When I was 9, and my brothers The Snitch and Houdini were 7 and 5, respectively, we spent a lot of time in the dog house. Don't misunderstand. This was not by choice.
Whenever we misbehaved, that's what my mother would do to us. She would give us one or two chances, and if we didn't behave, that would be it. In the doghouse we would go. Sometimes, it was just one of us, but most of the time it was at least two, because just as it takes two to tango, it also takes two to gang up on Houdini and tickle him until he pees on the living room carpet.
This was considered the worst punishment my mother could dish out. First came the standing in the corner. If that didn't work, she'd send us to her room (because our rooms were much too fun for the punishment to be effective) where we'd sit by the door dying of boredom and yelling "Can I come out yet? Can I? Can I come out yet? I'll be good, I promise..." until she threatened to spank us if we didn't shut up. If she let us out and we got into trouble again, it was the doghouse for sure. This was the straw after the last straw. Yes, I know that doesn't make sense, but work with me here. Basically, this was the moment when she handed off our punishment to my father, and washed her hands of us. She would scream, "OK, That's it! I'm putting you in the doghouse!" and we instantly became the best children on the face of the planet. But by then it was too late. We had received our warnings. We had squandered our chance to avoid our fate.
When that happened, there was only one thing to do: Beg. Beg as if your life depended on it, because you thought it just might. Beg because our father would be home at 6 pm, and if we were still in the doghouse when he came in the door, there would be hell to pay. At least that's what we believed.
Now, before you go thinking that my mother was the most heartless person in the world for stuffing her children into the doghouse, let me show you a picture of our doghouse:
It hung on the kitchen wall next to the phone. The hook inside the doorway of the doghouse was eventually replaced with a two-inch-long finishing nail, because the stock hook couldn’t easily handle all three dogs, which it was frequently called upon to do.
Most of the time, unless my mother was really pissed, we could convince her to let us out of the doghouse a few minutes before my father walked in the door. He’d normally call before he left work, and we knew that we had about 15 minutes to work on her. It was like being on death row and waiting for a pardon from the Governor. There was an almost palpable sense of freedom when it happened, and we were on our best behavior for the rest of the night, which was probably her plan from the beginning.
If you were in the doghouse and didn’t make it out before he came home, most of the time you would end up in tears, but not because of anything physical. My father was a master of psychological punishment. He was scary in a serious, stern sort of way, and he certainly wasn’t averse to a ritual spanking now and again, but he never really hurt anything but our pride. I can think of only once when he lost his temper and hit me upside the head, catching me a good one with his wedding ring by mistake. I can’t remember what I had done to deserve that, but I’m sure it had to have been spectacular. He apologized to me afterward, told me it would never happen again, and it never did.
Normally, our punishment was of the non-physical type. His usual way of dealing with our transgressions was to use logic, something with which we were mostly unfamiliar. There would be a conversation like this:
“Your mother said you were bad today. What did you do?”
“I got Houdini’s hair caught in the wheels of my race car.”
“So that’s why you’re in the doghouse?”
“No? Why are you in the doghouse then?”
“Because I did it two more times after she told me to stop.”
“Is that it?”
“No. He threw my car down the stairs.”
“So what did you do then?”
“I punched him pretty hard. In the butt.”
This line of questioning would continue for a while, but eventually we’d work our way down to the speech, which always centered on a common theme:
“Do you know how much your mother does for you and your brothers every day?”
“What does she do?”
“She cooks dinner and does our laundry and cleans the house and takes us places.”
“You made her cry today, did you know that?”
“Do you think that’s fair? That she does all that for you, and you make her cry?”
“I think you owe her an apology, don’t you?”
“Yes. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t tell me, tell her. Come with me. You’re going to apologize right now, and then your mother and I will decide what your punishment is going to be.”
At that point I would usually start crying, and again tell him how sorry I was. After the apology, (and that was rough, let me tell you) he’d send me back to my room. A few minutes later, he’d appear at my bedroom door and just stand there, like a judge preparing to hand down a sentence. By that time, I was resigned to my fate, because (1) I knew the hardest part was over, and (2) I knew I totally deserved whatever it was.
So that’s the story of the parental discipline in our house growing up. I’ve never been arrested or in rehab, so I guess it worked. There’s still time, I guess. I can only imagine how much they laughed about it after we were asleep.
I can remember being in a crowded grocery store with my mother when she got pissed at Houdini and yelled, “If you don’t start behaving right this instant, you’re going straight into the doghouse when we get home!”
Today, screaming that sentence in public would definitely get you a stern talking to – most likely by social services.