As the boys get older, it has become increasingly harder to find meaningful punishments for them, other than the old standby, “Go to your room!” When they were little, the mere mention of “If you keep that up, I will have to take away your Transformer” would cause whatever offending behavior was taking place to fly the coop. All I had to do was threaten an earlier bedtime, no Legos or taking their skateboards away and they would straighten up.
Unfortunately, they don’t stay young and impressionable (manipulable) forever. It is harder to dole out consequences when they really aren’t into their boyish toys like they used to be. Say I told them I was going to take away their Hot Wheel cars, they would probably tell me, “Go ahead,” and then they’d find themselves in even more trouble than they started out in and I’d be searching fruitlessly for an even more applicable punishment, one that actually mattered to their tween minds.
As I sat and wracked my brain for meaningful consequences, reread the parenting manuals searching for the magic cure and spoke to my own parents about what I should do, I was interrupted by the ringing phone.
“Hello,” I say.
“Hi, may I please speak to McRae?”
Oh, it’s a girl, I think to myself. I glance down at the caller id, confirming my suspicion and try harder than humanly possible to resist the urge not to listen in on their conversation. Although, from what I could tell from my son’s end, it wasn’t much of a conversation at all, unless you count “I’m bored,” and “What are you doing?” as conversation.
I sat there; painful as it was, and waited the excruciatingly long fifteen minutes for his phone call to be over. Then, it occurred to me. I wasn’t going to find the solution to my inability to find a consequence that mattered to my middle school bound son in any parenting book. No magazine would have all the answers and although my parents did a bang up job raising me, I was not my son, not by a long shot.
The answer was in the phone. The phone, which had become, in the past few weeks, an object of great curiosity. The phone, whose inbound calls had increased so much so that I had to explain the finer points of answering call-waiting so that I would not miss a call while he was busy “conversing” with the girl in his class. The phone!
That’s it. That’s the magic bullet, the deliverer of truth and justice in this household. The phone is the ticket for my trip out of what-kind-of-consequence-will-matterdom. The phone it is!
A few days passed without any significant rule-breaking taking place. I was beginning to think that I’d never get the opportunity to wield my new superpower, that being the threat of losing phone privileges. Not that I was complaining about my kids being well-behaved, every mother knows that these brief moments when children get along with one another and go to bed without a tantrum are mere mutations in the usual daily grind of parenting.
Finally, the day had come. Some backtalk was thrown haphazardly from my son’s lips and no greater joy was found within my black, mean mommy heart. I’d finally get the much-anticipated chance to test out the new material.
“If you continue to speak to me in that tone of voice, you will lose your phone privileges for the rest of the week,” I delivered.
His eyes got as big as saucers. His lips pursed, the sassiness trying like a caged bull to escape his mouth. I swear, I saw steam coming from his ears. . .
“Okay Mom,” was all he could say.
All I could say (to myself) was BINGO.
*Originally posted in 2008...reading this now, nearly 3 years and lots of gray hairs later, I long for the days when consequences were this easy.