The trouble is, you think you have time.

Today, Samantha and I were watching videos I shot of her when she was a baby. It is always fun to look back and enjoy those moments forever frozen on the video tape.

One segment struck Samantha as funny; Sam named it “What Rhymes With Duck?”

https://youtu.be/Khd-LZTomxM  (click the link and then click the link below this link.)

As we watched this video over and over again, we realized that what we were looking at was not a funny video, but a snapshot of Eva, Sam’s Mom, and my wife of forty years, when Eva was thirty-eight. What struck us was how young Eva looked. Her smile radiated happiness. She truly loved being with her daughter and sharing a few moments opening Samantha’s birthday present.

We watched the video and realized this was before Eva had wrinkles, or grey hair. She has just come home from teaching school. Her smile is so warm; she smiles so readily even after she frowns at her husband’s inane implication about the rhyming of “duck.”

This was a time of great joy for Eva. Teaching was going very well for her. She had a baby to come home to every day after work. The baby adored her Mother. Her husband was keeping the house in shape and cooking and keeping the baby entertained during the day. What more could you ask for?

We didn’t know it then, but if we could have asked for anything, we probably would have asked to live in that moment (remain young and beautiful) forever. But like the quote says, you don’t control time.

Everything changes. Samantha grew noticeably brighter every day, Eva and I grew a little more each day; we didn’t notice the slow transition for another twenty years. Life got better for us every day, every year. While we weren’t looking, time changed; we changed.

Samantha and I look at Eva in this video and we love her as she was. We love her as she is. We thought we had time. We don’t. Soon, we will have to love Eva only as she was. She will no longer be with us. Are we sad? Yes. Can we be happy again? Samantha and I find great pleasure watching Eva find joy in teaching Samantha words and rhymes. Teaching is Eva’s greatest joy in life. It is just a brief moment in time, but it reminds us of how innocent and how happy we were to live in that moment. The moment.

I remind myself to focus on each breath, each moment: it is the only time we have together.

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Baptism by Water Hose, or You Got Hosed, Dad!

One day, I had done something especially egregious to draw the ire of my mother. She had to resort to threatening me because she had run out of authority to discipline me. I must have been about five. She couldn’t spank me, so she did the next best thing, she pretended to call my father at work and tell him what a bad boy I had been and how I needed a spanking when he got home from work. She, of course, knew better than to bother my father at work, so she held down the kitchen phone receiver (old school phone) while she dialed the number. She proceeded to relate, as I listened from the living room, the laundry list of sins I had committed that day, leaving the worst for last. I was paralyzed with fear that my dad would come home and beat me. He had never done more than speak a few cross words to me, so my fear was totally ungrounded as fear always is. When she hung up, she said flatly, “When your father gets home, he is going to deal with you. He told me to tell you that.”

The day went on. Mother forgot about me, but I didn’t forget about my impending doom.

Upon arriving home after work, my father, totally ignorant of my manifold sins, bounded up the driveway, both arms wide open to greet me in a bear hug. I, remembering my mother’s phone call, had been worried, non-stop, for hours before my father’s arrival.

I was watering the front yard trees with a powerful stream of water. I flashed on my father’s open arms threatening to tackle me to the ground and spank my butt until it fell off. I defended myself with the only tool I had at hand: the water hose! I hosed that man up and down, down and up, and then hosed him straight into his shocked face with that water hose gushing forth it’s cold stream of water from a four foot distance.

Something in his face changed. I did not read it as anger: it was clearly chagrin at having been greeted so rudely and having his brand new, three piece, grey flannel suit completely soaked. Too bad there wasn’t an audience to witness this scene.

It was flight or fight time. I flew. Father became enraged. I got about twenty feet of a head start. I was no slouch at running! My father sprang into a sprint and was closing rapidly from the first bound. Off we jetted, three hundred feet south on Poplar Street to the corner of Twenty-First Street. I instinctively rounded left up the Twenty-First Street hill and thereby saved myself a guaranteed public spanking. As we ran up the hill, I maintained speed; my dad’s speed flagged. (He was about fifty-four and retribution running was not his forte.) I circled the block, hung out with some neighbors, and then bowed to the inevitable. I  returned home.

