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When I was a little boy, probably around nine-years-old or so, my neighbor, Gary Newton, and I thought it would be great fun to see how high we could let the flames get on one of two large, dried out palm trees that stood in the front yard of my house. We settled ourselves at the base of one of the tall trees, busted out our stolen lighters and began setting it ablaze as best we could. I did not have a measuring stick available that afternoon to determine the actual height reached, but it is very safe to say that the final result was well out of our arm’s length. My mother came racing out of the house when she saw what we were up to, then hurriedly turned on the garden hose and promptly put the fire out. Gary was sent home immediately. My penalty was a tad more severe.

I was sent to my room where I waited anything but patiently, knowing that I had messed up big time and that my punishment would not be pleasant. She let me wait. And sweat. Eventually, mom walked back into the room, coat hanger in hand and calmly asked me if I understood why I was being punished.

“No. Not really.” To this day I’m a horrible liar.

“Maybe this will help to figure it out,” she said in her Peruvian accented English, then spun me around and began to whack my ass with the cold metal that used to snugly hug a blouse in her closet.

Yes, my a** was red after that – not bleeding, but red. Yes, I cried for hours and vowed that I would never tell my mother that I loved her again. Yes, I made plans to move out of the house, packing my belongings into a pillowcase and heading out the door. My mother stood by and watched as I made my dramatic exodus. She just smiled at me and wished me well. I made it to Gary Newton’s house before I realized that I had nowhere to go and felt a bit homesick. And there was another reason that, even fifteen seconds after leaving, I looked forward to coming home.

A mother’s love.

Today’s more conventional wisdom and up-to-date, non-archaic thinking would rule this sort of behavior out – unimaginable! The story painted above would cause many of today’s “time-out” proponents to lash out at my mother and beg me to file assault charges against her, which to my great dismay I read about more and more often. They would argue that there is always a better solution than physically hurting a child. They might argue that those types of occurrences would perhaps damage my self-esteem and lead me eventually to cruel and devious acts during my adulthood. They may even, perhaps, be right.

But then again…

I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that when Winston Churchill or Franklin Delano Roosevelt were young boys and did any of those mischievous things that young boys will do, they were punished by severe means. Is it not safe to assume that when Martin Luther King, Jr. was a young lad, back in the days before sitting in a corner facing a wall was deemed “punishment,” he often felt the painful sting of the leather hide after pulling one too many times on his sister’s ponytail? This is all pure conjecture, but these great men belonged to a time when standards were strict. Up until the last fifteen to twenty years, bad children, or better said, children who had done bad things, were punished by their parents or caretakers as they deemed necessary, with no one to interfere. Yet, strangely enough, even back then with our great ignorance of the fragile child’s psychology and the harmful effects that such “dire” punishments would lead to, great men and women still managed to contribute greatly to history in spite of or is it because of discipline.

Obviously many adults have mistreated children and taken punishment too far; any child who shows up to class black and blue or bleeding has certainly got a gripe. There is most certainly a difference between a spanking and a beating. What concerns me is the fact that children have wised up to our politically correct society-at-large and have learned to take matters into their own hands by turning their parents in at their slightest inconvenience. Social Services seems to be spending more time slapping parents on the wrist than finding wayward children good homes to move into. These parents end up having to take unnecessary anger management courses because they yelled at their teenager after forgetting to turn off the stove…after making quesadillas at 3:00am…stoned. We’re creating our own monsters.

When I walk around town nowadays and see kids with their parents, I’m amazed at how damn hard every adult seems to be trying to appease the little brats.

“No? You don’t like that one? How about the blue one? Would you like the blue one? No? How about the green one? Is that one okay? No?” And she was looking for a new SUV (please don’t get me started on moms with four-parking-spaces-needed-since-I’ve-got-one-child-but-still-can’t-see-over-the-steering-wheel Ford Explorers).

Maybe it’s just coincidence, but it sure seems to me that things have gotten a lot rougher out there in elementary and high schools since I was a teenager. Columbine set the wheels in motion. Since then, high schools employ security personnel and the football team which used to run triumphantly through a huge paper banner that read “Go Tigers!” to start the game, now slowly, one by one, marches through metal detectors instead. I clearly remember two events from the recent past that were particularly worrisome. The first was a young man who, upon being scolded that he was driving too recklessly by his neighbor, proceeded to shoot the man and his wife, then go on a shooting rampage across two or more counties in Oklahoma. The second headline was a student at the University of Arizona who couldn’t deal too well with having failed a particular class in the nursing school, then walked into a fully occupied classroom and shot his instructor, fired a few rounds into the crowd, then turned the gun on himself mercifully and dropped that class for good.

Were these wackos not spanked or shown the belt for using dad’s old Fleetwood Mac vinyl collection as Frisbees? I honestly have no idea. That’s not the point. The point is that it seems like things are a heck of a lot weirder, and more unsafe, out there for kids. My greatest fear in high school was worrying that Kate Sikonia would catch me checking out her legs sitting across from me in geometry. I never worried that someone would show up with a shotgun instead of a forged note from mom lying about why their homework wasn’t finished.

I really can’t imagine that a child spends that much time during time-out thinking about what he or she has done and making plans to improve themselves, so it won’t happen again. A more likely scenario is that they’re making plans for a rematch on Nintedo with Billy from down the street or wondering if it’s really true that your face will stay like that forever if you keep making that face that mom hates so much. And besides, eventually, won’t one time-out after the next just start to seem like sitting in a waiting room, knowing that eventually you’re going to get what you want anyway? I’m afraid that today’s children are doted upon far too much and, once they reach an age where they’re forced to make some uncomfortable decisions or run the adolescent gauntlet that faces any teenager today without flawless skin and a cool car, they just aren’t built to deal with it. Their whole lives they’ve been given in to – by the very people who as adults should have started to teach them that life isn’t always going to be exactly how they want it. Their egos, insufficiently prepared for disappointment or adversity, are painted into corners that leave them frustrated and angry. Some will learn their lessons late. Others, unfortunately for the innocent bystanders, will not.

I guess I’m just afraid that this whole time-out thing is a little over the kid’s heads. They just can’t possibly find it as memorable or as instructional as a paddle to the bottom, can they? And eventually, once it’s over, they just go back to doing what they were doing before because, “Hey! What’s the worst that could happen?” Wildly enough, I felt the same way after getting the belt. When I got older, I realized that hitting me hurt my mom even more than it did me – she hated having to do it. But I thank her for it now. I always thought twice before doing the same evil again. The pain always subsided, but the lesson never did. My mother was the perfect chemist. She gave out an exorbitant amount of love when we were good, even when we were average. She reminded us through all her sacrifices that we couldn’t even begin to appreciate back then just how much she loved us. And she told us – every day. She raised five kids alone from the time she was thirty-one, a feat which I challenge any of today’s SUV moms to match with as much bravado and class. My four brothers and my sister are all very successful, very well adjusted and two of them are wonderful parents. My mother, by being harsh the times we really deserved it, insured our respect for authority, adults and, most importantly, her.

Thank you.

June 2003

From guest contributor Robert Burns

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