I was a pretty good kid.
The middle child, I spent most of my childhood watching my older brother invite trouble for pushing boundaries and trying to get my younger one to walk them.
I said I was pretty good, not a saint.
Our parents were no-nonsense disciplinarians – we knew right from wrong pretty clearly, and knew what was expected and what wasn’t. I felt insecure when I got in trouble, and for an emotional kid who felt pretty insecure most days anyway, staying way behind the line was my deal.
But something happens in adolescence, doesn’t it? Something churns within each of us and dares us to go beyond expected and safe. We notice risks we can take in school, relationships, and free time, and think about bucking the system within which we were previously so lovingly and carefully nurtured.
We toe the line for a little while, and then one day we take a giant step right over it, chin jutting high and arrogance blazing. After that first transgression, the line fades. Before we know it we’re passing over what’s good and right for what’s illegal figuratively and sometimes literally.
* * *
I had never gotten in trouble for doing something really bad before. But one night my girlfriend and I had a plan. We wanted the night to ourselves, free from parental chains presenting as curfews and locked doors. We wanted to fly without obstructions. No matter that we didn’t know our flight path – we wanted the world to be ours for one night.
Most people are only of average intelligence when it comes to getting away with something, and as small town teens, we were hardly special in the street smarts department. We performed the old sleepover switcheroo, telling our own parents we were staying at each other’s houses. Our parents were only acquaintances, and as we always made our own social plans, it was unlikely that they’d contact each other for anything save a grave emergency. We took that risk.
As we headed out into the frigid night – it was the dead of winter, not really the best time for a stroll – we decided to head to a friend’s house in town, shivering the whole way there from adrenaline as well as the air temperature. Approaching our destination, our shouting and laughing had by now quieted; our voices, previously emboldened by the thrill of sneaking out, were now silenced by the threat of freezing to death.
* * *
We had been warm for hours in the living room of that friend’s house, whisper-chatting and giggling when the knock on the door made us all jump. Our fun little trip ended at three o’clock in the morning with that knock. My friend’s dad was red-faced and without many words as he drove us back to their house. Unbeknownst to us, our parents had been communicating with each other after all. My mom, standing in her winter coat in their kitchen, said “You’d better hope you don’t get pulled over on your way home” and I realized I’d be driving home at a time that was legally forbidden according to my junior license.
I walked in the door of our house, head and spirits low. I hadn’t been drinking or doing drugs, just wandering free. But I had lied, and made my parents worry. I was so stupid. It made me feel terrible, and now I was facing punishment. What awful thing was in my future? Mom had already gone to bed; she wasn’t there to see me home safely. How did they know where we were? Who called who? How long am I going to be grounded? I didn’t sleep well that night.
* * *
The next morning, my mother informed me that I was to tell my father what happened. After hearing my story, my dad asked me what I thought was a fair punishment. I didn’t know. They left it as that. I wasn’t formally grounded, but I do remember not seeing my friends for some time. During that time, chores were completed without complaint and homework was finished immediately after school. My punishment was self-inflicted. Nothing more was needed.
It may sound like I got off easy, but I never snuck out again. I learned my lesson.
Sometimes the worst punishment is disappointing yourself.
This post inspired by:
Prompt #2: Tell us about something you were punished for.