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Spare the Rod?

You all know the saying from the Bible, “spare the rod, spoil the child.” And you’ve probably heard your mom or dad say, right before they hit you, “this is going to hurt me more than it’s going to hurt you.” Both were going through my mind tonight, along with, “don’t hit your child out of anger.” I believe a part of all of these quotes.

My ten year old, soon to be eleven, was out of control this evening, not listening to anything I asked him to do. His father had gone to work, so it was up to me to do something about the half-cleaned bathroom, the trash piling up in the kitchen, the litter boxes that needed scooping so bad, I felt like a forensic anthropologist. I told Conor, my son, to take out the trash and I would do the cat litter. We have two pans, and neither had been scooped for days. My husband had promised to do it, as well as take the trash out. But he wasn’t here to yell at, so I yelled at my son. That didn’t do a lot to motivate.

The problem is, I think I might have broken a lumbar spine when I feel flat on my back in Philadelphia last Saturday. I slipped on an uneven walkway and down I went. The next day I woke up with excruciating back pain, but I put off going to the ER because it felt better after a couple of Vicodin and Lyrica and Flexeril. It still hurt, but wasn’t too bad. On Tuesday, I was able to go to the gym and have my first orientation to circuit training, and my back hurt but wasn’t as bad as Sunday. By Wednesday, it was back to keeping me up at night and in bed with a heating pad all day. I canceled a test I had scheduled and today, Friday, I had to cancel my rheumatologist’s appointment, which I really wanted to go to because all my tests were done, and I’d find out what his plan was for me.

My son came galloping upstairs, asking to go to his friend, Kevin’s house to play video games for an hour. He had no homework (later, I found he had to finish a book for his Talented and Gifted Program but he did finish it). Then I hit him with the bad news: he had to finish cleaning his bathroom, something he started over the weekend and never followed up on. It was still a mess and he was pissed off that he had to finish it. I guess he thought I’d finish it if he didn’t. That seems to be a recurring event in our house. I ask my husband or son to do something and they do things, as my Mom used to say, “half assed.” And I’d finish it because I can’t stand a messy house.

My husband has a couple good excuses. One, is that he often works two jobs to keep the mortgage and bills paid. And second, he was raised by a mother who cleaned his room, made his meals and all his chores involved “manly” chores, like cutting the grass, or helping his dad outside with projects. When I met my husband, he was temporarily living with his parents after his first marriage disintegrated. His mom washed his scrubs, and ironed them, made him dinner before work every night and made his bed for him after he left for work. In other words, he was spoiled. Yet another thing to thank my mother-in-law for. And there’s a long list.

I was raised in a house where chores were shared. My brother knew how to wash and iron clothes, wash dishes, vacuum, dust, and clean bathrooms. My mother divvyed up the chores on Saturday morning, which was chore day. I try to make Saturday chore day, but my husbands schedule sometimes gets in the way. And if I’m not feeling well, either from lupus or fibromyalgia, or even a cold, the house gets trashed by the husband and son who both don’t know how to do things without direction.

So tonight, Conor was dragging his feet too long and I came upstairs to find him in my husband’s office reading, when he was supposed to be collecting up trash. I went to smack him—just once, and I ended up hitting my forearm on the side of the wall. Hah! All of you non-spankers are saying, you got what you deserved. But I got myself settled on my bed and called him over close enough to smack the hell out of his head. I told him if he didn’t do the chores I’ve told him to do, he wouldn’t have his birthday party next Saturday. So he went to work and got the stuff done. He came to me and apologized for making me have to hit him to get things done. I told him this was a family, and when one person can’t accomplish something, another member picks up the slack. He said something very profound, and very true, “You know you’re teaching me that if you leave something go long enough, someone else will do it.” It was true. Taking out the trash and cleaning the cat litter were two jobs that my husband promised me he’d do today and he spent the day playing video games or sleeping.

I’m hoping I don’t ever have to hit my child again. It did hurt me as much as him. Both physically and mentally. I don’t want him to think of his childhood and have memories flood back about me hitting him. I have that memory of my dad, except he took it too far and didn’t know when to quit, which left us bruised and broken. I read a book about raising boys and how to discipline them. I’ve taken away his video games, taken away TV privileges, kept him from playing with his friends. I’ve locked him in his room until he cleans it up (which never works). None of these work because he’s lost his male role-model. I told my husband by phone tonight what Conor said, and that he owes both of us an apology. And I hope I get one. But I’m not holding my breath. His mother wasn’t very good at saying she was sorry either.

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