This column appeared in The St. Augustine Record November 16, 2014. I’m reprinting it here for those who might have missed it:
Last week, Adrian Peterson, the Minnesota Viking who was facing child abuse charges, accepted a plea deal that keeps him out of jail. The case has kindled a huge debate over spanking.
I’ve thought about it a lot lately, and I can’t say how I’d discipline if I had my children to raise over again.
I can’t imagine hurting a child, yet I don’t quite buy the modern notion of our offspring as demigods for whom a rational discussion will suffice in lieu of discipline.
I’m not even sure where that idea originated. As a mom, I found toddlers to be irrational and unreasonable. In fact, I think terrorists learn their negotiating tactics from 3-year-olds.
Referring to the Peterson case, Mel Robbins, a commentator and legal analyst for CNN, advocated “education, mentoring and conflict-resolution training” as the most effective methods for developing positive behaviors in children.
This woman must not be from the South. Every good Southern mama knows that choosing your own hickory switch effectively changes behavior. Those slow steps through the yard provide adequate time to contemplate a misdeed. Sometimes, picking the switch is punishment enough.
Robbins calls all spanking child abuse. I can’t quite share that sentiment. For one thing, by that definition, I should be locked up next to Adrian Peterson. My mom would be serving 20 to life.
My parents were strict. Complaining about what Mom cooked would earn a warning from Dad like, “You’ll eat those eggs, or I’ll crisp your bacon.” When I was a kid, Mom kept a penal code posted on the refrigerator. Next to each misdeed listed was the predetermined punishment for that particular crime. Since there were no hickory trees in our yard, Mom used a rubber spatula.
The best I can remember, fighting with my brother or sister warranted 10 licks. Talking back to Mom meant swallowing a spoonful of vinegar. The catch-all crime was the haughty spirit, worth a whopping 20 licks.
While I can’t say how I would approach discipline if I had young children now, I’m pretty certain what Mom would do. There are clues in the way her cantankerous Chihuahua, Bambi, behaves.
A couple of weeks ago, while my parents were gone for the evening, I stopped by their house to walk Bambi.
When I tried to put her collar around her neck, the dog bared her teeth and snapped at me. She scooted under the dining room table. Every time I even looked at her, she snarled. It looked to me like a haughty spirit.
I tattled on Bambi the next day. But Mom just laughed. Then I listened in amazement as she said the key to dealing with Bambi is speaking gently while putting on her collar. The woman who could have written a manifesto on spanking was telling me I should have tried reasoning with a Chihuahua.
There are no hickories in Mom’s yard, only palm trees. She doesn’t need them. She can wave a palm branch at her little demigod doggie six ways to Sunday, knowing that the children she raised turned into decent human beings who are, at times, even reasonable.
This column appeared in the October 5, 2014 edition of The St. Augustine Record. I’m reprinting it here for those who are unable to access it on the paper’s site. I apologize for the inconvenience, and, as always, thanks for reading!
I turned down a marriage proposal last week. Some of the people in my life think it a foolish choice. It was, after all, the first proposal I’d received in over two decades.
I was in Atlanta staying with a friend from my old neighborhood, a nice country club community in the suburbs that is home to several Atlanta-based rappers. I was out for a walk one morning when a very expensive Mercedes-Benz passed me. Its driver waved, and I waved back.
The car stopped. The driver’s window rolled down, and a man stuck his head out. He yelled something, but I couldn’t hear what he was saying.
I pulled my ear buds out of my ears. “What?”
“ARE YOU MARRIED?”
“Yes. I’m sorry.”
He smiled, shrugged and said, “I would have married you myself.” Then he rolled up his window and drove away.
When I told my kids the story, their responses were not what I expected. I described the young man, and they told me that he is a famous rapper. Then they chided me for squandering a chance to be the next Atlanta “Housewife.”
“Why did you lie to him?” my son even asked. “I heard he’s a nice guy.”
“I’m sure he is, but I don’t want to move back to Atlanta,” I shot back. But that wasn’t the real reason I turned him down.
Although I can’t say his rapper name with a straight face, the greater problem is the fact that this man is in his 20s. I know there are happily married couples with bigger age differences, but I think that being born 20 years apart means we come from different worlds. What could we possibly have in common?