Dad was nowhere in sight. Mother was upstairs crying (a very rare event.) Unbeknown to me, my dad had returned home. Angry words were exchanged. To my mom’s credit, she must have come clean about the misunderstanding she had authored. He changed clothes and was walking the neighborhood looking for me. His objective was to forgive me, have a good laugh, and recover the rest of the evening: he had come home early from work to take us all to dinner. We didn’t laugh at me hosing him down.

Later, he didn’t even remember it.

Affirming the Positive, or Fill Me Up, Buttercup

In 1978, on my way to learning other things in the classroom, I took a ten-day in-service class called “Humanizing the Classroom”  led by Art Combs.

Combs taught us how children become more self-confident and self-disciplined in response to what they learn about themselves in the classroom and at home.

He used the metaphor of a deep well to represent a child’s self-esteem capacity.  The role of a teacher is to raise the water level of each child’s well.  According to Combs, everyone has a reservoir of goodness (the water) in his well. Each day, children collect affirmations; some children, over time, collect more than others. The children who experience many positives over the course of time, find that their water level (self-esteem) rises all the time, and that a child with lots of positives will have the water level almost at the top of the well. Thus, when you bend over each child’s well and drop a rock into it to sound the depth of the reservoir from the top of the well to the water, you will hear the splash right away in the well of the child who experiences lots of affirmations. (The void from the water level to the top of the well is call an “ullage” by the way.) The child who rarely experiences affirmation will have a water level so low (a huge “ullage,” or void in his or her well) that one might have to listen for a long, long time to hear a splash. This may be why children who encounter very few positive experiences, or affirmations may seem to be “distant” from us. By extension, it is our positive experiences that make us attractive to others.

So what is the takeaway for teachers and parents from this analogy?

Combs said that it is a teacher’s job, every day, to structure positive learning experiences that give children  a sense of accomplishment;  that give children the affirmation requirement every child needs every day. Every day, the water level (self-esteem) will rise a bit more.

But most importantly, as you add affirmations (positive experiences and a sense of accomplishment) to a child’s well, regardless of the level, that affirmation can never be undone by anyone: the good you do for a child will always remain with that child.

Long after children forget the facts and figures and dates they learn in school, they will remember how well they were cared for and, most importantly, how they were treated.

The Bank of Jeff: Where Lifelong Savers are Forged

Savings is the absence of spending. That simple fact can dictate the future success of almost every individual’s financial life. As important as knowing how to spend money wisely is to one’s financial security, it is even more fundamental to good economics to understand the value of saving.

With that in mind, I combined some ideas I learned in the insurance industry and designed a program to shape my daughter’s financial acumen to be directed toward saving.

To that end, I created the “Bank of Jeff.”

The Bank of Jeff is unique in that it is home-based, doesn’t insure deposits, accepts deposits twenty-four/seven, and pays a very attractive rate to only one client: my daughter.

The features of this bank were designed for only one function: to turn my daughter into an inverterate saver.

A typical bank, or credit union, was paying about one percent per anum when she was learning about money. As an example, one hundred dollars is a lot of money to a seven-year-old kid. Given a one percent return, said seven-year-old would get back one dollar for hiding her one hundred dollars away from the pleasures of what that money could buy during the year. I can’t think of too many kids (or adults, for that matter) who would find that rate of return motivational. In fact, even Sam, at seven, found it laughable.

What to do? Easy. Pay a better rate: pay a meaningful return of the dollar. I chose a rate that even Sam could appreciate: five percent per month. If that sounds good, think about the per anum return: about seventy percent. Now we are talking about a rate that will get any seven-year-old’s attention. Heck, it would get my attention, and I hate saving.

So how did it work? The account balance was evaluated at the end of each month. Starting with a balance of one hundred dollars, the one hundred dollars must remain in the account for an entire month, then the value of the account at the end of the month would be one hundred five dollars.

If the money was deposited in any time after the first of the month, say January, the five percent would be paid at the end of the next month, February. The money had to remain in the bank for a full month to earn interest.

On the other hand, at any time money was taken out of the account, said money would earn no interest.

The incentive shifts from spending to saving because there is a rich economic interest to save as opposed to spend.

Certain controls had to be placed on the account in order to not bankrupt the banker. The maximum amount that could remain in the account was one thousand dollars; one month’s interest on one thousand dollars is fifty dollars.

When the one thousand dollar limit was reached, by mutual agreement, nine hundred dollars was withdrawn from the account and placed in an aggressive mutual fund opened in my daughter’s name.

