Last Word: Crime and Punishment

When my daughters were both under the age of 5, I made the mistake of thinking I could take them to the mall on a crowded Saturday afternoon without repercussions.

While it seemed like a good idea at the time, in hindsight it was more like deciding to take a bottle of laxatives before embarking on a cross-country road trip.

After my refusal to purchase the entire contents of the Disney Store, the result was instant hysteria, with my older daughter lying on the floor and shrieking like a civil defense siren warning of an impending comet strike.

When the whole let’s-calm-down-before-someone-calls-the-police tactic didn’t work, I switched to shushing and pleading, before finally throwing in the towel and giving her a time-out.

Within moments, a super-helpful woman came over and pointedly told me that I was wrong for penalizing my daughter in public before walking away in a huff.

I was surprised.

When I was a kid, being required to sit quietly on a mall bench for 30 seconds to reflect on my behavior was the least of my worries.

Instead of the more popular corporal punishment, my parents preferred to discipline us with what they considered “logical” consequences.

Any time my brother or I did something wrong, which usually amounted to some type of screaming match over who had to change the channel on the TV, my parents leveraged it to accomplish a household task too egregious to impose under ordinary circumstances.

It didn’t take much.

With bionic hearing, my mom would know if we were arguing, even if it was in the basement of the neighbor’s house, a half mile away.

The response was swift, predictable and the obvious disciplinary choice for a heated dispute.

Weed the driveway.

Sure, it probably doesn’t sound like a big deal.

Except that instead of a normal paved road, our driveway was massive, circular and made entirely of gravel. When there wasn’t snow, it amounted to a quarry pit full of weeds and moss that proliferated between Every. Single. Stone.

It was the equivalent of attempting to harvest only the white grains from a pail of sand.

The Weeding of the Driveway could be exacted at any time, but was almost always imposed in July or August, when the weeds were at their worst, humidity at its highest and grasshoppers most likely to find their way up my shorts.

My mom would insist that we begin at opposite ends until finally meeting in the middle when we were done.

Though it sounds like some kind of teaching-moment metaphor, it was more about maximizing the ground we could cover, as well as keeping us separated in order to minimize the risk that we’d argue further while pulling chickweed from impacted stone.

We argued anyway as the distance wasn’t nearly enough to compensate for our seething anger over whose fault it was that we were stuck doing it in the first place.

We also fought over what station to play on the radio we set between us in order to listen to a barely-audible Paul McCartney sing about silly love songs.

It wasn’t worth it since we almost always got caught and a follow-up punishment to the original punishment was levied (Trouble x Trouble = Trouble ² ), meaning that once the driveway was complete, we’d move on to the brick patios, both flourishing weed gardens lying in wait for sibling tensions to boil over.

Weeding wasn’t the only consequence in my house.

If one of us accidentally forgot to the shut the door behind us when we left, it carried a mandatory sentence of repetitively opening and closing that door to help encourage remembering.

You’d think that doing it 500 times would be incentive enough to never forget. And yet it wasn’t.

We’d have company over for dinner and I’d be stuck standing in the hallway, attached to the door, 171, 172, 173, 174…

It takes an awfully long time to open and close a door 500 times.

Eventually, I learned and rarely — if ever — do I leave doors in my own house open.

For any reason.

My kids do sometimes. But I wouldn’t dream of making them do that.

However, we have a walkway leading to the front door that’s begun to sprout weeds up through the bricks.

It’s only a matter of time before they argue.

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