Tag Archives: little kids

Rick’s punishments

When we were little, my parents maintained order by allowing my older brother Rick to come up with punishments for any wrongdoing in the house. It sounds crazy, and yeah, because it was crazy, but it was effective. Because Rick was ruthless. One time my younger brother Scott put up too much of a fuss about doing the dishes after dinner. He kept whining about not wanting to clean, and then he stood around at the sink for while doing a really half-assed job of working the sponge.


So my mom sent Scott to Rick for sentencing. “Come on!” Scott screamed. “That’s not fair! For dishes?” And, fair or not, that’s just the way the system worked in our house.

“Two weeks, no winter coat,” Rick decreed. It was February. We all stood around and looked toward our parents, to see if they might intervene due to the shocking and cruel nature of Rick’s penalty.

“Mom? Dad? Really? It’s freezing out!” Scott pleaded. But it was futile. If my parents gave an inch, Rick’s power over us, and thus my parents’ order over the house, would have been questioned. As it was, order was maintained through Rick’s almost sadistic love of heavy-handed punishment.

And so things weren’t fair, not really, but they were crystal clear, and we all tiptoed around the house. Scott didn’t have his winter coat in the middle of the winter, and yeah, some of the teachers called the house, wondering why he was getting dropped off at school shivering, wearing nothing but a sweater. “Huh,” my parents would say. “We’ll have to look into that.” Nobody ever looked into anything. We all just tried our best to keep our heads down.

Trying to reason with Rick was out of the question. If you even thought about questioning his authority, he’d probably rat you out right away for something that you didn’t even do. And since he never, ever got in trouble, my parents believed anything he said.

None of us have any idea how he stayed out of the spotlight for so long. Because every kid gets in trouble once in a while. But it’s like he was perfect, probably because he loved doling out punishments so much. But also probably because he knew that if ever messed up, he was done. That’s because the flip side of the house rules was that, if Rick ever got caught, it would be up to the rest of us to decide his fate.

Looking back, it really was genius on mom and dad’s part. They didn’t have to worry about discipline, they just set up this twisted system and stepped back, free from having to wonder how they’d keep their kids in line, no good cop, bad cop. It was indifferent cop, indifferent cop, and then Rick.

And maybe Rick enjoyed it, I don’t know. Because we all hated Rick. Growing up, even now none of us talk to him, but back then, we wanted nothing more than to catch him with his hands dirty, just once. When we were absolutely sure he wasn’t around, we’d all huddle together in a circle, whispering aloud our fantasies about how we’d frame him, all of the ways in which we’d subsequently make his life hell.

Peggy wanted to ban him from watching any TV for a year. That all stemmed from one time when Peggy and Katie were fighting about who got to watch what. While they went back and forth, Rick snuck out of the living room and grabbed my mom. He ratted them out, and then decided that they’d only be allowed to watch reruns of Golden Girls for a month. And yeah, my parents were totally cool with it.

But years went by and Rick always kept to himself, always out of trouble. Until the summer right before he was set to go away to college, when one night Scott saw Rick load up the washing machine. Who knows why he even bothered to look, it was something so small. Rick had set the machine for hot water, and my parents were really strict about only using the cold setting. “The clothes get just as clean on cold!” my dad would yell throughout the house. “Do you know how expensive the gas bill is?”

Scott immediately called out, “Mooooom!” and everyone came running. Rick had finally been caught. He tried to abort the rinse cycle, but it was too late, once set and locked, it was impossible to turn the machine off.

“Well gang?” my mom looked at us. “Here’s your big chance.” She looked at Rick. “What’s it going to be?”

And I don’t even know where it came from, but I blurted out, “Rick can’t go to college.”

And everybody just stood there, mouths hanging open, but only for a second, because everyone started to smile. And then we started to laugh. And a minute later we were all in a frenzy, a joyous, passionate frenzy, laughing, crying, hugging each other.

“Haha,” Rick said. “Very funny guys.”

But that only made us laugh and cry even harder. Peggy started screaming, like she couldn’t even control the raw emotion coursing through her body.

“Mom?” Rick said.

And yeah, even I thought that my mom had her limits. Like why would she do that to Rick? But she did.

