“Are your shoes on?”

“Yes,” he says. He hides his feet.

“Are you telling me the truth?” I know the answer. I’m just trying to let him save face. Or maybe his life.


“Show me your feet.” No shoes. He starts to argue that he has his shoes on.

“I seeeee your feeeeet. There are nooooooo shoes!” I remember I don’t argue with kids.  There’s no reason to be in a nonproductive argument in life–especially with kids. I have power.

People with power must use and abuse it or it fades away. I don’t argue. I squash him like a bug. I put him in time out.

He sits near the wood stove dangling his feet in the air, “I’m making them warm,” he says. “I like time out.”

Punishments are supposed to be bad. This is not torture, it’s a beach vacation.

“Put on your coat.” He refuses to zip. I zip. I start inventing punishments.

“That’s five minutes.” I click something on my watch. It beeps. We never decide “five minutes of what.”

“No!” He misbehaves for the rest of the morning. He refuses to sit with us at the new church–the one we picked so he could earn some good karma and maintain values in life. He must be carried out at the end. I hum Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” in my mind. I send him to his room for a good long time.

“Can I read?”

“Yes,” I say, “You can read.” He’s defeated another punishment. And punished me instead. I will have to listen to whining all day.

“Mom,” he says. He is out of his room.

“Go back to your room,” I say.

“I have to tellll yooooouuuu sooommmettthingggg.”

“Only if it’s important.” He tells me something inconsequential.  It will not shake one molecule of the universe. I send him back. He returns. “I have to show you something.” He has made a ton of Plants vs. Zombies characters out of clay. They look amazing.

“That’s great!” I say. “Go back to your room.” He comes back and forth, “Mom, mom, mom, mom, mom!”

I wonder if I can use the dog collar with the little electric zap. Is there a warning not on it–“Do not use Pavlovian training on kids?” I dismiss the idea, not because it might be wrong but because the dog never stopped stealing roasts from the counter after we trained her.

Brown soap? Standing in a corner….forever? Grounding for the rest of his life? Making him wear 70’s clothes to school like I had to?

He brings out all his clay figures and starts simulating a video game, playing it the old-school way we used to play before such things were invented. I watch for a good long time even though I haven’t freed him from his room and he knows he’s gotten one over on me.  He’s proud he made these figures himself–about twenty-five of them in total, two complete teams that are waging battles like the battle of wills we are waging against each other.

I give up thinking about punishments. He’s playing peacefully and the world looks right again.

But then… he breaks. I see a crack in his demeanor.

“Moommmmm!” he whines.


“How long until I have my screens back? Tonight if I’m good?” Now’s my opportunity. I strike while the iron is hot.

“Maybe never. Certainly not tonight.” I say there will be no screens for a good long while. If he’s good, I tell him, he just may be able to earn half his dessert.

“My dessert’s gone, too?” He’s horrified. Disoriented. I’m changing the rules mid-game. This is a twist he never expected.

“Oh, everything’s gone.” He asks about things I hadn’t considered. He’s spilling his guts. I note these things for future use.

“Want to play a game, Mom?”

“Do you want to play because you love me or because you don’t have screens?” I ask.

“Both.” he says.

We’ve been playing games every night since he’s been punished. Slowly, he’s been earning back a little bit of TV time, but truth is, I’m having fun–I have 100% of his attention and he’s not thinking about what he wants to watch next.

This is a good start. I may continue this punishment until he beats me in two consecutive games of chess. Truth be told, he’s almost there.

“Enjoy it,” all the older people say, “they grow quick.” I look at this boy–the one who’s in trouble–and I realize they certainly do, so I’ll have fun with him now–even if he is in trouble, trying his best to learn to drive me nuts.