I once had someone explain to me why she chose to (1) discipline her kids by spanking and (2) why she used a wooden spoon rather than her hand. It was a well thought out, rationalized and completely creepy explanation. She explained that God had left these kids in her care and it was her responsibility to raise them as He had intended; to make sure that they became the people that they were meant to be. Ok, I got that, so we need to guide the kids to be good people, but still it didn’t explain the “rod”. The explanation ensued which included various supporting quotes from the Bible laced with interpretations of personal responsibility. This of course didn’t make any sense to me as I had long before decided that man always fucks up the message and if God has anything to say about raising kids it would most likely come in the form of a hug rather than a rod. It made so much more sense for this person to say, “I can’t get him to listen to me so I smack him on the bottom to get his attention,” rather than rationalizing ill behavior with the word of God, but that’s just me.
The second part of using a wooden spoon rather than her hand was right out of some fundamentalist preacher’s sermon. The hand, she explained, is for hugging, “I don’t want the child to be confused that the hand that hugs them could also be a tool of violence.” Holy shit, are you fucking kidding me? Can the kid not see that the wooden spoon is attached to and governed by your hand? Is this hand some divine robot hand controlled by forces beyond? And what about cooking? Was anyone concerned about how the kid might view using a wooden spoon for it’s intended purpose later in life? It was all such bullshit to justify a way of life that understandably evoked guilt. If you have to talk your way through it by searching for scriptural guidance, I suspect the Holy Spirit has already left the building.
Before the divorce, Dad was on the roof of our Veneta house cleaning the gutters one fine afternoon. From his vantage point he was able to see the 10+ wooden spoons that littered the tiles of the rooftop. Mom had been complaining that the wooden spoons kept disappearing and she had to keep replacing them. It was one of her favorite tools of discipline and Jerry had gotten savvy. Although his act of defiance did not completely stop the onslaught, it perhaps stalled the encounter long enough for one to escape out the back door or at least have a minute to mentally prepare.
One evening in our small apartment in Missoula Montana, Jason and I were sharing a bath. At six and two, this feat was still possible. Mom was buzzing around trying to get ready for the dinner shift at the restaurant and get us out of the tub before she left for work. She yelled from the living room, “Where are my tips?” as she needed the hard earned money for gas to get to work. She explained that she had dumped the contents of her apron on the table and couldn’t get to work without it. Both Jason and I answered that we hadn’t seen the money and Jerry chimed in similarly from the adjacent room. A few minutes went by and Mom began to get more agitated, proposing a scenario that one of us had taken the money to buy candy and snacks at the store that day. It’s true, I was guilty of snatching a few quarters from Mom’s pile of change on occasion to feed my sugar habit, but I was free of all blame on this day. All three of us continued asserting our innocence but it didn’t help our cause as the next thing Jason and I heard was Mom’s rampage against God, nature and Jerry’s ass in the next room. Jerry yelped in pain as the sounds of the wooden spoon landed on his butt. Mom had lost it and was spewing a long diatribe about our inexcusable inability to obey, our innate naughty nature and how the combination of our waywardness and the long hours at work would surely be the death of her.
After about 10 or so blows we heard Mom turn her focus to the bathroom as her footsteps and continuing rant created an earthquake down the hallway. I panicked, as I knew I couldn’t run and I was wet and naked to boot. Jason’s eyes widened and I backed us behind the shower curtain in a feeble attempt to conceal and protect us from the inevitable. The she storm burst into the bathroom, grabbed me by one arm and held me in an extended naked position dangling above the bathroom rug that lay sopping up the water from my dripping body. Instinctively, my other hand reached to protect the bare skin on my backside but Mom didn’t hesitate. The assault was swift, hard and relentless. This was before I was angry, when I was young and tears still came. I howled in pain, fear and confusion. The skin on ass immediately began to welt and the heat from the red marks continued to sting even after the blows subsided. Mom grabbed Jason by the arm and yanked him from the tub to assume the same position above the rug. She got in about two good blows to his backside before I toppled on top of him to get her to stop. Mom had totally lost it and the fear I felt was as much for my mom as it was for us. But, there was no mistaking that the wooden spoon was firmly attached to and governed by my mom; it was clear who was in control. Mom’s rant continued down the hall as she entered and slammed her bedroom door. Like a pearl that begins to form around a small grain of sand, a deep-seated anger was planted and began to form something much less pretty inside me.
I gathered Jason and surveyed the damage. Jerry came in to the bathroom and wrapped his arms around us as we sat on the soggy bathroom rug and all cried for a few minutes. This crazy fucking journey was just beginning as the three of us began to slip into our familial roles created from such a deep state of dysfunction. Jerry and I took it upon ourselves to parent and protect Jason and although neither of us was very good at it at least he had someone looking out for him. I like to call him my “starter child.” We helped Jason into his jammies and we all got ready for bed. About five minutes of peace passed before Mom came out of her bedroom with tears in her eyes. She was holding a handful of ones. She apologized for her behavior and said that she had found the money that she had put in a secure spot so that we wouldn’t get to it. We all put our arms around Mom and told her that it was ok.