Tag Archives: lifestyle

Discipline

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My mother worked with children for over 30 years. She describes her disciplinary style as “nurturing but strict.” Between my dad’s strong personality, high intelligence, and his parents’ neglect, he found a lot of creative ways to keep himself occupied as a child. So anything we even thought about doing, he had either done or thought about doing. I think many parents probably believe this of themselves, but I digress. Of the three, Nancy stands out as the most reasonable and effective disciplinarian. Nearly as strict as mother, creative like father, but she bested them both in consistency and structure. During the first several years that Nancy lived with us, she left us with little time to get into trouble. She came up with appropriate punishments and applied them consistently to any child in the family. She made reasonable rules, and if she made changes, they made sense and did not apply retroactively.

My parents strongly believed in the punishment fitting the crime, but often disagreed on the details when it came to living out that philosophy. The rules of the house and the consequences of breaking them changed frequently. Sometimes a rule seemingly erupted from nowhere, with additional consequences for not inherently knowing how to behave. They enforced most rules sporadically. If one parent disagreed with another’s discipline, they simply overrode it with their own harsher or more lenient punishment, or disregarded it. Like most children of the eighties, we got time outs. We lost toys and privileges. We occasionally got  spanked. I think this one may be more of a cultural thing than an era thing, but we occasionally got “whupped” with a “switch,” or a long, thin hickory twig stripped of its leaves.  For the worst infractions, we had to select the switch ourselves. It had to be just the right thickness, color, and length. Then we had to strip the leaves from it ourselves. Occasionally, the entire punishment consisted of the mental anguish and anticipation involved in choosing and preparing the switch. Dad still kept that switch handy for a few days to help us remember not to repeat the infraction. When we got “a whoopin,” he aimed to leave marks and make it painful for us to sit the next day as a reminder of our wrongdoing, without breaking the skin. And he never did break the skin. I say he because although mother might occasionally prescribe the switch, she never implemented it herself. That task belonged to father. Mother preferred a wooden spoon.

My teen years brought many changes. My parents were trying to learn how to function as a stable married couple, and we all had to learn how to operate as a family unit without Nancy and Ellie (we still saw them most days, but it’s different when you live in different houses). My dad was adjusting to life without drugs, learning how to be a full-time father and husband, trying to get to know this God who pulled him from the very brink of death, and rebuilding himself and his entire life.  My mother was living with some serious health problems and had to take a prolonged leave of absence from work. And, there were three teenagers living under one roof.

Grounding became the punishment of choice. Grounding ranged from simply being confined to the house for a few days to losing everything in our rooms, including furniture, except for bare essentials, then being confined to our room for up to a month with no phone privileges, no visitors. This is where the inconsistent discipline really blossomed. Whatever level of grounding we originally received never stood. Within a day, the length of the grounding got extended or shortened, and might change again several times before someone decided we had learned our lesson and earned our privileges back. The severity also fluctuated from day to day and from child to child. My brother always received preferential treatment, but after Nancy and Ellie moved out in junior high, the favoritism exploded. He got away with things “us girls” never could, and when he did get in trouble he got off a lot easier than either of us. My sister and I felt like either she or I might receive favor while the other sister sunk to the status of “the bad one.” These roles usually lasted anywhere from a few weeks to a few months before reversing.

We may have gotten jealous from time to time, but we never resented my brother for his position in the family. He did nothing to try to earn or gain special treatment, it was simply bestowed upon him. And whichever of us was on good terms with our parents always tried to help the other one out if we could without jeopardizing our own favor. We had kind of an understanding about that. On rare occasions, neither of us were favored and we just walked on eggshells together until they either decided one of us was worse or better than the other again, thus giving one of us the coveted position of Favorite Daughter.

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“Heart Sisters”

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When I was three years old, my mother needed to raise three babies with no job, no family nearby, and a transient husband. She also suffered from a slew of medical issues. She needed help. Right around this time, a family friend’s sister lost her husband. She had nowhere to go. We had a spare room. Our family friend wisely put us together, and her sister and three-year-old niece moved in with us. So now our family consisted of two mothers, sometimes a father, and four children under the age of four.

Ellie fit in seamlessly with my siblings and I, and we grew up as a close-knit sibling group of four. We did everything together: vacations, family portraits, holiday celebrations, the works. And Ellie’s mother, Nancy, became fast friends with my mother and like an aunt to us kids. She and my mom shared the load equally whenever my dad left, each acting as a parent to all four of us. When Daddy lived at home, he treated Ellie as one of his own and she called him Daddy. Family meetings and discipline included all four children.