“Well …”

And that was it. Rick wasn’t eighteen yet, and he wouldn’t be until next October. So they cancelled his registration. He got really pissed off and moved out of the house, swearing to enroll in the spring. But he must not have been used to living on his own, because he went from one minimum wage job to the next, barely able to keep his head above water. And then a couple of years after that, he started drinking really heavily, and then he there was talk about drugs. And then he moved to Arizona, and none of us have heard from him in years.

And you know what? None of us really feel bad. We don’t see each other all that often anymore, seeing as how nuts-o our home life had been, we’d all moved out as soon as we could and never looked back. But on those rare holidays or family get-togethers, someone will mention Rick. And we’ll all just nod our heads from side to side, like you might think some of us feel remorse, maybe just a little bad. But I can tell, I look at all my brothers and sisters, and I know they feel exactly like I do. Like fuck Rick, that asshole, he totally had it coming.

Sleeve me alone

As the oldest of six, one of my favorite pastimes growing up was tormenting my younger brothers and sisters. Obviously I can’t get away with any of this stuff as an adult. Not as much anyway. It’s one thing for a bunch of little kids to run around the house screaming and crying, but when I try pulling any of these stunts now, things can get heated, nothing ever ends well.


But I was just thinking about this one incident, I was maybe twelve or thirteen, there was nothing going on at home and so, bored out of my mind, I focused all of my attention toward my little sister Emily. For something like five years straight, she would watch Disney’s Beauty and the Beast on VHS, over and over again, to the point where one of the tapes actually had to be replaced due to excessive playback.

So I started teasing Emily. Over what? I have no idea. It was the kind of incessant poking and prodding that, regardless of how patient a little kid might try to be, I was more patient, I’d sit there all afternoon, repeating word for word the lines from the movie, but in a really annoying voice. Or even worse, I’d start reciting the dialogue thirty seconds or so before it played on TV. Like I said, this movie pretty much ran nonstop on our TV, so like it or not, I have the entire film committed to memory.

It didn’t take long. Emily started fighting back, “Stop it Robbie, sto-op it!” which was all I needed to let me know that it was working, that maybe things might escalate to the point where my mom would get so annoyed with all of our fighting that she’d turn the TV off completely, uninterested in hearing anybody’s arguments as to who started what.

But what happened next, I couldn’t have anticipated, a gift from the heavens bestowed upon me through the desperate whines of my sister. She blurted out, “Leave me alone!” Only, the way she said it, she must have misspoken somewhat, because it didn’t come out like, “Leave me alone,” it sounded as if she said, “Sleeve me alone!”

You might think that a minor mispronunciation isn’t really anything to laugh about, let alone something to use as the basis for a never ending series of taunts, but in my family, even the slightest slipup was considered fair game for a merciless assault.

So now I had an entirely new avenue of attack, and just in time too, because I would have eventually grown pretty bored of just repeating Beauty and the Beast. But now, sleeve me alone, this new material was enough to sustain me for a whole day, weeks even. I mean, I’m still talking about it, so it never really wore out, not like the tape on that busted VHS Beauty and the Beast. Seriously, how do you watch a movie that many times?

It wasn’t long before I recruited the rest of my brothers and sisters, a very are team-up, the setting aside of our individual differences to make life acutely miserable for just one. Thanks to our collaborate taunting, pretty soon Emily was reduced to tears, curled up in the fetal position on the living room floor, while the five of us marched around her in a circle, chanting in unison, “Sleeve me alone! Sleeve me alone!”

Like I said, it stayed fresh for a good while. It’s not even totally out of the question for a sleeve me alone chant to start up today, we’ll all be hanging out at our parents’ house, there will be a lull in whatever conversation we’re having, and someone might bring it up, totally unprompted, “Sleeve me alone!” and we’ll all start chanting.

Actually, I started this whole piece out flooded by the comforting nostalgia of childhood memories, but now that I’ve typed this whole thing out, now that I’ve read it back to myself, this is actually all pretty mean stuff. Jesus, what was wrong with me that I found such delight in making my younger sister so miserable? Why does that memory still make me feel kind of happy? Am I like a sociopath or something?


