Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Wal-Mart Special

The Wal-Mart Special B Y M E L I N D A R U L E Y Several weeks ago, a Raleigh man was banned from Middle Creek Elementary School after spanking his son, a student at Middle Creek, in the school hallway. The spanking and the subsequent exile twisted knickers on both sides of the corporal punishment issue as columnists and readers weighed in. For me, though, the most interesting assessment of the situation came from a customer at the Wilco gas and convenience store on Durham's Hillsborough Road. The man's wife was sitting in the passenger seat of the car, reading bits of the story out loud, her sympathies clearly with the child. Her husband serenely pumped gas, his jaw stuck out in amusement. "Aw, come on," he said. "Man oughta be able to spank his own kid. He was just giving that boy the Wal-Mart Special."
May 16, 2001
M E L I N D A R U L E Y The Wal-Mart Special. Some famous comedian, I forget who, recently called Wal-Mart America's new woodshed. Which I can vouch for as the truth, on account of I spend a lot of time at the Wal-Mart. It wasn't always that way. For most of my adult life, I steered clear of superstores, with their anaesthetized sales clerks and corporate sheen. Then, nearly five years ago, when my first baby was only a few weeks old, I came home to Wal-Mart.
Photo By Alex ManessWhat happened was, the baby had colic. Not your routine evening fussiness, which is bad enough, but full-blown, plaster-crumbling, round-the-clock screaming. It was bad bad bad bad bad. The tabby cat holed up in the linen closet and spat at anyone who reached for a towel. The sweet-tempered dog chewed up and swallowed the rug in the entrance foyer. The lawyer husband left to try a long and complicated case. So it was me and baby Henry, the H-Bomb. One night, I remember, I got up to feed the baby and fell down the steps. I recall thinking, on the way down, that maybe I'd break something and develop an infection and the doctors would have to put me in isolation, sequestered in a cool, green hospital room. I landed unhurt.
A week went by. I took Henry to the doctor, where he obligingly screamed for an hour in the waiting room and another 20 minutes in the examining room. Chinks of mortar fell from the brickwork. The doctor approached the baby warily, like an exorcist. He prodded Henry's tummy and looked at me. I had slept maybe 12 hours in six weeks and his face came in and out of focus. "Nowadays we don't usually medicate colicky babies," he said grimly, writing out a prescription for an intestinal sedative.
I grabbed it and drove to the nearest drug store. Henry was fussing to be nursed, making little pursy-sucky sounds. The pharmacist was a tidy woman in a white coat. Her makeup and hair were perfect, her skirt crisp, her eyes alert and intelligent. I envied her the way you envy a supermodel in a magazine. I wanted her life. She took the prescription. "You understand, this will make the baby sleepy," she said sternly. I tried to understand. The pharmacist's words seemed like big handles I struggled to grasp as they went by. Sleepy? Wasn't that good?
When I bent to write the check, milk streamed down my arms, smeared the check, dripped on the floor. As I walked out the door, a clerk shot me a nasty look, got out the WET FLOOR sign and went for a mop.
That afternoon, I put the medicine in a cabinet and vowed not to open it. Still, a change had occurred. I had a colicky baby and I'd run straight for drugs. I wasn't going to be a perfect mother after all. I looked at Henry fussing in his little bucket seat. We needed diapers and a tube of Balmex. There was spit-up in my hair and my socks didn't match. My blouse smelled like sour milk. There was only one thing to do. Me and the H-Bomb went to Wal-Mart.
Now, four and a half years later, the whole family are regulars, devoted to the Ur-womb of one-stop shopping. Myself, I've come to understand that entire lives unfold at the Wal-Mart. I've watched people court each other in the hardware section, argue in household goods, make up next to the laxative shelf. I've witnessed family dramas unfold at the blood-pressure cuff, seen meltdowns in the seasonal goods aisle, heavy petting in the fabrics. I once saw a woman storm off into the parking lot after her husband insisted on buying a camouflage jumpsuit when she needed the money for a curling iron. Afterward, a clerk who had overheard the spat walked over and told me that just a couple of weeks ago he'd watched a couple about break up over a box of lemon-scented bleach. "I never worked anywhere," he said, "where you get to know so much about how to treat a lady. For real, it's been a learning place."
For real. And now that I've got two small children I'm especially interested in learning about parenting. Of course, I have at my disposal the usual sources of advice: grandparents and T. Berry Brazleton and Penelope Leach and scores of mothers who are wise and gentle. These resources are helpful, but they lack a certain authority, the gritty, real-life, hand-held-camera parenting you see at Wal-Mart. It was there, for instance, that I learned it's OK to open a bag of Cheetos you have no intention of buying in order to keep a child happy. That children will occupy themselves for long stretches examining the rifle scopes in the hunting section. That the wizened little man in lawn-and-garden means no harm when he gives your children handfuls of Chicklets.
The last year or so, I've been especially interested in seeing how other parents discipline their children. My own attempts at reasoning, dialoguing, cajoling, pleading, bargaining and groveling, I've noticed, sometimes fall short. Plus which, I was intrigued by that story out of Middle Creek Elementary School, the support that Raleigh father got for spanking his kid. So I've begun paying attention to the Wal-Mart Special.
