My dad stopped spanking us when I was little. He decided it was not a good idea to hit his own kids. I don't remember when this event came to pass. Perhaps it was after the time when I, a budding four year old Cassatt, drew on my bedroom wall with crayon.
I knew I wasn't allowed to do that. I knew.
When my dad instructed me to wash the crayon off the wall, I respectfully declined. I should add here that it wasn't exactly our house to deface. We lived on base housing. The way base housing works is that the walls are white when you move in and need to be white when you move out. If you want to paint the walls purple, that's fine, but they need to be white when you move out. At move out, the house gets inspected and it needs to pass inspection.
There are some pros to this micromanagement on a military base. Nobody's lawn goes unmowed. There are no rusting, wheel-less cars propped up on cinder blocks in the front yard. People drive the speed limit. There is no litter. Parents don't worry about their kids walking home after dark.
But - the reason it's like this is because your career suffers if your lawn isn't cut. Or if your kids act up. Yeah - if the MPs catch a kid doing something he's not supposed to be doing more than a few times, they don't bother calling the parents. They call the (usually) dad's boss. How would you like it if when your kid was caught speeding, the cops called your boss instead of you?
Houses need to pass inspection.
That doesn't leave a lot of room for personal expression in the decor.
Crayoned walls do not pass inspection.
When my dad told me to wash the wall and I refused, he told me again.
He told me if I didn't, he would spank me.
Oh heck to the no. You are not the boss of me! was my four-year-old mantra.
He spanked. My dad was good on follow through. No empty threats from him.
This went on for a while, threatening to spank, spanking, until I finally, furious, with tears running down my cheeks, hiccupping, surrendered and scrubbed that wall.
After that, my dad devised more creative ways to punish us. If I slammed the door, he made me walk through the house ten times, opening and closing each door quietly. Acting up in church - which was a given, seeing as we, at the ages of 5, 7 and 9 were not bribed with food, toys or books but actually expected to sit, kneel and stand still for an entire hour - was met with sitting in the corner. Really, kneeling in the corner. Straight up. No slouching. Hands behind the back. A kid in each corner on most Sundays.
Lots of grounding. Which didn't bother me so much because I didn't want to go anywhere anyhow.
My mom was the master of the slow burn. She was more of the silent treatment, "You've really disappointed me" guilt-trip type, but I don't remember any big dramatic punishments. You should know that I rarely did anything worthy of punishment once I was past my drawing days. I was a boring kid who just didn't challenge authority much. Unlike the rabble-rouser you see before you today.
But one day, I wanted my mom to buy something that I could not afford with my 50 cents a week allowance that was supplemented by my 50 cents an hour babysitting jobs. I could have dug up dandelions for half a penny apiece (full root must be attached) or washed my dad's car for any loose change I could find under the seats, but either I didn't want to work or neither of those jobs would have yielded enough cash.
I was badgering her and whining and she snapped and told me to knock it off.
"Why do you care?" I asked. "It's Dad's money."
Oh bad silence.
My mother was the valedictorian of her high school class. She went to college on a full scholarship but dropped out after her freshman year to marry my dad, whom she met at the bar of the bowling alley of their hometown after she had taken her younger twin brothers to a high-school basketball game. The twins went home with someone else. My dad drove my mom home at 2 a.m. They necked in the car, then he got stuck in the snow. He called his brothers to haul him out rather than wake my grandfather, whose motto about kids coming in late was, "Don't bother to go to bed [because you need to milk the cows in an hour anyhow]."
She had three babies right away, for that was how things worked back then. My dad went to war. She stayed back here with three kids under five. He came home, we moved. And we moved. And we moved. Every time we moved, my mom managed the process.
We lived abroad. For wives of soldiers, there are not many employment options, as the short-term, non-career type jobs that one would normally take in those situations - secretary, cashier, lifeguard - were reserved for people in the civil service or for foreign nationals from the host country.
When I was in high school, the only jobs available for me and my friends were babysitting and lawnmowing. Lifeguarding, working at the movie theater, teaching swimming, bagging groceries - all reserved for Panamanian nationals.
It wasn't as if my mom had the chance to have her own career. The jobs just weren't there and even if there had been opportunities, who wants to hire someone who's moving in a couple of years?
Had my mom not gotten married and had a family when she did - had she finished college and struck out on her own for a while - I have no doubt she would have broken barriers right and left. She is amazingly smart, scarily organized, and ruthlessly tactful. She could have climbed any corporate ladder she wanted to. She had the ability. And she knew it. She loved her family but wasn't always thrilled to have her interests subordinated to my dad's.
My dad couldn't have had a family and had his career at the same time if my mom had not been there in the background. He could have done it as a bachelor, but if they both had been working outside the house, neither of them would have ever slept.
But I was a snotty kid and thought I would be a smartass.
"Why do you care? It's Dad's money."
That was when the hand flew up from my mother's side and made contact with my face.
My mother had never slapped me before.
But I had never been this bitchy before.
I'd have to say we were even. You can't take back words, even as you see them hanging there before you in all their insulting glory.
You can't take back a slap - an instinctive reaction to a breach of protocol and civility so strong that it leaves one breathless.
Many years ago, my mom apologized for The Slap. She'd felt bad about it for a long time.
Uh uh, I told her. I deserved that slap. It was earned fair and square.