Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Discipline (Vengeance)

     I hate disciplining our kids, but I do so for their own good and our sanities.  I suppose it's one of the more difficult and aggravating responsibilities of parenting, at least for me, because it seems so futile at times.
     Shouting doesn't work.  Kids love loud noises—firecrackers, thunder, sirens, helicopters, leaf blowers, and garbage trucks—preferably all at the same time.  Hearing a parent shout at them—they become immune to it after awhile—is like a DS video game in which the objective is to make Mom's and Dad's faces turn red, the veins of their necks bulge out, and their hands and arms tighten and flail about like animatronix until someone's head explodes like the stomach of a decompressed deep sea fish.
     To illustrate what I mean, this has happened every afternoon for the past two years:
     “Clean up your room,” I tell Jaren with I-mean-business brusqueness.
     “Yes, Daddy,” he responds.  (We trained them through consistent discipline to respond appropriately every time.)
     Nothing happens.  I come back later and discover this.
     “What did I tell you to do?” I ask, voice and tone rising to signal what's happening to my blood pressure.
     I point toward his room with searing eyes.
     “Oh yeah, clean up my room.”  He dashes off down the hallway in the proper direction.
     When I return later, his bed is somewhat fixed but the floor's still a mess.  “Ok, time out, I told you twice already.  Don't come out until dinner.”
     There's a thirty-three percent chance the floor still won't be cleaned properly by dinner time (down from sixty-seven percent a few months ago—progress!)  If so, he gets time out for the rest of the evening.  He still sometimes cries—just for show—over time outs but once he's in them he just lies on his bed or floor quartering his imaginary Star Wars friends.
     I tell myself not to stress over discipline because the underlying principle is so simple:  back up words with action by always enacting consequences for every instance of noncompliance.  After all, this is an autocracy in which we are the bosses.
     My wife is not with the program.  And the kids know it so what they do is make a game of it, ignoring her direct commands, hoping they'll get away with it—the sole form of legalized gambling in Hawaii.  Then, often enough, when she's in a good (lazy) mood, she'll pretend not to notice, which thrills them to no end as their ears turn red and pointy and arrow-shaped tails emerge from above their butt holes and their eyebrows start looking like Mr. Spock's (The Vulcan, not the Doctor).
     “Go outside,” she tells Braden, who's tormenting his siblings.  Separating them can be very effective and so can sending Braden outside since he hates it even though there's tons of fun things to do like sweep the garage and wash the car.
     Five minutes later, I still hear his voice inside, and it's obvious he's progressed to unanesthetized surgery.
     “What did Mom tell you to do?” I shout from my room, not wanting to go outside and get a coronary or stroke because that would just make my knotted stomach feel inferior to its overachieving sibling organs.
     “Go outside,” Braden slurs out.
     This is when Deanne shouts at him and I hear him stomp out and I can tell he's fuming, showing utter contempt for our unreasonable authority.
     It doesn't bother me, though, because discipline has to hurt to be effective.  This is what makes discipline similar to vengeance but not because when he hurts, I hurt worse (sometimes).  So if I don't hurt or even enjoy seeing him stew in his own juices that doesn't mean I'm a sicko sadist, it just means he's bluffing to get back at us—sort of like a game of poker in which everyone adopts serious miens, secretly rejoicing their strong hands, though ours will always be strongest since we're the parents and can do with him whatever we want as long as no one finds out about it, thank God.
     No, what bothers me about discipline is Deanne's lackadaisical attitude that makes me out to be the bad guy every time.
     I remind her again and again of the need for consistency—the kids only behave when I'm around and if she would just discipline consistently for two weeks they wouldn't misbehave ever again.  She says, “Yes, Tim,” and I can tell she means it.
     But nothing changes.  Or at least not within two weeks.  Because she's not consistent enough.  At least not when I'm not around.  I know this because I catch Jaren whining—a big no-no—in a half-whisper to her, hoping I won't hear.  And this happens again and again and again.  And he's already six years old!
     I rationalize that her inconsistency is virtue:  she's modeling mercy, grace, and forgiveness (lets see Heidi Klum do that) of which we all need massive doses now and then.  If she were exactly like me the kids might be well-behaved all the time, but eventually grow up stiff and distant—strict model citizens, true—but lacking in love and compassion.  I'm also fearful that my strictness could break their spirits, so her laxity is a nice counterbalance that gives them room to breathe and act up like normal kids with snotty attitudes (while also giving me an easy “out” if things turn out not-so-hot).  Parenting like life, after all, requires balance and perspective.
     Though I complain, I must admit God has blessed me with a wonderful family, including Braden, a boy with a good heart and not an evil bone in his body.  But embedded within such virtuous body parts lies a bad, horrible, stinking lazy attitude that's about as responsible as roach crap.
