Mothers have X-ray vision

There were days when discipline was somewhat barbaric by today's standard. Each parent of every child had his and her own unique form of punishment for us hapless creatures. My five-year-old neighbor, Barbara, had a father who would make her go to the hedge between our houses and select a switch with which to spank her. If the switch she chose was too small, she would have to go back and get a larger one, with the switching becoming more severe with the number of failures to select the correct size.

Her mother used her bare hands to slap or spank. My father's tool of torture was his belt, which he mostly used as a threat. I don't remember many beltings, but I do remember many threats. Mother always dolled out the real punishment. She had several levels of punishment. The first level was a heavy scolding and yelling, and it was quite effective, because we all knew that the second level was the dreaded fly swatter. The fly swatter came out when we managed to push her over the edge or when we refused to give the kind of respect she wanted us to provide. And when it came out it was much more than a symbolic gesture; she actually used it with ferocity, usually on the bare legs, and Jesus! Did it hurt like hell!?

The fly swatter was, in fact, most likely to come out over disrespectful behavior than just about anything else. Several rules of respect had to be acknowledged. When I was four, saying "no" to my mother, without some form of apologetic modifier, could be compared today with "go fuck yourself", and would probably be met with a stronger response than children get today, even for those very words. Another crime was "disputing my word", which was essentially disagreeing with what she had just said. Many years later I found myself using the southern gentleman’s expression to people I disagreed with, "I don’t mean to dispute your word, but………". Disrespect of any type was the sort of crime that was likely to bring out the dreaded fly swatter. These disciplinary forms apparently worked rather well. None of my brothers or sister shows any obvious negative affects today; we all are, by almost anyone's standards, happy and successful people.

I do still remember some of the experiences that brought out the dreaded flyswatter. I was about four years old and just at the age where I had concluded that I could outsmart my mother without too much effort. I had just gone through a level one scolding about a mess I had made in the kitchen, and I was exiting the room through the back door, which had a large window, the bottom of which was just above my head. As soon as I reached the other side and closed the door behind me, I turned to face the door feeling rather safe with the door between she and me. So at that point to help me repair my dignity, which had been severely damaged by the scolding, I stuck my tongue out at the door, not realizing that she being about three feet taller than I, was looking straight down at my tongue wielding face.

Out of nowhere came the deadly fly swatter. Still not convinced that I couldn't out run her, I ran, which made matters even worse. I never stuck out my tongue at my mother again.

In later years, when I had outgrown the flyswatter treatment, she replaced it with a much more painful form of punishment, which also came in levels. By this time, pleasing my parents had become one of life's great pleasures, something my own kids never seemed to adopt as well as I did. So a sign from her that she was not pleased was a strong form of punishment. The few instances in which her disappointment was sufficiently great to cause her tears caused me more pain than a thousand fly swatters, and I would have done almost anything to avoid it.

I doubt that the more advanced form of punishment would have ever worked had she not taken us through the early corporal phases where her superiority was never in question. I doubt that her later forms of punishment would have had any effect at an earlier age.




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