Cling Clang Clang

Four years into parenthood, I want to look back and say stability is very important. As much as you can, try and be stable people, with a stable marriage, keeping a stable home, holding stable jobs, with stable schedules. The cornerstone of our stability as a family is our nighttime ritual, which rarely changes. At some point around 7:30PM we all go upstairs and help give Fiona a bath, then we each read three stories to her, then we tuck her in and if she's not already asleep, one of us lays down for a few minutes until she nods off.

Part of the night ritual is Mr. Rogers-ifying myself, as I change from daytime clothes into some fleece sweatpants and a fleece jacket. Last night, as I unbuckled my belt and slid off my jeans, I heard the buckle and my pulse and mind started racing.

Cling Clang Clang.

I rarely wear a belt -- probably only half a dozen times a year when the dress code calls for it, but today I'm wearing jeans I bought when I weighed 15lbs more than I currently do, so they were a necessity. I very rarely hear the sound of a buckle clanging around.

The sound of a belt buckle was usually used as a simple threat.

Shut up right now and stop bickering with your brother. Do you want me to get the belt? I'll go get it!

Cling Clang Clang.

My mother or father would shake the belt in their bedroom closet as it hung, loud enough to be heard throughout the house. Maybe four out of five times the threat of violence was enough to get us to stop, and in the rare cases we didn't stop doing whatever it was we were doing, the belt was removed from the hook, brought into the room, and used to whip us along the backside or backside of our legs.

I suppose it is a generational thing and I guess it was an improvement over my parents' own respective childhoods. I frequently heard stories of my grandmother breaking wooden paddles and spoons while hitting my mother as a child. My grandparents said they were hit, spanked, and beaten by great-grandparents more frequently than they spanked their own kids. A few years before she died, I remember my grandmother apologizing for how she used to hit her children saying she didn't know of any other way at the time.

I remember sitting in a college psychology 101 type class at age 19 and the subject of children and child rearing came up and the professor mentioned offhand how he never once hit either of his children, and how they grew up to be well-adjusted adults that knew the difference between right and wrong. I was in a fairly conservative town and I remember the class was just flabbergasted (there was an audible gasp). Questions popped up like "how do you get them to understand when they are wrong?!" and "what if one of them broke something special to you?" and the professor said something along the lines of how he simply had discussions with his children until they understood the gravity of the choice they made or how it might have disappointed him as a parent. I remember most students saying things under their breath how the professor was a hippy or that it sounded ideal, but reality rarely was.

Sometimes when things are tense these days and I get very frustrated, I can hear a little voice in my head wanting to act on impulse and I realize "oh this is where my parents would have hit me" but instead I stop for a second and figure out a way to diffuse the situation.

As I pick up my daughter during our night ritual and I whisk her into the bathroom to brush her teeth and get ready for bath, I can't imagine a situation where I am pushed to the point where I not only want to hit her, but I'd leave the room, grab a belt, return, and then hit her repeatedly with it. Doesn't that give you enough time to second guess yourself?

"Just wait until we get home from the restaurant." I heard that a few times as a kid too. Delayed and planned beatings are even more baffling.

I mention all this not to sound smug or make it sound like I'm making better choices than my parents, but to just share the sheer bewilderment about the situation. I've been frustrated with my daughter before, even started to lose my temper before. I've raised my voice at her, even yelled to the point I might have scared her before catching myself and reeling it back in. But I've never spanked her and I'm confident I never will. Using a belt is something I can definitely say I will never do, because even as a middle-aged man, one jangle of my belt buckle is enough to remind me of what that was like.