     He does a sloppy job with the dishes.
     Discipline:  He gets to do all the dinner dishes for the coming week—obviously he just needs more practice.
     We discover through his social studies teacher who made him print out his grades-to-date and show them to us that Braden's gotten recent horrid grades that make our hair fall out (when we yank at their roots in frustration.)
     What's with teachers giving out mid-quarter results to or e-mailing parents these days?  (We refused to give him our e-mail address because Braden's school work is his responsibility, not ours.)  My teachers never contacted my parents mid-quarter or ever except through report cards.  (Even after I got a D once in fifth grade social studies from Mrs. Horaguchi, whom I once had a crush on—operative word here is had, because I could fill in the blank U.S. map with only thirty-two states, I just hid the thing and that was that.  That was my worst grade ever throughout my academic career that I can recall, though my memory's been lately going...)  And here's Braden getting C's and D's, and even an F for not turning in an assignment until very late and he didn't even follow-up the way he was supposed to by redoing them all and checking to make sure they were all B quality or better.
     Decisively, I have him hand write a five-page essay explaining what happened, what caused it, what he felt, and what he will do in the future to make sure it never happens again, then type it up with no spelling or grammatical errors, then attach my note requesting the teacher to sign-off on the accuracy of Braden's statements, then turn them in and show me the teacher's response.  Plus redo all the sub-par work for the teacher to critique.  Plus do all the chores for a week and remain in time out for a day.
     Then, because she's a glutton for punishment (mine, not hers) Deanne the following weekend (and for the first time ever) checks his on-line Jupiter grades (I told her never to do this because it's his responsibility, not ours) only to discover F's in other classes for assignments not turned in within the past week!
     She disciplines him by saying no scouting that Friday.   I say that's nothing to him and give him all the chores for a month plus one week time-out outside, plus letters for the two teachers to sign like before.  One of the letter reveals a lie.  He had told me upon questioning that everyone had gotten F's for not turning in their English reading logs because the teacher hadn't passed out the blank reading log forms beforehand.  Yet the letter describes others turning in their reading logs on time while he watched dismayed.  (These logs are due every week; he could've asked for a blank form or used a blank sheet of paper; his explanation was dismembered roach parts.)  So at that point I tack on an additional month of dish washing.  (I hate dish washing.  So does he.  Perfect discipline!)
     I tell Braden (an eighth grader) that the way things stand (his continued bad attitude and irresponsibility even after repeated discipline—this has been going on since grade school) I don't consider him college material anymore.  We're not going to expend all the money we've saved to date—billions of dollars that will one day cover perhaps a couple weeks of his college tuition at an affordable in-state university—only to have him squander that golden opportunity with continued lame, I-don't-care attitudes and that if he intends to do that, I may as well blow it all right now on a Canon, Nikon, or Leica digital SLR with full-frame sensor plus lens kit on sale used on e-bay so that I can photograph for his benefit all his current cute antics on film (actually temporal bits and bytes stored in electronic format upon reliable storage media that become damaged and permanently inaccessible every other day).  Henceforth, it's up to him to prove us wrong.  If he starts getting straight A's, fixing his bed every morning, and discovering the cure for congressional ineptitude, we may reconsider.  If he needs help with school work, he's old enough to ask us, teachers, classmates, friends at church—whomever.  And I convince him the chores he's doing are good.  Without a college degree, he'll probably end up working menial jobs just like it—all honorable, nothing to be ashamed of, and work that can't be outsourced to China or India (at least not yet, mainly because they pay too little.)
     And I say to him in closing if he just does things right the first time every time, he won't ever have to deal with this stuff again.
     He says, “Yes, Dad.”
     And Deanne agrees never to check his on-line Jupiter grades again.
     Best of all, I think he's slowly starting to catch on.  (And when I say slowly, I mean in a race against a glacier, he'd lose.  Unless it was a retreating glacier, in which case he'd win—assuming he crosses the finish line before the onset of the next ice age.)  But at other times, I get the distinct impression that to him, it's all just a game.  And as long as he gets a nice hot meal to enjoy in quiet comfort at the end of every day, he's happy, despite the walls crumbling in around him that only we can see.
     I tell Deanne, maybe that's how God wants us to be.  We have enough; shouldn't we content ourselves with that?
     Braden is a good kid that has taught me a lot.  And I love him dearly.  But his lack of regard still sometimes gets to me like roach eggs stuck to the insides of my underwear.

No comments:

Post a Comment