I want to learn how to break blocks with my hands so badly. Last week I promised my sister that I’d go see my nephew’s karate presentation or ceremony, whatever, I went, but come on, why do you have to put on a show for every childhood activity? Can’t you just sign your kids up for something without having to make up some ridiculous pageant, sending out invites to your relatives, “Come over to the dojo to watch Ricky’s karate exhibition!”


And I don’t want to rag on a bunch of little kids, it’s too easy, everyone sucks at everything when they’re a little kid. I’m not taking a train forty-five minutes out of my way with the expectation that I’m going to be a witness to any serious martial arts. But everything that took place, I’m left asking, why set the bar so low?

It’s like they take turns chopping blocks behind the sensei, and dude, seriously, you want to be called sensei in front of all these strangers? Doesn’t that make you feel a little silly? Because, what’s stopping me front renting out my own storefront and putting on my own authentic looking white karate costume? And this sensei, he held up pieces of what had to have been balsa wood.

“Hiyah!” each little kid screamed out as he kicked it in half. Amidst all of that cheering, all of that, “Go Johnny!” and, “Thattagirl Kate!” I’m thinking, isn’t anybody else going to call bullshit here? I kept my mouth shut, you know, it’s not my kid up there, I’m not the one forking over thirty-five bucks a week so the sensei can fool a bunch of adults into thinking that their kids can break through wood. Wasn’t anybody else a little suspicious of how clean those break marks were?

But man, if I could find a serious karate studio, it wouldn’t be a studio, it would have to be like under a bridge somewhere, that’s where you’d find a real sensei, someone that the rest of the world totally disregards, only I’d be able to see his real talent. He’d make me do a bunch of these nonsensical chores, just like in Karate Kid, but even more tedious, and I wouldn’t have the benefit of a training montage to help speed things up.

And I wouldn’t ask, “When are we going to break some bricks? When are you going to train me to turn my chop into a piece of iron?” because I know he’d look at me and respond with some abstract proverb that wouldn’t make much sense just by listening to the words, but if I could get past what I thought the message was, I’d see underneath, these hidden layers of meaning, everything telling me, patience, in order to break bricks, we must first break … and it would be something, metaphorical, I’m not too good with the abstract, I just want to crush something, I want to feel those boards snap underneath my fingers, and I wouldn’t even say, “Hiya!” it would be something primal, something ancient, like, “Aaaahhhhhh!” I don’t exactly, and trying to spell it out here isn’t really getting the same meaning across.

But yeah, I’m so busy, with work, with my life, I don’t know if I have it in me even to go about looking for such a teacher. There are so many studios around, dojos, senseis, masters, I wouldn’t know where to begin. One time when I was in the fourth grade, I remember this one classmate, it was like three years past that phase where everybody in the class signed up for the same karate class, most everyone else had dropped out, but this kid, I don’t know, he stuck with it, karate lessons every week.

And everybody always used to make fun of him, we’d be playing basketball or baseball and he’d be like, “I can’t come to basketball. I take karate classes,” and everyone would laugh, talking about how the sensei didn’t look like a real karate teacher. I remember he gave a defense one time, he told us that, when looking for a karate teacher, his dad went to this one place and offered the guy a thousand dollars to buy his son a black belt. The teacher gladly said yes, to which the dad replied, “Actually, I think I’m going to keep looking around.” And finally he found a dojo where they refused to take his money, the sensei said something like, “I’d be happy to take your money, but your son must earn the black belt.” And that’s where he took his lessons.

And we all just started cracking up, this one kid Anthony got in his face and said, “That’s not true, nobody’s dad would go out and say that. You just have to take karate because your parents love having you out of the house every week!” and everybody kept pointing and laughing, surrounding him and giving him little punches on the arm, “Go ahead karate boy! Defend yourself!” and he sat there, he just took it, he didn’t know anything about karate, that dojo was like a martial arts themed daycare for fourth graders.

I’m not a very good basketball coach

When my brother asked me to coach my nephew’s basketball team, I thought, I don’t know anything about little kids, about coaching, I don’t think I’m the right man for the job. But my brother persisted, “Come on Rob, I’m so busy with work, and the kids really need a coach. This could be a great bonding experience. Think of all the memories you guys are going to make together.” So I said, “All right, I’ll do it.”

kids basketball

And on the first day of practice, I could tell that it was going to be a struggle, trying to teach these kids how to do anything, there wasn’t a whole lot of raw talent to work with. “All right boys, let’s line up for some layups.” And they just kind of stood there, this one kid wouldn’t stop dribbling, even when I was talking, not even a good dribble, just smacking the ball with his palm, smack, bounce, smack, bounce.