The point of having an account with between one hundred and one thousand dollars is to have money available for spending on really important wants, say a RC car (Sam actually withdrew money to buy one). At the same time, Sam thought long and hard about withdrawing her money that was drawing five dollars to fifty dollars each month in order to by whatever it is that kids what to buy with their pocket money.

The Bank of Jeff created a deliberate saver and an even more deliberate spender: Sam. She remains a deliberate saver to this day. She could probably cash out her own house if she wanted to. She cashed out a new Volvo with her savings and picked it up in Sweden to boot.

The Bank of Jeff was retired after high school graduation, but the benefits of the bank accrue daily: Sam’s financial attitudes toward money are simple: she’s a saver, through and through.

Ask anyone who has watched her deliberate about spending her cash.

Spanking Nicole Abour

I love Nicole Abour! She is a prime example of how we need to listen to stupid people in order to clarify our own ideas about controversial subjects. Give her about three minutes of your time, click on this link and her video will load:

Abour reminds me of what my father said to me one time (in reference once to an example of my profound stupidity on a subject): “Nobody is ever totally worthless, if nothing else, they can always serve as a bad example.”

Abour can be is such an example; her thinking process is instructive: it demands that we find a different way to respond to ineffective parenting. Nicole’s problem isn’t really with obstreperous children’s behavior, it is really with the parents of these children, but she can’t think past the noise of these children to clear her mind and think about how one might help these parents and their offspring.

Did anyone besides me catch the sound symbolism in Nicole’s last name? Abour: a bore? Okay, it’s just the literature teacher in me raising my ugly head.

Before I get too carried away with Nicole Abour and her goofiness, I would like to tell a few of my own spanking stories.

One day, I had done something especially egregious to draw the ire of my mother. She had to resort to threatening me because she had run out of authority to discipline me. I must have been about five. She couldn’t spank me, so she did the next best thing, she pretended to call my father at work and tell him what a bad boy I had been and how I needed a spanking when he got home from work. She, of course, knew better than to bother my father at work, so she held down the kitchen phone receiver (old school phone) while she dialed the number. She proceeded to relate, as I listened from the living room, the laundry list of sins I had committed that day, leaving the worst for last. I was paralyzed with fear that my dad would come home and beat me. He had never done more than speak a few cross words to me, so my fear was totally ungrounded as fear always is. When she hung up, she said flatly, “When your father gets home, he is going to deal with you. He told me to tell you that.”

The day went on. Mother forgot about me, but I didn’t forget about my impending doom.

Upon arriving home after work, my father, totally ignorant of my manifold sins, bounded up the driveway, both arms wide open to greet me in a bear hug. I, remembering my mother’s phone call, had been worried, non-stop, for hours before my father’s arrival.

I was watering the front yard trees with a powerful stream of water. I flashed on my father’s open arms threatening to tackle me to the ground and spank my butt until it fell off. I defended myself with the only tool I had at hand: the water hose! I hosed that man up and down, down and up, and then hosed him straight into his shocked face with that water hose gushing forth it’s cold stream of water from a four foot distance.

Something in his face changed. I did not read it as anger: it was clearly chagrin at having been greeted so rudely and having his brand new, three piece, grey flannel suit completely soaked. Too bad there wasn’t an audience to witness this scene.

It was flight or fight time. I flew. Father became enraged. I got about twenty feet of a head start. I was no slouch at running! My father sprang into a sprint and was closing rapidly from the first bound. Off we jetted, three hundred feet south on Poplar Street to the corner of Twenty-First Street. I instinctively rounded left up the Twenty-First Street hill and thereby saved myself a guaranteed public spanking. As we ran up the hill, I maintained speed; my dad’s speed flagged. (He was about fifty-four and retribution running was not his forte.) I circled the block, hung out with some neighbors, and then bowed to the inevitable. I  returned home.

Dad was nowhere in sight. Mother was upstairs crying (a very rare event.) Unbeknown to me, my dad had returned home. Angry words were exchanged. To my mom’s credit, she must have come clean about the misunderstanding she had authored. He changed clothes and was walking the neighborhood looking for me. His objective was to forgive me, have a good laugh, and recover the rest of the evening: he had come home early from work to take us all to dinner. We didn’t laugh at me hosing him down.

