Once upon a time, it was okay to smack your kid. In fact it was encouraged. If you didn’t have a kid to smack, you could borrow a relative’s kid to keep up. Sometimes a complete stranger would lend you their kid. People were nicer and more giving in those days.
I’m not saying it’s a good thing or a bad thing and I’m really not into making some kind of social commentary here. That’s not my place and, frankly, I’m not smart enough to take that on.
But it gives one pause to think: Maybe it just depends on the type of smack. It could be anywhere from a mild swat on the rear, to an open handed slap, to a closed fisted-our-relationship-is-about-done hit. There are varying degrees of smacking, varying degrees of reasons, and varying degrees of if it’s working for you or not.
My mom was big on spanking. She’d use anything from an open hand to a belt. But she was at a huge disadvantage – she had four boys and she only weighed about 110 lbs soaking wet.
She had more credibility when we younger. Swats actually hurt and you didn’t want to push her into the belt range or –the most terrifying of all—the dreaded “wait until your dad gets home” range. But as we grew bigger, her spankings became kind of a running joke among the siblings. She would spank while we were standing up and wear herself to a frazzle and we hardly noticed she was there.
It would often get to the point where we’d ask her to please stop because we feared she’d hurt herself. She was a belt-wielding tempest in a thimble.
Until she discovered “Mom’s Helping Hand.”
My brothers and I fought incessantly. We were civil during a roadside break or if we stopped to eat, but that just gave us a chance to rest up for the next round of fighting. We’d start off in the car again and start in on each other again. When you’re younger you always want to start fights with your siblings verbally, but know that it’s going to get physical, well, just because it will.
We’d start with the “He’s touching me!” thing and it quickly degenerated from there. Dad remained stoic in his driving, as though we didn’t even exist in his universe. Mom would try to turn in the passenger seat to smack us, but her position was awkward and her blows easy to deflect.
Finally, we stopped in a tiny town and went into a small store with all the usual small store accoutrements. As we spun the bumper sticker rack round and round, mom made a new discovery: a thin, plywood paddle in the shape of a hand. Written boldly across the paddle were the words: “Mom’s Helping Hand.”
Yes, back in the day they actually sold weapons (under the guise of 'souvenirs') for parents to use to smack their kids.
Our eyes bugged out just a bit as she held it and smiled. I don’t remember if the thing cost a dollar or twenty dollars –whatever the price, I’m sure she would have paid it.
She bought it and soon we were on our way again. And soon my brothers and I were at it again in the back seat. Mom gave us the required warning then reached back to smack us with the paddle.
The thing hardly hurt at all. In fact, my oldest brother laughed at her attempt. She tried smacking harder, but that only amused us all the more.
Then mom discovered the laws of physics or the laws of impact or just the simple fact that she could make a slight change that would have a profound impact (literally).
She lightly knocked my brother on the side of his head using the edge of the paddle.
His hands went up, one to defend himself from another paddle-edged blow, the other to rub the recent smack. Tears welled up in his eyes. My other brother and I watched in wonder.
What mom just did was effective.
Of course, we were just kids and too stupid to learn by the example just provided. We had to try it out for ourselves. And our theory was right: the edge of that damned paddle HURT.
We settled in quietly for the remainder of the vacation. Mom sat up front smiling. Dad was even smiling as he drove. If we even batted an eyelash in what could be construed as a confrontational manner, she’d lift the paddle and we’d shrink back into the seat.
I don’t know what ever became of that paddle, but however strange it may seem, I get nostalgic when I think of it.
I think I actually miss it.
And I know I miss my mom.