At some point, we decided we needed a special term to describe our relationships because, in our limited experience, there just didn’t seem to be a fitting term. “Oh, so you and your sister have different dads?” “Yeah, and different moms too. But nobody’s adopted, and we all live together.” Those discussions drew a lot of confused looks. So we coined the phrase “heart sisters” and “heart aunt,” terms of endearment we still use as adults. But mostly, we’re just a family, no modifiers needed.

Prince Charming

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I grew up a total Daddy’s Girl. He was big and strong and fun and smart, and he gave the best hugs. I wanted to be just like him. He’d rough house with us, but I always felt safe with him. My Daddy would never let anything bad happen to me. I’d watch him and emulate the way he sat, stood, walked, even his posture when we rode an escalator. I would do just about anything to spend time with him.

As I got older, he spent less and less time at home. He and my mom separated sometimes, and he would still come play with us after work, but then would go wherever he was living after we went to bed. As a child I didn’t understand.  I knew that I missed him terribly when he was gone. I found out sometime in my teen years that he had struggled with addiction since before I was born. He left to protect us. Sometimes someone from his community of dealers and users would threaten his family, other times the drugs made him paranoid. For years, he kept the drugs from my mom.

My great aunt taught my mama how to go to war in prayer. They prayed that any bed but his marriage bed with my mother would feel like a bag of rocks. A couple of the times when he moved out he asked her if he could take their mattress with him because he couldn’t get a decent night’s sleep anywhere else!

Near the end of my childhood, he stopped coming home to see us every night. This was new, and I hated it. I felt angry and confused. When I asked my mom where he was, she averted her eyes and made excuses. Sometimes we’d go nearly a week without seeing or hearing from him. I needed my Daddy. I began waiting up for him, sometimes falling asleep in odd places. One day, something happened at school and I really needed to talk to my dad about it, but I didn’t know how to reach him. It had been a few days already since he’d come home, so I hoped all day that he would show up that night. He didn’t. I was crushed. So I wrote him a note. I told him what happened at school, and how much I needed him there to talk to me and help me through it. How I missed him. I poured my little heart out into that note, and solemnly gave it to my mom, asking her to give it to him if he ever bothered coming back. I’ll never forget the look on her face when I handed her that pink envelope.

Since the letter was for my Daddy, I never thought that she might open it and read it first. At her desk she sat, weeping over my words, my hurt, late into the night. In the morning she called him and read him my letter, barely holding herself together as she felt my pain meet her own for the hundredth time. Where her tears and begging met with stony resistance, seeing the pain he had caused his daughter was too much. He came home that night and stayed for a couple of days. Then, he gathered us all at his knee and told us that he had to go on a trip. He didn’t know how long he would be gone, but he promised to call every day and send postcards and letters when he could. My sister and I cried and begged him to stay, but he said this was just something that he had to do and that when he came back, he would see us every day. I believed him. I was willing to part with him again for a while if it meant getting to be a real family again.

For my dad’s “trip,” he spent a couple of days detoxing on the couch with the one “clean” person he felt he could trust. The detox nearly killed him before he finally gave in and let his friend take him to the hospital.

I remember visiting him in rehab. I didn’t like it there. It felt like a weird hotel, not a home. It bothered me knowing he had to sleep there. And I didn’t feel like we could be ourselves there. I wanted him to come home. But Daddy was sick, and this was a special hospital where he could get better. When we visited him, he’d read to us or we could play cards or board games with him. I liked that, it felt more normal. As time passed, he seemed different. I remember feeling hesitant and unsure about the changes I saw in him. Some days, he seemed sad and didn’t talk much. He’d be distracted while we played. Other days he was much as he’d always been, just my happy, fun, big strong Dad. But even on those days, something was definitely different.

I remember the day he came home. It felt like a dream, I was so afraid I’d wake up and he’d be back in the hospital. I wanted to never stop hugging him. But he was actually home, and he never left us again. He’d hit rock bottom and found Jesus waiting to pick him up. He started going to church with us, and soon we got baptized as a family at the church that helped my mother pray him out of addiction without even knowing what exactly they were battling.

My dad doesn’t know how to do anything half-way, so when he met Jesus he dove into the relationship head first and immersed himself in the Bible. After a few years, he felt the need for a solid Biblical education, so he went to divinity school and became an ordained minister. Now, he is my “go-to” guy for questions about the Bible and theology. He and my mother are deeply in love and devoted to one another. They’re that sweet older couple you see still holding hands in public, teasing and grinning at each other like a couple of teenagers. They’ve been that way, with surprising consistency, for over a decade. My dad has ministered to countless addicts over the years, some in prison and some on the outside. He’s performed several weddings and been a guest speaker in churches in three different states, telling his story. As a family, we have seen so many prayers answered, so many miracles. I hope to share many of them with you soon.

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