The other day, I was talking to #4 daughter and realized there were a couple of what my Grandpa used to call “old lettered sayin’s” that I had never passed on to her. The first was partly because of regional dialect–I was little in Kentucky, she was little in Indiana, though we’ve now swapped states. And both were because times have changed.

When I was little, children were “to be seen and not heard”. Children were not to “sass” or “backtalk”. If one of your grownups told you to jump, you didn’t say, “Yes” or “Right away” or “How high?” you said, “May I come down now?”. I’m not saying that was a good thing–I sure hated it when I was little–but it must have made child-rearing a lot easier when you could go straight from, “Do this” to “Because I said so” without fifteen minutes of jawing in between.

Anyway, if my mother said, for instance, “Go brush your hair and put your coat on,” and I was coloring in my color-book and wanted to stall a little, I would say, “Whut fer?” (Kentucky, remember? Yes, I really talked like that before I went to school and had it educated out of me.)

If she were in a jolly mood, she’d say, “Fur? Cat fur, to make a pair of kitten britches. Want a pair?”

If she were in a hurry, or this were the last straw she could bear from me that day, she’d say, “Do it, or I’ll play Yankee Doodle on your frying pan!”

That meant she’d swat my behind, children. Yes, parents used to be able to swat their children on the behind without worrying about Child Protective Services. Beating children–there are no words for how wrong that is. And I will admit that even the mild corporal punishment handed out by sane adults inspired a terror out of all proportion to reality. But I wonder if it’s entirely a bad thing to grow up KNOWING that there are painful consequences to actions quite apart from the consequences of the actions themselves (“If you ride your bike in the street and get run over, don’t come crying to me–I’ll just give you the whipping you deserve”). I wonder if it’s a bad thing to know that benefits and consequences must be carefully weighed and, sometimes, delicately calibrated before action is taken.

For instance, when my children were little, one of them was doing something I’d asked her repeatedly not to do (asked, mind you–I was grown before a grownup asked me to do anything). I said, “Stop that!” She said, not rudely, just in quest of information, “What’ll happen if I don’t?” I said, “I’ll spank you!” Thoughtful pause, then she said, “How hard?”

That’s a child who’s prepared to meet the world toe-to-toe. And play Yankee Doodle on its frying pan.


writing prompt: If you were spanked when you were little, was that a damaging experience? If you weren’t spanked when you were little, talk to somebody who was.