No tomfoolery, and this mom really means it

Are We There Yet?

Lori Clinch

Parents use many creative ways to discipline their little dears. There are the spankers, the time-outers and the soft-spoken damsels who like to lean over and ask the little guy who just pulled down the knickknack shelf, “What better choices could we have made here, Johnny?”

I have found that I always suffer more than the kids with any form of punishment that I hand out. It’s like the old adage says, “This is going to hurt me a lot more than it’s going to hurt you.”

If things worked like I wanted them to, I’d be able to eliminate arguments over bathroom rights, front-seat battles and the ever-loving dinner table brawl with a firm look and one simple, “and I mean it.”

But my children don’t take me seriously unless I scream. I have to shout from the rooftops, make the trusses rumble, and if I chastise effectively, I can be heard as far away as Montana.

Not that I like to scream, mind you. Even though I do mean it when I say I mean it, the kids don’t really think I mean it unless I’m screaming and it gives me a sore throat.

See how I suffer?

I was keeping all of this in mind the other night when we had planned to have guests for dinner. With good and decent people at our home, I knew screaming would not be an option and that time-outs would not only be a good way to keep my brood under control, they might also be pain-free for me.

I gathered my boys around me. “We’re having company tonight, so you all need to be on your best behavior. We’ll need no commentary from the bathroom, we don’t need to rehash your brother’s flu and above all else, there’s to be no tomfoolery.”

The kids hate it when I limit their tomfoolery.

I lectured in a stern and determined manner. I gave orders, outlined consequences and told the children, “Under no circumstances is this family to come to blows. We need to make these people think that you are disciplined.” Then I added with a touch of firmness, “and I mean it.”

Things went well for the first course or two. The children visited nicely, kept hands to themselves and one of the boys even complimented my pasta.

Then the little dears finished their meals, cleared their plates and just like the little angels they can be, they vacated the area.

I was so proud.

The adult conversation was somewhere between the high cost of energy and probability that black currants may thwart memory loss, when the first blood-curdling scream could be heard coming from the basement. A weaker mother would have dropped her noodle then and there and broken into a dead run.

But I, as a seasoned parent, simply blew on my spaghetti and took another bite. I suppose I thought that if I could pretend the scream hadn’t occurred, others could be convinced. But it was only seconds before the next scream took place, making it evident to all that the fight had escalated.

“I’m sure they’re just re-enacting something they’ve seen on PBS,” I said with a forced smile, and then I excused myself and left the room.

“You boys are not being nice,” I whispered to the little whippersnappers as I showed them to their corners. “Now I want you to sit here and not make a peep.” Then I pointed at the big clock on the shelf, told them they each got 10 minutes to think about their actions, and I walked away. I took a moment to calm my nerves, smooth my disposition, and then I returned to the dinner party as if I’d simply stepped out to spritz my hair.

Several minutes passed and the conversation in the kitchen had come to a lull. When the men began to discuss sports, my mind started to wander. I thought about grocery lists, stock options and whether my new nail hardener was doing the trick. Just then, one of my little darlings bellowed from his corner, “Six minutes of time out left to go!” Then he paused for effect before he added, “and all is well!”

Moments later another kid updated his brother’s announcement with “Five minutes left to go,” and again followed it with the proverbial “and all’s well!”

The guests turned to look at me and naturally, they all snickered. It wasn’t until I walked around the corner and hollered, “Now that’s enough!” that the kids piped down.

It would have been nice if I could have said it without hollering it, but I hadn’t, and the damage was done. I’m a screamer, and now that the word was out, I roared loud enough to rattle the trusses with an angry, “And I mean it!’’

I suffer so.

Lori Clinch is the mother of four sons and the author of the book “Are We There Yet?” Her e-mail address is clinch@atcjet.net.