Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Worst Punishment

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:


Mama’s Losin’ It

Prompt #2: Tell us about something you were punished for.

14 comments:

  1. So true: "Sometimes the worst punishment is disappointing yourself.
    - See more at: http://www.about100percent.com/2015/11/the-worst-punishment.html#sthash.yhzycHch.dpuf"

    Unfortunately, I've disappointed myself plenty of times ...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Sometimes, the worst punishment my parents gave me was no punishment, just their deep disappointment. You spent the next few days waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes! Knowing that my transgression hung in the air between us was unbearable.

      Delete
  3. What a great article. Having been a teenager, raised teenagers and watching my children raise teenagers I think you hit it spot on when you said "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." It's just part of growing up. Sounds like you were a smart kid with wise parents. Thanks for stopping by.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Kelley! My parents were very young when they raised us, so I think they understood a lot about what we were going through - the teen years were not so far from them. We all did things like this growing up. Steeling myself for the next few years with my own kids.

      Delete
  4. Ha! You were such a good girl. I wasn't the sneaking out type, but like you tried it with a friend for the thrill of it. We didn't get caught, but I still felt really guilty. It wasn't at all as exciting as I thought it would be. I was tired! lol

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And I was cold. Seriously, we were so dumb. January in Pennsylvania, walking in the dark? No. I don't remember ever doing that again. Plus, our parents were on to us after that.

      Delete
  5. The thing about punishment was that it gave you something to gripe about and pretend to be the victim of. The disappointment thing just hangs out there putting distance between you and your parents. Ugh. I couldn't stand that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ...and all the while you knew that you were the one who started it. I agree. It was a bad feeling.

      Delete
  6. I wish (oh, how I wish!) I could say I never disappointed myself.
    But I have. More than once. Worse than this.
    Sigh.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, yeah. The worst is when there's no one around to punish you, and you end up punishing yourself or facing the consequences alone. There are times I wished that someone would have dropped the hammer on me instead of what I faced in myself.

      Delete
  7. My mother was known to sleep like a log; nothing disturbed her except the blaring alarm she kept across the room so that she'd have to get out of bed to turn it off. I left one night, after she was in bed. I used the back door so that there was less likelihood she'd hear me if she, for some strange, unlikely reason, were to wake. I stayed at Brian's house until after 2 am. His mom was so laid back and accommodating. We watched a movie and talked and then he walked me back home.

    My mother was sitting at the dining room table by the back door when I came back. She didn't say anything, nothing. But she had such a look of despair mixed with gratitude that I was alive, and for that I felt bad. She took my house keys and didn't give them back for over six months.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The look on your mom's face - this was the one on my mom's that night. One that I hope I don't ever have to give to my kids. I can hope, right?

      Delete