I understand all the arguments against spanking, but I've always suspected there was something to it if you could figure out how to do it right. Most child-raising books, realizing parents are going to pop their children once in a while, offer grudging advice: Don't spank in anger; lightly smack the soft part of the fanny; always give a hug afterward. All of which strikes me as somewhat cold-blooded and, for the child, weirdly confusing. What happened to taking a naughty child by the ear into his or her room dropping them over your knee, baring the chubby little cheeks and upgrading the color from naughty white to behaving red? I was confused for so long when all I needed to do was "listen" to Mother Nature and do what came naturally.
Anyway, one day at the Wal-Mart I watched a woman spank her little boy after he pulled a column of greeting cards off the display stand. The child had been trying to get his mother's attention for several minutes, tugging at the hem of her skirt before he gave up and went after the cards. Another woman, obviously the first woman's sister, was clearly upset by the spanking. Her own child, a little girl, was picking up the toppled cards and tossing them into the air. The first woman gave her sister a hard look and said, "You better learn how to do it, missy thing, or you'll be sorry." Then, to demonstrate, she held one hand up in the air like she was taking an oath. "You just apply this" (pointing to the palm of her hand), "to that" (pointing to her son).
The second woman wasn't impressed. "Maybe you should give a class in spanking'," she said acidly.
"Yeah, well, somebody ought to and they should start with you."
I have no idea how to teach spanking, but I can give a pretty good description of the Wal-Mart Special, which goes something like this:
1. Prelude to a Spanking.
Every Wal-Mart spanking is preceded by a lengthy interval of misbehaving: whining, fussing, running wild, clinging, sleeve tugging, sulking, screaming or begging. Although this misbehavior is on the part of the child (spankee), it is occasionally performed by the mother's (Spanker"s) boyfriend or husband. In any case, it is the child who is spanked. (Men rarely spank their children at the Wal-Mart, though they may on occasion reach down and "pop" them.) The most accomplished whiner I've ever witnessed was a small girl who clung possum-style to her mother's back, waving a bag of gummy bears and sobbing "I wannum, mama, I wannum" for 15 horrifying minutes. During the prelude, the spanker becomes increasingly agitated and/or grim-faced. There are frequent admonishments to "act right" and threats of bodily harm, which the spankee either ignores or adds to her load of grievances.
2. The Pursuit.
Toward the end of the prelude, something in the spanker snaps. This snap is sometimes occasioned by a new form of misbehavior (like pulling greeting cards off the stand); more often it is a result of repeated low-grade agitation. Whatever the case, it takes the spankee one half of one second to register the change and take off down the nearest aisle, dodging shoppers, carts and display cases. Although the spankee is younger, faster and more agile than the spanker, there is in his panicked skedaddling a certain futility, rather like the doomed flight of a gazelle before the lioness. A mother intend on blistering your bottom is a force of Nature that is stronger than an Army of Dr. Spocks.
3. Positioning the Spankee.
It is here that the water gets hot, from the perspective of child-care advocates, horrified onlookers and shoulder dislocation specialists. The spanker grabs the spankee by the elbow or ear and yanks him firmly to the nearest place she can sit down and put the spankee over her knee and you better get out of the way. The spankee squirms, buckles, kicks, flails and arches. If the child is large or heavy, his legs may drag on the floor; ideally, though, he will be kept dangling above the floor like a rug about to be beat.
4. The Spanking.
A minimum of five and more like ten smacks, to the behind.
5. The Aftermath.
Depending on the violence of the spanking, the spanker may be forced to deal with the reaction of onlookers. I watched a spanking two weeks ago at the Hillsborough Wal-Mart that stopped traffic on the chips-and-candy aisle. At the end, the spanker looked up, put her hands on her hips and declared in a loud voice that she had the right to spank her children any time she wanted any way she wanted and if there was one thing she hated it was people looking at her when she spanked her children and it was a free country last time she looked and she had a right and if you did not like it she would sit right back down and form a line to the right.
In the absence of spectator reaction, the Wal-Mart spanker lets loose a volley of verbal abuse on the spankee, the primary message of which is "I told you I was gonna tan your hide if you didn't act right." The spanker usually goes on to recite a litany of the spankee's immediate crimes, plus one or two generalizations about his character. The spankee is told that the immediate crimes have been paid for but the character flaws must be delt with when she gets the spankee home by way of the belt or brush. The spankee is then hauled through the check-out counter and out the door.
The woman who spanked her son at the greeting card display was not without support. Although her sister objected, a third woman stepped in to defend the spanking. She held a box of scented candles in one hand and offered a brief homily on the benefits of a good spanking. "You see a young person that's got his act together," she said, "and that's a person what's had his hide tanned once or twice."
"Isn't it the truth?" the other mother said.
"Mmmm hmmm," the scented candle lady said. "And nowadays everybody's against it. You can't look sideways at your children anymore without somebody saying something about it. Corporal punishment is a disappearing art."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

