When we were kids, it was always your mother that laid down the law around the house. It was your mother who set the rules and watched you like a hawk and handed out the punishment when you messed up. It was your mother who made you clean your room and shovel the steps and made sure you didn’t hang around with that Murphy boy who was always gettin’ into fights.
And I think for most families, that hasn’t changed very much. Minnie is the one who keeps Little Bill and Rosie in line. She tells them when they can come and go, and who with, and it’s her waitin’ at the door like a warden after a prison break if one of them comes home ten minutes after they were supposed to. Minnie’s good at it, too – she seems to remember every punishment she ever dished out to them, so she can say to them, Ohhhh no – you pulled this same stunt when you were six, but I guess you didn’t learn nothin’.
But there’s a great big difference between the way Minnie disciplines the kids and the way people from my mother’s generation did it. Back in the good old days, your mother had one thing she could say that could end all arguments and strike terror into you for hours.
“Wait ‘til your father gets home.”
Holy cripes, I can still hear my mother sayin’ it and it sends a chill down the back of my neck. Now, the thing is, my old man was the most easy-goin’, soft-spoken, nicest guy you’d ever want to meet. Other than the odd swat in the head here and there, he never lifted a finger to us growin’ up, but we were still terrified of him because in those days, you were supposed to be terrified of your father.
Of course, I guess back then, there was good reason to be scared, though, since kids used to come to school all the time walkin’ sort of funny and not really able to sit down because they got the belt the night before.
What they used to call discipline back then is called child abuse today. Of course, back then, you could walk through town at night and there was nobody strung out on drugs with their pants halfway down their arse and their underwear showin’ either. What a coincidence.
Anyways, the point is, it seems like over the years, mothers kept usin’ that expression – “Wait ‘til your father gets home” – only the kids started to get wise to it. I mean, kids aren’t dumb – they see that the old man can’t eat what he wants, or watch what he wants on TV, or buy a case of beer without the wife’s OK, then they realize he got no real power anyway.
I mean, if Da gotta ask Ma’s permission to do things the same way the kids do, then the kids got a pretty good idea who rules the roost, wouldn’t ya say?
Anyways, last week, I helped Cyril take a load to the dump and when I came back home Little Bill was there and Minnie was already gone over to Betty’s to help her plan a baby shower. Now, it’s pretty unusual to see Bill home anymore on the weekend since he started up with the girlfriend, so I should have known somethin’ was up.
Can I go over Rita’s now? he says, slouchin’ against the doorway. (Rita’s the girlfriend, eh.)
I guess so, I said. It was unusual for him to ask permission so I asked him – Wait a minute, did your mother tell you you couldn’t go?
No, he said. She just told me to wait ‘til you got home first.
And off he went. Of course, you can probably figure out that what Minnie actually said (right after she found him smokin’ a cigarette in his bedroom) was “You’re not to leave this house. You just wait ‘til your father gets home, mister.”
As Minnie yelled at me later, she meant that in the I’m-gonna-tan-your-hide sort of way, and I was supposed to know that somehow, even though I wasn’t here when it happened and nobody told me about it.
I guess I’m just lucky she didn’t ground me for messin’ up his punishment.