Certainly not music. I can’t understand most rap lyrics. “Bam bam, jam jam, so tan can do a handstand” makes no sense to me. But I knew what the Oak Ridge Boys meant when they sang “Giddy Up, Oom Poppa Oom Poppa Mow Mow/High-ho Silver, away.”
Rappers are a little too ostentatious for my taste. Yes, Elvis had his Jungle Room, but he never had a giant picture of himself painted on the side of his tour bus.
Today’s rappers are fond of collaborations, which is a big word for “duets.” These duets will never match the greatness of Julio and Willie’s “To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before” or even Johnny Carson’s spoof of that duet. Carson. Now, that was great television.
Today, we have reality television. The rapper is part of a reality show called “Love and Hip Hop Atlanta.” If reality television is people dressing in ridiculous costumes and doing bizarre things for money, I suppose “The Price is Right” and “Let’s Make a Deal” were my generation’s versions of it. But those shows just seemed better.
I’ll admit things might not have changed as much as I think they have. Still, what would I have to talk about with a man who wasn’t even born when Elvis died?
Although my sentimentality about the past could mean I’m throwing away my future, I can’t marry the rapper. I’d rather hold out for what Carol Merrill has behind door number three, Monty. I hope it’s not a canned ham and a ferret.
This is why I’m contesting my grandmother’s will:
I’m really hoping it’s Willie Nelson behind door number 3:
My dad and my dog:
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The gift was perfect.
It came to me, right away, when my mother told me we were only doing gag gifts for my grandmother’s 90th birthday. I’d been saving it for a special occasion since the day it had magically appeared on my bed during a Caribbean cruise with my mother, sister, and grandmother three years ago.
It was an inflatable man.
Nanny laughed when she saw it. I’d written “Gil,” the name of my late grandfather, across his chest with a Sharpie pen. She hugged Gil and then proceeded to make a couple of off-color jokes about her new man.
After the cruise three years ago, I stuffed the doll back into his box and threw it on the back shelf of a deep closet. The morning of Nanny’s party, while my cousin and her husband and their toddler, Sophie, ate breakfast, I pulled him out of the box and began inflating him.
“It’s not a problem that I’m doing this in front of your kid, is it?” I asked my cousin.
“Ha. No,” was her reply. Gil, you see, is only about four-foot-six and, as far as inflatable men are concerned, not anatomically correct.
“He kind of looks like Burt Reynolds,” she said, watching as I huffed and I puffed and I blew the doll up.
The process took quite a while, and I finally realized that I wasn’t going to be able to get Gil completely inflated. No matter how much I blew, he remained limp. Ahem. Gil was leaking. My cousin’s teenage sons joined in to help me at that point by submerging Gil in the pool to pinpoint the leak. Deciding it was around the inflate valve, we blew him up as much as possible and then put a piece of duct tape over the valve.
Still, by the time we handed Gil to Nanny, he had lost quite a bit of air. He was rather limp. But it didn’t matter. She was thrilled. She held him on her lap and posed for pictures. When the party was over, she carefully folded him and put him back in his box.
I would have thrown Gil away. After all, what good is an inflatable doll that won’t stay inflated? He seemed to me to be a metaphor for people in our lives who need our constant attention. These leaky people have several emotional pinholes that keep them in a perpetually deflated state. At some point, they become too draining to be around.
Nanny is part of the generation that endured the Great Depression and World War Two. She learned early in life that you never throw away anything with a little use left in it. Because Gil can still be good for a few laughs, he still has value.
I’m not saying we should just allow the leaky people in our lives to suck all the air out of us. But what’s wrong with throwing them a roll of duct tape and offering to help them pinpoint the leaks? We all have our leaky moments, I think, and I certainly am grateful when someone slaps a strip of duct tape over mine. It’s better than sending the entire relationship to the metaphorical dump, especially when the leaky people are family. What’s more, if you throw away all the damaged people in your life, who’s going to be around when it’s time to celebrate your 90th birthday?
I have no doubt I’ll see Gil again. If nothing else, he will be left for me in Nanny’s will, along with the rusty chest freezer sitting in her garage that still runs and has food at the bottom of it older than I am.