Later, he didn’t even remember it.

Story two. I knew (and loved) a friend of my parents, Bill Hileman. He was a big man, a strong man, and a pleasant man to be around. He always welcomed me into a conversation when he was at my parent’s home. When I was a freshman in junior high, Bill Hileman was my ninth-grade physical education teacher and I was thrilled to be in his class. The greatest difficulty I had at the beginning of the year was to remember to call him Mr. Hileman instead of Bill. I settled on the jock approach: I called him coach.

One day, I was exercising my office of “Stud Ninth Grader” in the showers at the end of class. Little seventh graders were scurrying around in the showers trying to get showered and trying to not be late getting dressed and getting to their next class. My self-appointed job was to hurry them along by snapping my rolled-up towel at their naked little fannies (we were all naked). I had learned how to do this office from the ninth graders when I was in seventh and eighth grade.

The floor drain had been deliberately plugged and I was surprised by the sloshing through the water of an adult and then the feel of a powerful, huge hand on my shoulder. Coach Hileman barked, “Step into my office, Parsons.”

His office was the health room where ninth-graders changed. The rowdy gym students fell silent as Coach Hileman followed me into the room and closed the door.

I of course, thought the situation was hilarious. Nobody else was that deluded.

Coach Hileman positioned me at the front of the class and said, “Assume the position,” flatly. I grabbed my ankles. My little privates dangled between my legs.

Coach Hileman and the other coaches had a running joke going for years. They always asked the preparatory question: “Do you want a love tap, or the regular?” Nobody, but nobody ever asked for the latter. I said, “Oh hell Bill, give me the regular!”

Such audacity was rewarded with an arc of the paddle that swung so precipitously  the sound barrier was dented, if not broken. The water droplets, formally on my bare butt, rematerialized themselves as tears and shot out of my eyes. I saw the light. Literally. Excruciating pain flashed bright orange and yellow in my brain. I stood. I took one step. I passed out in front of thirty slack-jawed classmates. When I came to, seconds later, after I landed in a heap on the cold linoleum, I saw Coach Hileman’s face in my face, worried. He said, “Do you want me to tell your dad, or do you want to?” I said, “I’ll take care of it, sir.”

I don’t remember speaking to Bill Hileman ever again. my feeling were hurt, irrevocably. I did not refuse to speak to him out of anger; I wasn’t particularly angry. I would have easily forgiven him. After all, I was the one at fault.  I just never went out of my way to talk to him again. Neither did my family. That spanking damaged everyone. All were punished.

Story three. When I was about seven, I still played with Lincoln Logs. I didn’t always use them to build cool cabins and bridges, and whatever kids build with Lincoln Logs. I did build all of those things, but my first love was designing weapons with the green roof slats combined with the small log pieces.

One day, I was in my bedroom, pilot-testing a new slate/fulcrum/projectile combination. I launched the log-projectile at NASA launch velocity across the room, through the bedroom door, in a perfect trajectory into my father’s temple. I’m not sure how much it hurt, but it did draw blood near his eye.

He entered the room and I knew immediately not to blame the dog for this one. He picked up a green Lincoln Log roof slat and brandished it like a paddle (in retrospect, it was almost a laughable paddle). I reached down and picked up a slat, and for safety’s sake, picked up another in order to have one in each hand. I was ready to fight to the death like they do on television.

My dad offered up the old saw that is often spoken before a parent whales on his child, “This is going to hurt me more than it is going to hurt you.”

My response drove straight to his heart and his mind at the same time, “Why do we want to hurt each other, anyway?”

He stopped, pondered that question for ten seconds, and then put down the slat and left my room. I didn’t win the day, we both did. He never threatened me again. Ever. And Lord knows, I gave him lots of reasons over the next ten years to punish me. He found a undressed girl one afternoon under my bed when she sneezed because of the dust bunnies she was keeping company with, but that’s another story for another blog.

