My almost nine-year-old son, Levi, tried to jump out of the car the other day while it was moving. No joke. He unbuckled his seatbelt, opened the back door and defiantly announced, “I’m leaving!” Luckily my years of theatrical training kicked in and I bellowed in the deepest John Barrymoresque roar I could muster, “SHUT THE DOOR!” I believe the intensity of my growl frightened him into submission and the door instantly came swinging back shut. But as soon as I pulled up to the Kindergarten entry gate to let his younger brother, Eli, out of the car, he made his getaway and never looked back.
I was fuming. He’d been up all night coughing and my husband and I had decided that he needed to stay home from school that day. But when he realized that his day would be filled with boring chores and my regular agenda of errands, he insisted that, sick or not, he was going to school.
I’ll admit it was a bit suspicious when we piled into the car to take Eli to school and Levi hoisted his backpack into the car with him. But I didn’t really give it a second thought. My husband said, after the fact, that he’d been fairly certain Levi was going to pull this kind of trick.
Now I have to say that Levi has never so blatantly disobeyed me before. I was stunned and hurt. My pride was bruised and I felt ashamed that I’d failed so miserably as a parent. The funny thing was, though, that all I could think about was Levi’s little red lunch box sitting at home in our refrigerator. “What would he eat for lunch?” I wondered with great trepidation. He was going to be in school from 8am to 3pm with no snack, no lunch and no water bottle. What should I do?
I figured that his teacher would likely give him a school lunch. I mean, they always have some extra, don’t they? But that wouldn’t really teach him a lesson. That would be almost as bad as me going home and bringing him his lunch, which I was not, under any circumstance going to do. No, I wanted him to go hungry. That was the only way he would learn anything from this experience. But boy, talk about tough love, I had to check with my husband and three of my friends to make sure that wasn’t officially considered child abuse.
Once I made the decision to starve the little knave, I marched into the principal’s office and explained my plan. It was embarrassing to reveal the extent of Levi’s morning disrespect. But I did it. I also requested, my eyes fixed on a crack in the tile floor, that they not provide my child with a school lunch that day. Luckily the principal understood and supported my “Love and Logic” stance and agreed. She, in turn, conferenced with his teacher and since we were all on board, I left and went on with my day.
At noon, I felt sick, wondering how my little lamb was fairing without food or water. I felt guilty and sad. I was worried sick about him. But at around 1:00, shortly after their lunch break, I got an e-mail from his teacher. Apparently at lunchtime she was all geared up to deny Levi nourishment for the day. But when the other kids plunged into their lunch boxes, my son pulled from his backpack a bag of bagels, a tub of cream cheese and one of our good stainless knives that he must have snatched on the fly as we were racing out the door that morning. He proceeded to prepare a lovely little lunch for himself. He also had a water bottle and granola bar for dessert.
What a little shit! He not only disobeyed me. It was totally premeditated. I have to say that on one hand I was impressed by his resourcefulness. But on the other hand, I was seriously annoyed. I had visions of him as a teen, being carted off to Juvie prison and locked away for petty larceny or drug smuggling. “He ran away to school,” my husband reminded me. “Get a grip. It’s not like he wanted to ditch class and get high on the playground.” Still, I was upset and I knew that this type of behavior called for serious consequence.
I thought about it all day and wasn’t sure what punishment might fit the crime. Still unsure as I picked the boys up that afternoon, I hoped that something would miraculously come to me. And it did. The boys piled into the car and I pulled through the pick-up line. I then pulled over into a parking spot and cheerily jumped out of the car. I walked around to Levi’s door, opened it and asked him if he knew where the child safety lock was. He gleefully showed me and I proceeded to insert the key into the lock and set it on the safety setting. Then I got back into the car and asked him to try opening his door. He could not. Then, just to add salt to the wound, I asked his much younger brother to try opening his door. He succeeded several times and I announced that we were ready to get going.
Levi was mortified and furious. “How am I supposed to get out of the car, Mom?” he whined. “What about at drop-off? Kids will think I’m a baby. They’ll all make fun of me. I’ll have no friends…” This went on for a good ten minutes. Finally I said in the calmest tone imaginable, “I know this is hard, sweetheart. I totally understand how upset this makes you. But my job is to keep you safe. And right now I can’t trust that you wont try to jump out of the car and run away. So until I do trust you again you’ll just have to wait for an adult to open the car door for you.”
<It is now one week later. I plan on opening the lock this morning on the way to school. I believe Levi’s mortification over not being able to get out of the car alone has served as an appropriate consequence to last week’s rebellion. I’m not gloating, but I think I can safely say that Levi will not attempt a similar escape again. It’s not easy to hold your kids feet to the fire, so to speak. It takes constant attention, courage and vigilance. You have to be willing to be the bad guy more often than not. But I keep telling myself that now’s the time to teach my kids that every action has a consequence. Hopefully they’ll learn sooner, rather than later, that every choice they make matters and will affect their future.