Listen. Obey.

As your mother told you–and as I’ve said to you before–when we put you into the hands of someone else, that’s the person we trust.  So that’s the person you listen to.

Be it your teachers or other relatives, if you don’t listen to the people we give you to, you’re also not listening to us.  And for now, you have to listen to us.  You don’t get to not listen.  And not just because we’re bigger than you.  We actually know more than you.

We know that when you do your own thing, that thing is still so underdeveloped that it makes no sense in the world.  One day that will change.  One day you have more choices than you do time.  One day you’ll pick the menu and the shoes and the time we leave and return.  But you don’t drive.  You don’t know the city’s grid.  You don’t understand the nuances of roasting a chicken, even if you’re a good sous chef.

So, hear me, hear your mother.  And we’ll let you stay with us.  If you don’t listen, you’re only a quick walk from the Swansons, a short drive from either of our mothers, the full house with your cousins and my brother, a spot next to Champ’s cage at your other uncle’s, or slightly longer commutes to your aunts.  I’m sure even Grammie will take you if we call her and say you’re on a flight.  But I’m also certain those lovely people will have similar expectations.  And they–though they may fight me on the point–will not love you nearly as much as me and your mother.

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Reasons To Obey Your Teachers

  1. Your teachers know more than you, despite your persistent belief to the contrary.
  2. We trust them.
  3. They are in your life to teach you, not to deal with your strong affinity to, only, play.
  4. You want to be as nice to them as possible since they report the happenings of your day to us.
  5. They make your toys sound cool even though they may not be.
  6. They are qualified to direct a part of your life just like your mother and me.
  7. You will need to know those numbers well to count off the money I expect you to return for the investment that is your daily existence.
  8. They teach you to share and listen and take your time.
  9. Teachers will take you on fun trips and give you great jobs to do.
  10. They are essentially stand-ins for me and your mother.
  11. Disobeying them gets you put out on the street, and you can’t come to my job during the day.
  12. These teachers actually care about you, and you should enjoy and relish that experience because not all of them will care.
  13. Spontaneous treats.
  14. They are the ones who’ll be most responsible for you becoming something.
  15. We tell you to obey them.
  16. You don’t want me to try to explain slanted lines and how to write an eight.
  17. Nobody else is there to help you when you have an accident.
  18. Your teachers earned your respect before you showed up.
  19. Your whole family expects you to do well in school because you have nothing else to do with your life right now.
  20. They keep careful notes about your progress, communicate to us regularly, avail themselves for conferences, and give you practice sheets to better than writing of yours.
  21. Neither of us wants me to keep my word about what happens if you disobey.  But, as you know, I will.

Considering Ways aka Timeouts

Bryce was thrilled by the time our company came Saturday night.  He didn’t speak to any of them as they walked down our hall or while they stepped into our unit.  He gave them—or himself—a few minutes to acquaint with his home.  He let them look around the space, see what was his.  Then he warmed up.

He jumped around.  He leaped and fell to the floor.  He got his microphone and sang.  He pulled in the little blue keyboard and played.  His voice rose with excitement.  He was fine until I told him to have a seat.  All the little wind blew from his sails.

He stared at me as if to judge whether I was serious.  I held his little eyes with my own, saying nothing for a long enough moment for his head to tilt in question form.  The image of his black hair moving, the rest of his body upright, was the image of a question mark.  I asked if he heard me.  He nodded.  I offered my predictable, “Well?”

I knew what would happen.  All those onlookers made it too interesting for him to comply.  I imagined all the questions running in his mind, all of his body’s little needs which his brain burst from left to right.  Why obey when the command from the big guy was to sit?  He can’t really expect me to sit.  There’s too much to be done.  Circles to run in, leaps to jump, people with arms to rush.  So much to be done.  My daddy must be playing.

I wasn’t.  My look was not ambiguous.  I asked better questions: would you like a time out?  Do you need a timeout?  No was his reply to these.  Again, he was predictable.  Often, when I talk about timeouts, I use the language of Bryce considering his ways.  My question may be: do you need a moment to consider your ways?  Or, would you like to sit and consider things?

So I invited him to a conversation.  Sometimes I send him to the chair to consider.  Sometimes I talk to him first.  Saturday, before sending him to the space where he could, alone, consider how soon he should respond to his father, I brought him to the other room.  We talked, together.  I explained what he knew.  He yessed in the form of several nods, his head moving up and down with the only interruption being occasional glances to the room where everything fun was happening without him.

