Saturday, 4 August 2007

Who Done It?

Bill Cosby once said that the big advantage to having only one kid was that when something got broken, eaten or messed up, you always knew who the guilty party was. Any parent of more than one child knows how true this is. If you have only one child, you will never need to play Sherlock Holmes, whereas if you happen to have more than one kid, you will never really know who did it unless you happen to be a mind reader or have scrupulously honest children. And show me any parents who claim to have bred more than one of such paragons, and I'll show you a couple of liars.

My mother grew up in a large, strict family. Whenever one kid did something bad and her mother could not find out who the culprit was, all six children were punished. She and her siblings grew up to be good, upstanding people, and there are times that I greatly lament that this means of dealing with misdemeanors has gone out of vogue.

When things get broken, eaten, or messed up in this household, I can make all the fuss in the world, but 80% of the time I'm just not going to find out who did it. When confronted, the eldest says that the youngest did it; the youngest passionately defends herself and swears that it was the eldest. There are times when I seriously think they are in it together: you say it was me, and I'll say it was you, and she'll never know who did it! And indeed, I never do. It really is exasperating. All I want is the truth. And, once in a while, an equal crack at the corn chips.

Here is a typical scenario. I go into the kitchen and find that all the corn chips -- two entire packages -- have been eaten. Which is bad enough, but the bags that these came in have both been shoved back into the pantry. Empty, of course. Now picture that you are a hungry and deserving parent, panting for a snack. You go to the kitchen, open the cupboard, and see the bags. At first sight, they appear to be full. You then reach for one bag and alas, it is empty. So you reach for the other one and make the same disappointing discovery. Depending on many factors such as how hungry you are, how many times this has happened in the past week, and what the recent behavior of your children has been, your reaction will vary. When I find myself in this situation, as I so often do, my reaction is generally one of apoplectic rage.

First of all, I was the one who bought the corn chips. I paid for them, packed them up, brought them home, and put them away. My kid -- or kids -- ate them, and I have no way of finding out which one, so I can't even have the satisfaction of punishing the guilty party.

There is something else about this that bothers me. When I was a kid and I did something bad, I had the good sense to cover my tracks. If I was greedy enough to polish off an entire bag of corn chips, I most certainly wouldn't have been stupid enough to leave the empty bag lying around where a parent would find it. Don't my kids have better sense than that? If I have to have kids who are thieves, can't they at least be smart ones?

I'm not sure whether it is right, but I have developed a strategy for dealing with this. Whenever I find that the kids have done something that is not only wrong, but also stupid, I tell them off, as usual. I point out that what they did was wrong -- no matter which one did it. And then I pretend that I am my ten-year-old self, and I tell them how stupid it was. That shames them, and is generally more effective than a simple telling off. For the time being, anyway, it appears to be working. If I don't see the empty corn chip bag, I might just assume that my husband has polished them all off and not be so likely to hold a grudge.

Who knows? If I keep shaming them, they may eventually figure out that it's in their best interests to throw away the bag if they can't be bothered to leave a few for me. And if they don't, maybe one of these days I'll give my grandmother's old-fashioned way a try.


Carole said...

My mom had several children (7) and she also subscribed to your grandma's way of thinking. I remember once we were all lined up for some infraction or the other and she actually took my baby brother out of the crib and spanked him. I thought this a bit much, I was only 6 at the time, but nevertheless this seemed wrong. I pleaded his case and got an extra swat for my troubles.

So perhaps you're better off to go buy an extra bag of chips and hide them in your clothes closet and eat them with gusto, biting your children's heads off with each satisfying crunch. Or perhaps crumble a couple of chips into tiny pieces and sprinkle them liberally in the girls' beds before they go to sleep.

And then if you do punish both of them, give your conscience a bit of ease with the thought of all they are doing that you don't know about that they shouldn't do.

Mary Witzl said...

