My friend Marshal and his wife, Jane have a family of three girls and a large, white dog in South West Minneapolis. They say that they live on a street like “in the olden days” – you know -- when we were kids. The mothers at their end of the block let their kids out early in the morning and probably don’t see them all day. When the children return home, they ask if they ate lunch. “Yeah, we ate at Marcie’s house” the kids will answer.
“Ok, then. “ says Jane, and knows that Marcie’s mom has taken good care of the girls. It works the same at their house. Whoever is there for lunch, eats.
The mothers call out their back door when they want their kids back home and pretty soon, the children appear. So apparently the unspoken rule is “don’t go any farther than you can hear your mom calling.”
The kids get the kind of parenting that is unknown these days with our structured play dates, staffed team sports and tennis lessons. It’s called ‘free play’. That’s when you let your child decide what they are going to do, for how long, and with whom they will play. Of course, the limits are what is available to them. If only the children in the family or on the block are available, they will have to make do. Jane says she doesn’t go driving her kids off to somebody’s house, nor does she travel any distance to bring playmates to her kids. The children get to figure out who lives in the neighborhood and learn how to socialize with their siblings and kids who may even be the opposite sex-- with a watch out for cooties.
The mothers supervise by using the ‘benign neglect’ method. They watch just enough –usually from the corner of their eye, to be aware of what is going on, but not enough to hover.
The other day, Marshall was out in the yard gardening when one of the neighbor kids started throwing grass and dirt on him. He told her to “stop that!” Then, a bit later he told the child again. After the third time, he swatted the child on their bottom.
Quite suddenly he remembered that the child was not his own daughter, but one of the playmates. The child did shed a few tears, but also stopped throwing grass and dirt.
• Long story short, the parents called the kids home and neither Marshall, nor Jane got a chance to speak with the parents about the swat until the next day.
• “Oh you can give my kid a swat anytime!” the mother said. Apparently, she was afraid to do it herself or hadn’t otherwise figured out how to teach her child the limits of behavior.
• Jane said, “Thank God she didn’t want to sue us for child abuse!”
After relating the story and having some discussion about how parenting has surely changed over the last 30 years, Marshall said he is going into a new area of work.
• His new business venture is going to be a Spankmoble. He thought it should operate similarly to the ice cream trucks that wander around the neighborhood. You know the ones that blare the tinkling music that you can hear for blocks. Children are busy praying the truck will come to their block while searching for their, or anyone else’s, loose change.
• Marshall’s truck will play ominous music instead of the tinkling lively tunes. The side of the truck will advertise spankings for sale instead of ice cream treats. The advertisement will boast “One swat or two!” and will come with the explanation about who sent the service to your house and what the infraction might have been.
• Instead of “quintessentially frozen confections”, he will deliver the quintessential equivalent of old-time discipline.
• Marshal says it would go something like this:
• “Say now, is Billy here? I’ve got a one-swat spank ready for him. You remember last Friday when he hit the neighbor’s dog with a stick? Well, this is compliments from your neighbor as per the dog thing.”
• You could also get a drive-by spanking, where the truck’s intercom audits a loud swat and someone crying unabashedly. This service has the unintended effect of frightening any child within earshot, so you get a bonus of good behavior from several children instead of just the intended child.
• The offerings will additionally provide something for adults, such as “ a slap up-side the head”. Adults will receive the ‘slap up-side the head” with a bumper sticker that reads: “I’ve had a good slap up-side the head”, after which you will proclaim about how much good it did you.
• A neighbor’s husband was telling about a meeting he was at the other day. The boss swaggered in with laptop in hand and proceeded to direct the meeting, all the while typing on the laptop. If that weren’t insult enough, he had the audacity to use the word minutiae in a sentence, pronouncing it “ men-oo-shay”. “I really wanted to give him a slap up-side the head.” This neighbor said. Too bad the Spankmobile wasn’t around.
• According to Marshall, the Spankmobile would be able to do post-dated work. He would send the Spankmobile out several days after the aforementioned meeting. The operator would remind:
“Hey now, are you the boss with the laptop? Yeah, would you remember the meeting last week when you used the word “minutiae” and pronounced it wrong, to boot? Well, here ya’ go, then” and the intended slap up-side the head would be administered. The operator could then hand the business card to the boss and leave without so much as a ‘fare thee well”.
I’m betting the Spankmobile would be quite a profitable business venture. Imagine the reduction in children’s disobedience. After word got out about the mission – spanks instead of ice cream, just the truck traveling around the city blaring the music would lower disobedience substantially.
I for one would love to send a slap up-side the head to every kid who has scribbled graffiti on the side of a building, the traffic signs, or freeway bridge abutments. I might go broke, but the beautification in our neighborhood and city would be well worth depleting my savings account.
Say, If I provided a coupon for one free spank or one free slap up-side the head, what would you use it for?