him again. And in the same way. He was trying to bear the consequences as best he could but this was too much. I could see in his eyes that he understood the severity of the situation and was not likely to ever touch the flute again.

“Oh, honey!” I cried. “If Daddy already gave you one, I won’t give you another. I didn’t know.” I wrapped him in a hug and felt the relief in his body as he hugged me back. I then wondered why my husband had not put the flute away after he found it. My planned administration of discipline had been born from my belief that I was the first person to encounter the flute, given its found state. I was later to learn that he hadn’t known how to put it in the case so had left it for me to deal with.

I honestly don’t know if the spanking alone would have been enough to stop Hal’s handling of the flute. But the unintended tag-team of the spank and the almost-spank worked miracles.