Rebecca Nelson Lubin
Tuesday morning my mother sent me the following e-mail:
“My dear darling daughter Rebecca,
When I was 5 or 6 years old I wanted to go to a 4th of July parade up town in Pittsfield. My Mom did not drive or for that matter could not walk from where the car would be parked to the parade route. So my Daddy, who was very tired after a long workweek traveling said he would take me. But there were conditions. He was not going to the parade to buy junk, balloons, kewpie dolls, anything that was for sale as the parade passed by. The reason we were going was to see the parade. No food. No junk. If I asked for these things we would go home. Ok, I agreed, I wanted to see the parade. We drove up town, in the hot car, no air conditioning in 1949, thru traffic like the escape from Bosnia, parked in another state, walked to North Street the parade route. The parade came by, as did the junk sellers. I asked for a balloon. My Dad said, No and don’t ask again or we are going home. I asked for a Kewpie doll hanging off a pole with ribbons hanging down. I asked for everything that came by. My dad said, we are going home.
I began to cry, whine, throw myself around, fall down, scream, and moan.
We drove home in the hot car, thru traffic with people who were late to the parade and frantic to get there.
We got into the house and my Dad, red faced said, I told you no and I meant no. I continued to wail. He sat down, put me on his lap and gave me a spank on my fanny heard around the world.
I was shocked. I was sent to my room.
That was the one and only time my Dad ever spanked me.
I have heard this story many times, as my wonderfully gentle Grandpa Max was so upset at spanking my Mother that he went to bed for the night, distraught. My Mom always told this story with laughter. She believed that she had acted terribly, had received a proper and just punishment, and that it had pretty much broken her father’s heart to discipline her with corporeal punishment. When I was a child, my mother spanked my brothers and I for our more serious crimes. There were degrees of severity in her spanking, from a simple swat of her hand to true “strapping” as my brothers and I called it; A licking with our father’s belt. I can remember a strapping from when I was about eight years old. I was waiting to receive my punishment and I was thinking, “I totally deserve this.” I suffered no mental distress from being spanked as a child; in fact, I respected my Mother as a disciplinary figure in my life and loved her enormously. I‘ve discussed with her over the years that if I had my own children I would definitely use spanking as a tool of discipline.
Well, she sent me the e-mail Tuesday morning in response to the anguished emergency e-mail I had sent her late Monday night in a flurry of guilt and remorse, as that afternoon, as a last resort after using up all of my other disciplinary tactics, I had spanked the four year old boy I nanny for. It was truly a last ditch effort to control an epic temper tantrum that was spinning out of control like a F-5 tornado in a trailer park. In the moment it felt like a sound judgment. I told him calmly that if he did not respond to my words, and he refused to cease screaming, I would have to spank him. He continued to scream. I put him over my knee and gave him one solid smack on his bottom. He stopped his fit immediately and tearfully sat on his bed, glaring at me. I gently closed his door and went downstairs, called his parents and told them exactly what had just happened.
His father asked, “What is he doing now?”
“Sitting on his bed quiet as a mouse.”
“Sounds like it worked.”
“I think it did.”
His mother said, “I don’t think I could ever spank him.”
I said, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t even ask you if it was okay.”
She said, “I don’t know how I feel about this but we’ll talk about it when I get home.”
And then I began to feel terrible. It does not matter that I love this child and he calls me “mommy number two”. It does not matter that I am, in fact, his Godmother, and would be responsible for raising him if anything happened to his parents. The truth is he is not my child. I did not make him. I am his nanny and his parent’s employee, and I had no right to spank him.
He was let out of his room for dinner and had calmed down considerably.
“Betta,” he said, “you spanked me and I did not like it. I think I am going to spank you back.”
His ten-year-old brother sat next to him, calmly eating his dinner. Deadpan he said,
“You can’t spank Betta unless you marry her.”
Later that night, after all the children were asleep, my mom boss came to my room and asked if she could talk to me. She told me that as far as she was concerned, these were my children too, and I was her co-parent, and that she trusted my judgment, and if I had felt that a spanking was the best way to control and diffuse the situation, she supported me on that. She told me that even the best parents often have no idea what they are doing with their children, and all we can do is try to live each day with a little grace.
I said that even when co-parenting, these things should be discussed first, and not done in the heat of the moment.
She countered that most parents don’t even do that, and I should not feel bad.
But I felt terrible.
In theory spanking seemed like a very solid way to discipline a child. In reality, I felt like my grandfather had, when he had spanked my mom. I wanted to get in bed and cry. I felt like I had broken my own heart. I felt like Sally Field in “Places in the Heart” where she gives a wuppin’ to her son Frank, because that is the way it has always been done and she thinks it’s the best way to discipline him, and she is so shaken by the experience that she cried to her tenant that she will never spank her child again.
And I wanted my very own blind John Malkovich to confide in, to tearfully explain that I thought I was doing the right thing, and it hurt me more than I ever could imagine, and I would never do it again.
Instead I e-mailed my Mom.
Many people in my life urged me not to write about this for the blog, but I thought it was an important issue for us to talk about together. As I told my beloved little four year old, I will only use words to discipline him in the future. There is no need for spanking. It’s just not worth it. And it’s just not me. I learned that this past week the hard way.
Rebecca Nelson Lubin is a writer and Nanny who resides in the San Francisco Bay Area. You may read more of her articles at http://www.abandofwives.ning.com/