I knew from as soon as I agreed to coach that I only wanted to teach by positive reinforcement, so I was like, “Jimmy, that’s some great bouncing right there. But do you think you could hold the ball for a just a second while we line up for layups?” And this little shit just kind of smiled at me, like he was thinking, bingo, I got this random dude pissed off, and what’s he going to do about it?

And what could I really do about it? I didn’t want to give up on the positivity, not just yet, and besides, the kid’s mom was standing over in the corner, and this I couldn’t understand, why so many moms had to show up and stay for the whole practice. When I was a little kid, my parents just dropped me off and drove back when it was time to pick me up. I mean, yeah, I guess it is a little unnerving to just leave your kids with some other kid’s dad’s brother. But do these moms really suspect that I’d be up to something?

Come on, and it’s like, you all have so much free time to stand around and watch the practice, maybe a few of you could have teamed up and coached. You think I know how to be a basketball coach? I don’t. And I don’t even have kids. So when I’m staring your way, because one of your kids won’t stop dribbling the ball, and I’m looking for a little help, like maybe you could shout out, “Jimmy! Listen to the coach!” but you’re not, you’re not even being helpful standing there, I’m feeling the constant scrutiny, your only purpose is to glare at me, that, “I’ve got my eye on you buddy,” stare.

“OK Jimmy, keep up the dribbling, keep practicing, you’re doing great,” and the extra positive reverse psychology didn’t work either, this brat could see right through me, he knew I wanted to yell, to take the ball away, something.

“All right kids, make two lines on either side of the net,” and I still couldn’t believe that nobody knew how to line up for layups, “No, I need two even lines, so like five of you have to move over to the other line. No, not all of you, just five of you. OK, see, now the other line is too big. Right? Moms? A little help here?”

There wasn’t any help. And then once I introduced the idea of one side shooting, the other side rebounding, all the kids made a rush to the side with the balls, one long line, everyone fighting to shoot next, nobody rebounding. After like two minutes, the whole thing devolved into the big kids shooting around, grabbing their own rebounds, everyone else kind of off to the side, I think they started playing dodge ball or something, one kid got pegged and one of the moms screamed out, “Hey! Watch it! Watch the face! Hey! You coaching over here or what?”

“Sorry!” I tried to act sincere, I was still trying to be positive, “All right kids, that’s some great energy!” I knew that I didn’t want to be responsible for messing these kids up, yelling at them, they’d be turned off from sports for years, I don’t know if there’s any truth to that, but they’re not even my kids, I couldn’t deal with the pressure, the responsibility, all I could do was offer blanket, generic praise, “You kids are so fast! All right! You guys are doing great!”

And then that Sunday it was our first game, I hadn’t really done any coaching yet, these kids never got past the layup line. But what could I do? I bought one of those dry-erase clipboards, the ones with the basketball court outline, for making plays and stuff. But it was a blowout, worse than the worst basketball I’d ever seen, just an overall poor example of human beings trying to do something together.

All I could do was stand there and clap, “All right Johnny! Nice shot!” it was an air ball. “Great hustle Timmy! Keep hustling!” all while the parents sat there on the sidelines and scowled at me. Some dude came up during halftime and got in my face, “I’m Jimmy’s dad. I don’t think he’s getting enough playing time. And did you guys even practice? Did you teach them how to shoot lay-ups? Which one’s your kid?”

And I really wanted to get right back in this guy’s face, like hey pal, what are you doing on Tuesday nights that you’re so busy you can’t be the coach, huh? And you’re going to come over here and start bossing me around? Why don’t you ask your wife about why the kids couldn’t line up for layups, she was at the practice, enabling your little jerk-off son, he just kept fucking smiling at me, slapping that ball, slap, slap, slap.