First, thank you, Sassy, for finally updating this blog. I'd love to go shopping in Wal-Mart with you sometime, my dear, and take you thru these outlined steps... Wouldn't it be nice of Wal-Mart to put convenient chairs at strategic places for tops (be they parents or players) to sit and take naughty little ones (be they children or childish) OTK? I'd shop there much more often just to check out the scenery.
Second, "corporal punishment is becoming a lost art" as the article states. I'll now think of myself as an artist when I spank a pretty posterior. In this case the unveiling comes first, as panties are pulled down. Then, the blank white canvas is transformed with a palette of pinks and reds and magentas. Sculpted buttocks that were cool as marble are transformed to flesh at its most alive and radiant.
Please don't let this dying art form disappear, spank (or be spanked) soon and often.

5:12 AM  
Blogger Poppa_Mark said...

Fianly a smart and funny view on child behavior. Lord knows all children need to have limits and love. Spanking isn't a crime or abuse, it's a lesson for life.

5:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw a spanking at a Target (like WalMart) that I couldn't believe. A little girl (3 or 4) was screaming bloody murder, wanting a toy or something. Her father yanked her out to the parking lot. Well, he gets into their van but leaves the sliding door open. He goes to pull down her shorts but realizes that she has a swimsuit on underneath. So he gets all mad, but ends up having to take off the girl's shorts, shirt and swimsuit so he can spank her bare bottom. It took quite a while to get her undressed, with the kid screaming the whole time, and attracted a lot of attention. So now the kid is completely naked and the Dad is taking his belt off. He gave her at last 10 smacks with the belt on her bare bottom and legs. You should have heard the comments and people reaching for their cell phones! After the spanking, he throws her into her car seat, still naked, then takes off in a hurry! I've seen spankings on the bare bottom and belt spankings in public, but never a belt being used on a naked child in public.

5:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I have to admit to being pulled out of a few stores, when I was a child. But I was never bared in a parking lot. The Target scene was a bit out of line, Im glad I didnt see it. I would have reacted much differently. I have a 4 yr old daughter, and yes I have spanked her, and yes I have spanked her bare bottom, but at home, never in public

2:12 AM  
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