We went back into the room.  He sat down immediately.  He had heard me.  He had understood me just like his nodding said.  But it all started again moments later.  All the same questions.  All the same answers.  Except that there was no additional consultation.  There was only high-pitched screaming as he walked away from the social climate that he loved and traded it for the lonely spot he didn’t.

Embarrassments, Discipline, & Love

Pastors and their spouses who are parents have been in the media lately for doing nutty things.  In the last few months, I’ve listened to stories about ministers who’ve physically abused their kids.  Spouses have sexually molested their foster children.  And there have been mentionings about corporal punishment, malnutrition, and deprivation.  The latest story I’m aware of was written last week when a Georgia pastor was arrested because his daughter called the police after he hit her.

It seems that the teenage daughter disrespected her father and probably hit him.  It seems that the father responded by hitting her.  There are probably many details.  I’ve read a few responses to what happened.  It’s unavoidable on the pages of some of the things I peruse.

My conflict has been over the fact that the father hit his daughter.  My double standard’s coming up there, sure.  But I just can’t wrap my head around a man hitting a woman, a girl.  My conflict hasn’t exactly been over the hitting itself.  I keep wondering about the mother’s proximity to the escalating situation that landed the father in jail.

I guess the current question is, is this an embarrassing moment for the pastor.  He told his congregation that he should have never been arrested.  He relied on that long historical parental practice of physically disciplining your child.  People feel a lot of things about physical discipline.  Me among them.

Yesterday in this article on Essence, Demetrius Lucas wrote

Our collective cultural acceptance of beating our kids is not for their benefit or in their best interest. It’s primitive, a symptom of our own inability to handle frustration constructively. It is not okay to treat our children this way, nor should we sweep it under the rug when others allegedly do it too.

I agree with much of the article and all of the spirit beneath and around it, my disagreements being apparent in this post.  The last thing I want to do is enter the discussion on the merits of physical discipline.  My flat answer is of course there’s merit.  I happily tell people, if I’m asked, that I’m raising a black child and that I am using every possible way to parent him.  I am loving him with everything available to me, and if that child of mine requires me putting my hands on him to restrain, spank, check, or correct him, I will.  I did it this week when he pinched a little girl in a birthday party pool.  The physical discipline was me pulling him to me, holding his arms, opening his hands, and telling him not to pinch the girl again.

Of course, I will respect the laws around physical discipline (though I don’t stay up on them).  Indeed, I will even read beyond the language of the laws because in the collective experience of the people from whom I come, laws are tricky.  Laws enabled my forebears to be physically punished in a gross assortment of ways.  So the idea of someone saying what black parents should do needs some room in my approach.  I’m first among them who say that that history complicates the practice of punishment.  It does, but our history doesn’t require dispensing with it as a good option either.

I think the general wisdom in scripture is like all the proverbs; they are general principles that can be practiced in general.  That’s the mistake we make with quoting proverbs and basing our entire parental philosophy on one reading of this or that.  We go too far.  I don’t want too go to far.

I want to parent in a way that my practices aren’t hidden.  In a way that my ways are seen.  Like my love for the boy, I have little issue with my closest people, those who watch my life, telling me what they think, pressing me with hard questions that make me change.  They will know my love for the kid.  They will recognize my familiar refrain from time to time, when I tell my son that he will obey his parents, that he will not go to prison, that he will be a good person.  I tell him that he is great and that great people listen to the folks who love him.  I tell him these and other things.  I pronounce them over him, often.

I suppose it would be embarrassing to you, if we were eating together in a restaurant, and you heard me go into this for Bryce.  Chewing your chicken, I go on telling him to stop doing something silly like throwing a fork, and I say, you will obey me little boy.  You will not go to prison.  But, alas, that’s a part of the potential picture, isn’t it?

I usually don’t need to touch my son to restrain him.  He responds mostly to what I say.  But the objective of my life concerning him is to love him well.  And love brings results.  When my words don’t, I improvise and do what’s next.  That’s not always punishment; sometimes it’s doing something with him.  We may have to put our forks down together.  We may have to sip water instead.  But sometimes the next thing is punishment.  And sometimes that punishment gets physical.  I may need to snatch the fork he’s gripped inside his little hand.  That may hurt him, but it may also be necessary.  I may need to restrict him when he’s running from me on the sidewalk by clenching (in his physical experience it would be that) his hand while explaining that cars are big and he is small.  None of these options would be an embarrassment for me to engage in because all of them would be done with love.

You have anything to say on the matter?  I really do have thick skin.