When I was a kid, there were household rules. Leslie and I were responsible for setting and clearing the dinner table. Weekday television viewing was to be limited to two hours with weekends being a free for all. Beds were to be made every morning, although there was room for interpretation. Like for the most part, I just tossed my comforter over messy linens and that passed for presentation sake. Oh, and Leslie and I were expected to maintain excellent grades. That last rule was sometimes the hardest to follow.
It isn’t that I didn’t like doing school work or that I didn’t aspire to do well independent of my parent’s expectations. It’s that I went to a school with a total of sixty-five students in my grade and at least twenty of said students ended up at Ivy League schools (and apparently the students have only gotten smarter since I graduated). I wasn’t dumb but I was nowhere near as smart as some of my peers. Plus, per my mother’s insistence, I somehow ended up in the accelerated math classes. To put things in perspective, I’ve never balanced a checkbook. The only Godsend was that, unlike my poor sister, I manged to avoid studying Latin while drowning in a sea of calculus theoroms.
If a grade on a paper or test was below a B, I was punished, or as my mom fondly called it, docked. For the most part, docking involved losing television privileges and not being allowed to go over to a friend’s house. Sometimes I’d quietly linger in the hallway leading to the living room and from the shadows squint my eyes so I could see bits of a Laverne & Shirley episode. Or, before my mom would get home from teaching, I’d watch TV in the breakfast room. From there I could see her car in the driveway. Which meant I had just enough time to turn it off, push in the chair and sprint up the back stairs. Of course, she put the kibosh on that covert mission when one day, after stumbling through the door, she felt the back of the television to see if it was warm. My punishment of no TV for a week was formally extended to no TV for a month. To say that was a rough month would be a major understatement.
The other day, my friend was telling me about her daughter and how she hadn’t done well on a Spanish test. The daughter had to give up her cell phone until she improved her grade. Then, this morning, I learned of another friend who, in response to faltering grades, took away her daughter’s cell phone and limited her computer usage to school specific efforts only.
“You’re kidding, right?”
“What do you mean?” my friend asked after she bit into a slice of pizza.
“I mean, when I was her age, cell phones didn’t even exist. Heck, I didn’t get one until I was twenty-three. And in our house, we had one computer for all four people. And the only thing it was good for was word processing and playing Where in the World is Carmen San Diego, an entertaining but admittedly educational game. So, what you’re saying is that her punishment is to live my childhood.”
“Never thought of it that way,” she said with a chuckle.
“And I’m not complaining. I had a darn privileged adolescence. I just think it’s funny that these days that existence is considered punishment,” I said before pausing to ponder a little further.
“Now what?” my friend asked, confident there was more coming.
“Well, if today the punishment is to lose cell phone and computer privileges, what on earth did kids in the nineteen-forties lose?”
“The cans they tied to strings and talked through?”
“Wow, now that’s rough.”