Carole -- We had a neighbor who frequently bragged that she 'whipped her babies.' My mother assumed that she meant toddlers, but no, she meant unweaned infants. I agree: that is a bit much. In fact, I was only kidding about punishing both of my kids when I find someone has transgressed: I'll take the hidden chips way anytime. As a matter of fact, I have taken to hiding the chocolate, as that is the ONLY way I can ever expect get my fair share in this family.

You had a very interesting upbringing, Carole, and I am impressed that, like my mother and her siblings, you seem perfectly fine!

Katie Alender said...

I would buy a food safe. Preferably thick, clear plastic, so the girls can see just how delicious your private stash of snacks will be when you get around to eating it.

As we have no kids, the primary food thief in our house is Winston. Usually a really shocked-sounding inhale and bellowing, "NO! NO! LEAVE IT! OFF! OFF! OFF! BAD BAD BAD! DROP IT DROP IT DROP IT!" is enough. Maybe you should try that with your daughters.

Mary Witzl said...

Katie -- The bellowing works well on a very short-term basis with the cat, but my kids are too brazen. But a transparent food safe is a great idea! As it is, I am forever finding squirreled away treats that I have hidden from them. Usually when they (said treats) are melted, or way past their consume-by dates.

Merry Jelinek said...

Who dunnit drives me crazy... on the other hand, I hate tattling even worse. Objectively, I'd just like them to learn to stand up for their actions - if you make a mistake you're responsible for the fall out.

I have, by the way, punished them all because I can't find the culprit - though they only had to sit on their beds and were grounded from the tv. The two oldest will own up rather than see them all punished. The little guy's a hard head.

Brian said...

I come back to your blog at least once a day, not just because I find your subject matter fascinating since you and I are indeed worlds ( or hemispheres! ) apart geographically , but because your cultural and family backgrounds are so vastly different from my own that I can get so much insight into another world entirely from the way you write .

This insight is provided through a rich , easy style of writing that holds both my own interest and that of others with whom I have communicated about your writing .

Your variety of material , in prose and verse , leaves me amazed .


Mary Witzl said...

Merry -- My kids almost never tattle, though I am ashamed to say that on a few occasions I have actually asked one to grass on the other out of sheer desperation. Most of the time, they won't do it. They will, however, grass on their father, and they will also grass on me.

We don't have a connected t.v. in this household, so cannot withhold that for punishment. But we can and do ban them from the computer. And our youngest is a real hardhead, too.

Brian -- I almost don't want you to read anyone else's blog; once you start doing this, you won't come back to mine! And as for my verse, Brian, aw, shucks. I have written as much doggerel as you might care to see; most likely a lot more. And given the quality of the poetry you have written, how can you call mine 'verse?' But bless you for making that comment anyway.

Kim Ayres said...

Lack of covering tracks always made me madder than the actual crime.

I remember my "This is the way the world is" talk i got from my mother when I was about 12 was "I don't care what you get up to so long as I don't get policemen or angry parents knocking at the door, so if you are going to do anything I would disapprove of, for God's sake cover your tracks and don't get caught!"

I think that was supposed to cover my talk on sex and contraception too.

Mary Witzl said...

Kim -- I find this a real moral dilemma. And yet, having struggled with my conscience over it, I do feel that greedy/immoral but smart beats greedy/immoral but too dumb to cover your tracks -- in a purely practical sense.

debra said...

The same person always does things at my house. Her name is Not Me.

Mary Witzl said...

Yes, Not Me has wreaked her share of havoc around here. She leaves her long hair in the drain of the shower, eats all the chocolate, forgets to tidy away her prune pits and banana peels, and is generally a lazy slob. One of these days I am going to catch her in the act though, and then there'll be trouble!

Christy said...

I was going to recommend a lock on the cupboard, but I see Katie has beaten me to it. Darn it all! I'll give you a story instead.

I have two sisters. Once, I was chasing my younger sister to beat her for some forgotten infraction, and my older sister was chasing us both to stop the upcoming brawl. One of us hit a big china cabinet decapitating a glass cat stored within. We instantly decided that we would never, ever tell her what happened. She was FURIOUS. But to this day, she still doesn't know who popped the head off the cat.

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