But what could I have done? I just tried to keep up that positive attitude, I told Jimmy’s dad, “Hey Jimmy’s dad, you’re doing some great cheering over there! I’m really happy with the energy you parents are giving off! Keep up that clapping, that’s what we need to keep doing, clapping and cheering! All right! We’re going to have a great season, it’s so much fun! Just thanks for being here! Thanks for letting little Jimmy be a part of our team! All right! Thanks!”

Here’s how to deal with Syria

As Congress deliberates President Obama’s proposed military strikes against Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria, I keep seeing the same counterarguments on Facebook and Twitter. It’s always something like, “Hey President Obama, let’s stop spending so much on foreign wars; let’s start spending more money at home, on infrastructure, on healthcare, on education.” And while I’m no hippie peacenik, I’ve got to admit, the school system here sucks.

syria conflict map

So let’s send them to Syria. Two birds, one stone. Right, I know, Obama’s only calling for limited military action, with both houses of Congress explicitly prohibiting American troops from engaging in the civil war. But come on, that’s how Dwight Eisenhower got the whole Vietnam War thing started: US military advice led to the draft led to that whole boring scene in Forrest Gump where he’s running through the jungle taking care of Lieutenant Dan.

I’m off topic. Send US students to Syria. After all, the real world is the best classroom. You can’t learn street smarts in school. These kids are going to get hands-on, real life experience, far superior than anything they might learn out of a dumb textbook recited from the podium by some overpaid union teacher. They’ll get to see another part of the world, maybe learn a different language.

The old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Well what if it is broke? The liberals are always quick to point out the inefficiency of our school system, how we’re lagging behind almost every other developed country, with even some of the poorer ones starting to catch up. What’s the answer, to fix our broken school system? I don’t think so. It’s like when the engine finally went on my car, the mechanic was like, this would be crazy to fix. Just buy a new car.

So let’s buy a new education system. And when I say buy a new education system, I’m talking about enlisting our kids in the military and sending them over to Syria. I saw The Hurt Locker. I know what all of the adult soldiers are up to in their spare time, drinking, punching each other in the stomachs. If all of the soldiers were little kids, there wouldn’t be any down time. We could get all of that formal education reading-and-writing type stuff taken care of when they’re not out patrolling the streets.

But is it safe to have young students moonlighting as frontline infantry? I say, yes, because think about it, imagine you’re one of these Syrian soldiers, or you’re a Syrian sectarian, or a Syrian religious fundamentalist, or maybe you’re a rebel, but you’re taking heavy gunfire, and even though the US is on your side, you’re scared out of your mind, and so you lock and load, ready to pull the trigger on whatever crosses your line of sight. If that’s a regular soldier in the wrong place at the wrong time, well it’s not looking good for either party. But if it’s a little kid dressed up in an army uniform? I can’t think of anything more unexpected, giving everybody a moment of hesitation, just enough time for the Syrian to lower his weapon.

And that’s when we’d open fire, just when the enemy has his guard down, that’s how we’d take everybody by surprise. Kids are so good at video games. I used to love playing XBOX, I’d throw in Call of Duty and sit back to enjoy some online Team Deathmatch. But after a while I’d always give up, throw down my controller in defeat. Why? Because all of those kids were constantly pwning my ass. These little shits are natural killers. If there were just some way that we could program actual guns to operate like XBOX controllers, almost like Ender’s Game, I’m sure we could make the whole Syria thing a really limited engagement, five years, tops, just enough time for everybody to get in, get out, and get back home in time for senior prom.

Why not? We send all of these able bodied adults overseas, they come back home all messed up in the head, and after a few years we’ve got vets living in streets, broken men and women unable to piece their lives back together. I’ll be walking to work and I’ll see some disheveled middle-aged man wearing his army fatigues, begging for change. I feel bad for him, guilty even, I can see his embodiment of living despair, paid for by us as the cost for our freedom. But replace him with an eighteen-year-old kid, I wouldn’t have any guilt at all. I’d be like, come on dude, you’re young, get up off your ass and get back to work.

Let’s do it. Let’s fix the US education system while simultaneously fixing a two-year old sectarian civil war in Syria. If you think about it, the two problems are practically interchangeable. Here’s a sensible solution that deals with both problems without having to worry about diverting too much money to one resource in favor of another. Let’s send our kids to Syria.

Originally published on HonestBlue.com