When I first stated teaching, my principal at the time was four square opposed to spanking and all corporal punishment. I challenged him on the subject, being firmly rooted in the pro-spanking camp. He responded very authoritatively. His position was formed as an educator. He said that when we spank children, we teacher them a dangerous and dysfunctional lesson: we teach them “I can hit you because I am bigger than you.”  He continued that corporal punishment seems effective in the moment because it is. But all behavior is built on an inexorable timeline. Eventually, that child will become an adult and use that same behavior on a child.  Additionally, there is the problem of where you begin on the timeline to spank children. Is one too young, is two about right? Months?  Do we spank babies? Why not? They annoy us when they cry, don’t they? On the other end of the timeline when do we stop spanking to change behavior? Ten? Twelve? Eighteen? Do we stop when they are too damned big and might hit us back, or challenge our authority to spank them? Do we resume spanking when our spouse won’t respond any other way?

There is a great (if not painful to read) scene in Diana Gabaldon’s book Outlander when Jamie spanks Claire for running away and endangering the entire clan. This is no love tap spanking: he completely blisters her ass with a leather belt. An interesting side observation is that Jamie is whipped numerous times in the novel and it never changes his behavior. Claire has to bring him to his senses with reason.

And in this age of gender equality, do we spank girls until they are ten? Twelve? College? When they become our spouses?

I wonder if Abour ever thought about spanking in the concrete. Would she have herself spanked at fourteen? In college?  As a spouse? Would she spank her child with a horse whip as Mary Karr’s grandmother would have had Mary and her sister spanked by Mary’s mother in her memoir, The Liar’s Club?

I knew the Marquis de Sade when he was a young whipper snapper. I think even he would agree that spanking children is going too far and he was a man of extreme behavior. He would have us wait, Nicole, until children are adults.

Parents still believe that spanking is an effective technique to stop misbehavior because it is…in the short term. Parents reason that the threat of spanking is an effective tool to discipline children because spanking worked so well to stop their obstreperous behavior in the past. Parents mistakingly reason that spanking changes children’s behavior permanently and shapes them to become responsible, well-behaved adults.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

No responsible, thoughtful, well-informed, mother, or father, spanks his or her child in the twenty-first century. Society, as a whole, does not support, or condone spanking.  Spanking a child is not a question of being politically correct, or not politically correct. Spanking is not the answer that most of us have accepted to the question: “What is an effective way to discipline my child without damaging his soul? Or her soul?”

No school boards in the United States support the spanking of children in the schoolhouse. There may still be some schools that allow for the possibility of spanking disruptive children; almost none use that allowance in fear of severe censure from parents and the community at large.

Geoffrey Canada, of the Harlem School Project, trains the parents of his future students of the HSP not to yell, threaten, or spank their children in a well-meaning attempt to discipline them; he provides them with effective parenting techniques when he schools the parents in his “Baby College.”

I started teaching in the Fall of 1975. Several years before I started teaching, a junior high principal and a coach took a particularly obnoxious eighth-grade boy across the street from the school to “straighten him our.” They straightened him out all right: They broke his arm. They broke his jaw. Something else got straightened out: the entire school district. The only question settled after this child was “straightened out” was the size of the check the district wrote to the parents. Okay, so he was fourteen. Did that make him an adult? Did the adults in this incident act as adults?

Such as it was, Bill Mitchell, the new superintendent of the school district started the 1974 school year by issuing the following edict: “No staff member will ever touch a student in any manner except to restrain the student for safety. “Unstated was the understanding that if a staff member did touch a student in any other way than for their safety, the staff member would be dismissed from the district.”

After watching Nicole Abour spout her ridiculous diatribe, I just want to smack her. Just kidding. Writing this blog is probably more fulfilling  in the long term. After all, what Nicole Abour really wants is an audience: she just wants to rant and gain followers.

This brings up my question of the day: When are we going to get past this stinkn’ thinkn’? It’s time to call bullshit on people like Abour. I have done it. Many times. I have called bullshit on teaching colleagues who advocated a return to corporal punishment. I have argued with students who were operating under the misconceptions of Nicole Abour! She is a prime example of how we need to listen to stupid people in order to clarify our own ideas about controversial subjects.

Let me go on the record one last time: All parents who spank their children are ignorant. Spanking children to discipline them is a parenting strategy than needs to be buried once and for all.

Spanking is punishment.Discipline is not punishment.  Therefore, spanking is not discipline.

Just a minor thought bubble for those who don’t know that discipleship (discipline) is all about getting someone to follow you because they want to follow you and not because they can make you follow them. Think Christ. Did he use the rod on his disciples to get them to follow him?

My final thought on spanking is a more proactive approach to obstreperous children. My students always enjoyed watching this video, you will too: