Posts Tagged ‘Parenting’

Before the internet made it so easy, people shared funny stuff in another way: they photocopied whatever it was — humorous image, joke, botched headline — and shared it by mail.

Don’t laugh. Not too long ago, that was cutting-edge technology.

It’s also a fact that lots of the material now online is old, dating back to the snail mail days. I was reminded of that recently when I ran across the list below of “Things My Mother Taught Me.”

I’m pretty sure I photocopied this at some point and sent it to my mom. If I didn’t, shame on me.


My mother taught me about religion.
“You better pray that will come out of the carpet.”

My mother taught me about time travel.
“If you don’t straighten up, I’m going to knock you into the middle of next week!”

My mother taught me logic.
“Because I said so, that’s why.”

My mother taught me foresight.
“Be sure to wear clean underwear, in case you’re in an accident.”

My mother taught me about irony.
“Stop crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about.”

My mother taught me about osmosis.
“Shut your mouth and eat your supper!”

My mother taught me consideration.
“Go outside if you’re going kill each other. I just finished cleaning.”

My mother taught me about contortionism.
“Just look at the dirt on the back of your neck!”

My mother taught me about hyperbole.
“If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, don’t exaggerate!”

My mother taught me about anticipation.
“Just you wait until we get home.”

My mother taught me about the circle of life.
“I brought you into this world, and I can take you out of it!”

My mother taught me about stamina.
“You’ll sit there until every bite of that spinach is gone.”

My mother taught me about the weather.
“It looks like a tornado swept through your room!”

My mother taught me about injustice.
“Think about the millions of children in the world who are less fortunate than you.”

My mother taught me about inevitability.
“When your father gets home, you’re really gonna get it!”

My mother taught me about physiology.
“Stop crossing your eyes. They’ll get stuck that way.”

My mother taught me to think ahead.
“If you don’t pass your spelling test, you’ll never get a good job.”

My mother taught me about ESP.
“Put on your sweater. I can tell when you’re cold.”

My mother taught me black humor.
“When that lawnmower cuts off your foot, don’t come running to me.”

My mother taught me how to become an adult.
“Eat your vegetables, or you won’t grow up.”

My mother taught me about genetics.
“You’re just like your father.”

My mother taught me about my roots.
“Do you think you were born in a barn?”

My mother taught me about wisdom.
“When you get to be my age, you’ll understand.”

My mother taught me about justice.
“Someday, you’ll have kids, and they’ll turn out just like you!”



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Later this month, my twin granddaughters Katie and Kelsey turn 17. The other day, I sent a text message to their dad regarding gifts. Here is our exchange…

Rocky: For the girls’ birthday… cash or gift cards?

Britt: Thanks for asking. Cash seems to work best these days.

Rocky: Roger.

Britt: They really deserve coal.

Rocky: Suck it up, Dad. Your function right now is to provide a target for teenage angst.

Britt: Seems I am ground zero.

Poor Britt. He’s a good guy and a good dad, but his fate is to endure the classic parental trial by fire with two teenagers at the same time. That’s brutal.

When my boys Britt and Dustin were teens, at least I was able to deal with them one at a time, several years apart. How would I have coped — or failed to cope — had they been a tandem? Ugly to contemplate.

To be honest, I regret that my parenting skills were never tested on girls. I always wished that a girl had been in the mix. They say boys are easier to raise, but I’ll never know.

What I do know, having been both a teen and a parent, is that parents play a hugely important role during the teen years — as sounding boards and punching bags.

Teenagers need a safe way to deal with and vent some of that pesky angst. If they can’t do it at home, they’ll be forced to find another outlet. That scenario isn’t likely to end well.

And frankly, the parents don’t need to be very good at the task. Or calm and adult about it. They can even rant and blow their cool, if so inclined. No strategy is necessary. You’re free to wing it.

A parent must, however, adhere to a few simple rules: provide the target; keep it in the family; refrain from throwing anybody out of the house; and make it clear that whatever sparks may fly, you love your kid anyway.

Compared to Britt’s situation, I guess I had it easy: one kid at a time.

As for Dustin, his daughters are now 13 and 10. His time is almost here, and he’ll get the same kind of “break” I did.

On the other hand, Dustin and I have to navigate these waters twice. With Britt, it’s one and done. That certainly has its appeal.



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ABC Package is a large and well-stocked liquor store in Athens, Georgia. From its convenient location on Atlanta Highway, it has served the alcohol needs of the University of Georgia student body for 25 years.


ABC Package opened in the early 1990s, coinciding with the years my sons Britt and Dustin were students at UGA.

Both boys, it turned out, conducted business with surprising regularity at ABC Package. I learned this when I would balance their bank accounts (this being the old days, before debit cards and such, when writing checks was still a thing), and I would see checks payable to ABC Package.

Oddly enough, they both had the same explanation for this — five years apart, mind you — which they expressed to me with sober, stone-faced sincerity.

The conversations went something like this…


Rocky: Britt, I balanced your checkbook yesterday and made a deposit. I see you wrote four checks to ABC Package. Seriously?

Britt: Oh, that. Well, the thing is, ABC Package is the only place in Athens that will take a check for cash. I go there to get spending money.

Rocky: You don’t go there for beer or liquor or anything.

Britt: Nope.

Rocky: I see.


Rocky: Hey, Dustin, tell me about these checks to ABC Package. Did you think I wouldn’t notice?

Dustin: Dad, it isn’t what you think. ABC Package is the only place in town that will take a check for cash. That’s why I write checks there.

Rocky: So… you write checks to a liquor store, but not for alcohol.

Dustin: Correct.

Rocky: I see.


All of which reminds me of the classic question, “You expect me to believe that? What do you take me for?”

The correct response being, “Everything I can get.”



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At some point back in the 1990s, I came into possession of this pocket-size, soft-cover booklet:


It’s tiny, the size of an index card, and 70 pages long. It presents the full text of our two key founding documents, and, except for a stirring patriotic preface, contains no embellishments or editorializing. At the end is a blurb about the Cato Institute, which published the booklet and was selling copies for $1.00.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t go anywhere near a publication from the Cato Institute, which is a conservative/libertarian “think tank” founded in the 1970s by cuckoo wingnut Charles Koch.

That villainous source notwithstanding, the booklet seemed like a handy reference tool — assuming the Cato Institute wasn’t loony enough to tamper with the wording of the documents.

I decided to trust them. Publishing that booklet is probably the most positive thing the Cato Institute has ever done.

Anyway, I kept the booklet around the house and referred to it surprisingly often. (Hmmm, the amendment that abolished slavery — was it the 15th? No, that was Prohibition, wasn’t it?)

Fast-forward to 2014.

My granddaughter Maddie, then age nine and in the 4th grade, mentioned one day that her class soon would be studying the Constitution, including all the amendments thereto.

Being the considerate grandfather I am, I gave her my little booklet from the Cato Institute. Maddie was very pleased. I heard no more about the booklet and forgot all about it.

Fast-forward to this summer. Maddie is now 11.

Early one morning recently, I arrived at her house for babysitting duty. As my son Dustin was preparing to leave for work, he chuckled and said, “You won’t believe what Maddie did yesterday.”

Now, Maddie, as I’ve mentioned before, is a special kid. She is super smart — to the degree that it’s kinda scary.

This is a child who, at age eight, looked up the email address of her state representative and contacted him, on her own, with a philosophical question about jurisprudence.

Based on past experience, I knew Dustin was about to tell a pretty good story.

Dustin said he and Maddie and her sister Sarah were driving somewhere, and he had occasion to bark at them for something — being noisy or boisterous or whatever. When they didn’t settle down, he wondered in a faux-stern voice if tasing Maddie might be a way to bring the situation under control.

Dustin is in law enforcement. He has access to Tasers and other such tools of the trade.

“You couldn’t tase me,” Maddie told him. “That would be a violation of my 8th Amendment rights.”

Dustin was, he said, rendered speechless.

He said he is plenty familiar with the amendments relating to police work — the 1st, the 2nd, the 4th, etc. — but he drew a blank on the 8th. He was obliged to ask Maddie to explain.

“The 8th Amendment protects me from cruel and unusual punishment,” she replied.

After that, a spirited discussion ensued between them as Dustin tried to remember which of the 27 amendments did what. Maddie patiently (and probably a bit smugly) corrected him and schooled him on the highlights of the key amendments.

Shortly after Dustin left for work, Maddie came down for breakfast. I asked her about the incident. She smiled knowingly and related essentially the same story as Dustin.

The school year ended weeks ago, so I asked when she had last studied the Constitution in class. Back in early spring, she said.

“But,” she added, “I’ve got that little booklet you gave me. It helps me keep all the amendments straight.”

Ah, the little book. It all came back to me.

Setting aside her breakfast, Maddie went upstairs, retrieved the booklet from her bedroom, and brought it to me. The little thing looked so familiar, if a bit more battered and thumb-worn than when I had it.

There was a time, I told her, when I had a pretty good grasp of the Constitution, but that was a long time ago. “How do you retain all that detail?” I asked her.

She just shrugged and went back to her cereal.


If your memory needs refreshing about the U.S. Constitution and 200 years worth of amendments, I suggest this website, which presents the complete text with helpful explanatory notes.

Maddie could explain it herself, but the website will save time.


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A month or so ago, I pulled up behind a large black SUV at a traffic light. The stick figure family, I observed, reached halfway across the back window.

According to the stickers, the family consisted of Mom, Dad, two girls, two boys, a dog, a cat, and a turtle.

The vehicle was seriously dirty. It was covered in a uniform, yellowy-orangish layer that was a mixture of (1) Georgia red clay, which, when dry, is as fine as baby powder and adheres nicely to waxed metal, and (2) pine pollen, which was afflicting us at the time.

Written in the thick coating on the back window, clearly by different fingers, were four names: Kaylan, Shiloh, Holder, and Pruitt.

Fine names all, but more to the point, they reminded me of how American baby names have evolved over the years.

For example, consider the names a few generations ago of my Dad and his siblings. They were Walter Anthony, James Allan, John Daniel, and Martha Elizabeth.

Dad’s kids: Walter Allan, Frank Lee, Thomas Daniel, and Helen Elizabeth.

My kids: Britt David and Dustin Drew.

Their kids: Kathryn Sierra, Kelsey Elizabeth, Madeleine Grace, and Sarah Rose.

All in all, a mixture of the classic and the popular. You can see the evolution of name choices in this one family.

Seeing the names on the back of the SUV got me curious, so I Googled the subject. Below is the official list (from Social Security records) of the most common American baby names over the years.

Baby names-1


James, Robert, John, William, Richard
Mary, Linda, Barbara, Patricia, Carol


Michael, David, James, Robert, John
Mary, Deborah, Linda, Debra, Susan


Michael, John, David, James, Robert
Lisa, Mary, Karen, Kimberly, Susan


Michael, Jason, Christopher, James, David
Jennifer, Amy, Heather, Melissa, Angela


Michael, Christopher, Matthew, Joshua, Daniel
Jessica, Ashley, Jennifer, Amanda, Sarah


Michael, Matthew, Christopher, Jacob, Joshua
Jessica, Ashley, Emily, Samantha, Sarah


Jacob, Michael, Joshua, Matthew, Ethan
Emily, Emma, Madison, Abigail, Olivia


Liam, Noah, Mason, Ethan, Logan
Emma, Olivia, Sophia, Ava, Isabella


A few last random points about names…

— I always liked the name Brandi, but I didn’t have a daughter.
— My granddaughters have pals named Sophia, Isabella, Olivia, and Madison.
— The boys who live next door to me are Eli and Aiden.
— Among my childhood friends were Claude Lumpkin and Merwyn Lassiter.
— My dad grew up with a kid named Gober Soseby.
— The name Walter is no prize, but at least it isn’t Claude, Merwyn, or Gober.
Baby names-2

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“So… I have this mole on my back,” said Sarah, my youngest granddaughter. Sarah just turned eight. She enters third grade next fall.

“It’s pretty big, but the doctor said it’s not dangerous.”

“That’s good news,” I said. “Be glad he didn’t say, ‘Nurse, hand me that scalpel.'”

Her eyes widened, and she grimaced dramatically at the thought.

We were in my car at the time, Sarah in the back seat, chattering about this and that and making occasional eye contact in the rear view mirror.

“How big is this mole?” I asked. “Have you looked at it in a mirror?”

“No, I don’t need to,” she said. “It’s just a stupid brown thing.”

“Does it itch?”

“No. I usually don’t even think about it.”

“But you know what?” she added suddenly, straining against her seatbelt. “Mom and Dad gave it a name! They call it Fred!”


“Yes! They think it’s funny, and they laugh, but it’s embarrassing!”

“Well, it IS kinda funny.”

“Yeah, but what if someone at school found out? That would be awful! Pretty soon, every kid in school would know! I’d be walking down the hall, and they’d be, like, ‘Hi, Sarah! Hi, Fred!’ Can you imagine how humiliating?”

“I see what you mean. But kids are always clowning around. It’s harmless. I wouldn’t worry about it.”

“Yeah, right. I’d be laughed out of school.”

Later, when I dropped her off, I gave her a hug and said goodbye.

I was tempted to add, “Oh, and, goodbye, Fred!” but the better angels of my nature prevailed.

Sarah 2-15

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A bearded, grandfatherly man is waiting in the self-checkout line. Ahead of him are a couple in their 20s and a BOY about four years old. The MOTHER is massively pregnant. The FATHER wears a Duck Dynasty t-shirt and a Georgia Bulldogs baseball cap. All is quiet except for the beep beep boop of the checkout scanner.

The boy stands next to their shopping cart, watching with interest as the mother hands purchases to the father. The father scans them and places them in the bagging area. He breaks the silence.

What about wood glue? Aren’t we out of wood glue?


I thought we were out.


(Pointing to a rack of candy atop the scanner)
Mama, look! They got Snickers bars! Can I have a Snickers bar?

No, you don’t need no candy.

Aw, Mama, please! Lemme get a Snickers bar!

Yore mama said no! End of story!

You never let me git NOTHIN!

Boy, don’t you start! Yore mama said —

Son, we’re gonna eat lunch in just a minute. You know you can’t have a Snickers bar right before lunch.

(With difficulty, she leans down, intending to pick up the child and put him in the shopping cart. The father quickly intervenes and lifts the boy into the cart.)

(Standing up in the shopping cart)
Can I get a Snickers and not eat it till after lunch?

You don’t need no damn Snickers bar!

(The boy stretches forward and grabs a Snickers bar from the display rack)

Goddammit! Put that thing back!

Oh, let him hold it till we’re done. He knows we ain’t gonna buy him one.

(She continues handing items to the father, who scans them and places them in the bagging area.)

(Meanwhile, the boy is studying the Snickers bar, turning it over in his hands, looking closely at the wrapper.)

(The father scans the last item. As he leans aside to place the item in the bagging area, the boy lunges forward and passes the Snickers bar over the scanner.)

Beep beep boop.

Goddammit to hell! Did you see what he did! Did you see that!

(He looks around for a store clerk, apparently to void the purchase of the Snickers bar.)

Oh, never mind. Let’s just go. I’m tired.

(As he feeds cash into a slot in the checkout station)
Boy, I have HAD it! You know what? I’ve got a mind to eat the damn thing myself! You wanna watch me eat it?

(The boy bursts into tears. All customers and staff in the vicinity turn in their direction.)

(The boy continues bawling. They load up the shopping cart and head to the exit. The automatic doors open.)

(Addressing the father in a serious tone)
You are NOT gonna eat that Snickers bar and make him watch, you hear me?

Hell, I didn’t mean it, and you KNOW it. He can HAVE the damn thing — after lunch. OKAY?


(Immediately, the boy stops sobbing. The doors close behind them.)





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When I was a kid, my parents probably knew more about the everyday events of my life than I realized at the time.

I’m sure that’s true of everyone. Even though children live a good portion of their lives with no adults present, parents have ways of learning and discerning things.

But adults are not omniscient. Plenty happens in kid-dom that the grownups never suspect.

And sometimes, it’s just as well…


It was 1950. I was in third grade, eight years old. My dad was an Air Force major, stationed in Tokyo, Japan. We lived in the heart of Tokyo at Washington Heights, a housing project for American officers and their families.

I’ve written several times on this blog about life in Tokyo and Washington Heights. Among them: the story of how I learned the truth about Santa Claus; and a story about an ugly incident innocently precipitated by a bunch of us kids.

Back then, my world consisted of the family apartment, the school, the various base facilities, and my friends, all of it within the confines of Washington Heights. Tokyo was all around us, but remote, beyond the gates.

Dad’s office was downtown, so he went “on the economy” daily. But the rest of us saw Japan only when we went on vacation, or took a trip to a city monument or park, or went to the Ginza, Tokyo’s fancy shopping district.

One day, certain events unfolded among a few of us kids that, to my knowledge, the adults never learned about. Let me set the stage.

In olden times, like the 1950s, parents did not ride herd on their children every second, as is mostly the case today. Back then, kids were allowed to roam freely, as long as they reported in as ordered and stayed out of trouble.

That was true at Washington Heights, which had the added advantage of being a walled compound that was under armed guard around the clock. So, as we kids went about our daily routines, we rarely were chaperoned or questioned.

Somewhere near a remote edge of the housing project, a stormwater runoff pipe emerged from the ground and emptied down a slope into a small creek. The pipe was about two feet in diameter and was part of the drainage system beneath Washington Heights.

From that exit point, the pipe went back under the housing project for 40-odd feet until it reached a large metal grate. There, it made a right-angle turn and went another 40-odd feet to a second metal grate.

We kids knew this, because over time, some of us had ventured into the pipe, driven by taunts and dares from the others.

As underground pipes go, this one was relatively clean and dry — clean because Washington Heights was only a few years old, and dry because we were not dumb enough to enter the pipe after a rain.

The floor of the pipe was covered with a layer of sand and pebbles, but it wasn’t icky, slimy, cobwebby, or bug-ridden.

That was the good news. The bad news: even for kids, the pipe was too small to allow you to advance on hands and knees. You had to go belly-down and “soldier-crawl,” using your elbows.

Yet, after someone emerged from reconnoitering, he merely stood up, dusted off, and went about his business. His clothes would be dirty, but not trashed.

In my mind, two related facts about the pipe made going inside possible: one, it ran in a straight line; and two, you could see daylight ahead, shining through the nearest metal grate.

Conversely, when exiting the pipe, you always moved toward a patch of daylight. To me, seeing that daylight made a huge difference.

The truth is, I dreaded venturing into the pipe. It was creepy and nerve-wracking and no fun at all. Every time I went in, I longed fervently not to be there.

But going into the pipe was better than the alternative: being exposed in the eyes of the other kids as a gutless fraidy-cat chicken. Nobody wanted to lose face, so nobody refused to go into the pipe.

I should mention that in accordance with the code of our group, the younger boys were not allowed to enter the pipe. This was partly for their protection and partly to keep them in their place and reserve the glory for ourselves.

But one afternoon, we violated the code and allowed one of the youngest and smallest of us to go into the pipe.

Donnie Paul was no more than five years old, and he was obsessed with going into the pipe like his older brother Billy. Donnie whined and pleaded incessantly. We always refused.

But that day, for some reasons, we relented. We had to know it was a bad idea, but we let it happen anyway.

I remember how we went over the details and prepared Donnie for the undertaking. We made sure he understood the layout of the pipe. We told him to crawl to the first grate, make contact with us there, then turn around and crawl out. We would talk to him and keep an eye on him the best we could.

At first, Donnie did fine. He crawled in at a good pace, reached the turnaround point, and looked up at us through the grate.

Then, as if the reality of the situation finally hit home, his eyes slowly widened in fright, and he began to bawl.

Thankfully, he wasn’t in a panic. That would have been infinitely worse. Donnie simply was alone and scared and overwhelmed.

As he slumped there beneath the grate, sobbing and shaking, it was clear he wasn’t going anywhere. One of us would have to go in after him.

Why the rescue mission fell to me, I don’t remember. Whatever the reason, as Donnie moaned and wailed like a lost soul, I dropped to the ground and belly-crawled into the pipe.

When I reached Donnie, he was whimpering and uncommunicative, but cooperative. I was able to maneuver him in front of me for the return trip. He stopped frequently, but always resumed crawling when I prodded him, sobbing in despair all the while.

After we emerged from the pipe, Donnie stopped blubbering and calmed down. After a few minutes, he pulled himself together and was okay again.

After that, life at Washington Heights returned to normal. No adults ever mentioned the incident. No kids got in trouble. No metal bars appeared at the mouth of the pipe to keep us out. But by unspoken agreement, we never ventured into the pipe again.

For me, the rescue mission is memorable for a second and entirely different reason: during the exit crawl with Donnie, I had my first experience with the sensation of claustrophobia.

As I said, I always hated being in the pipe. It seriously gave me the creeps, and I went in only because of peer pressure. While underground, I tried to concentrate on the moment and not think too much about where I was.

But at a certain point inside the pipe, with Donnie in front of me and daylight not far ahead, I felt an ominous tingling of fear, anxiety, and impending panic.

It was only a brief taste of the real thing — a weak, but growing sensation of being confined, trapped, helpless.

It was a subtle thing and not very strong. By focusing intently on the task at hand, and Donnie’s silhouette in the circle of daylight ahead, I shook off the feeling.

But that preview was enough to last me a lifetime. It was monumentally awful. To this day, I am spooked just thinking about it. I can’t imagine the horror of experiencing true claustrophobia.

Washington Heights was built in 1947. It was in use until 1963, when the American occupants were relocated and the installation was torn down to make room for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Specifically, it was the site of the Olympic Village that housed the athletes.

When the Olympics ended, the property was razed again and given back to Yoyogi Park, from which it was originally carved. It remains green space today.

And for all I know, the stormwater runoff pipes are still there.

Washington Heights and Yoyogi Park in the 1950s.

Washington Heights and Yoyogi Park in the 1950s.


Dismantling begins, 1963.

Dismantling begins, 1963.


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ORANGE CITY, FLORIDA — Adam Hunt, 40, was arrested for sleeping naked atop a table outside a Sonic restaurant and refusing a deputy’s instructions to put his pants on.

Volusia County 911 received an after-hours call that Hunt was “butt naked” and had tried to bite the caller.

When deputies arrived, they found Hunt asleep on the table, smelling of alcohol. A deputy woke Hunt up and told him to get dressed. Hunt cursed the deputies, raised his fists, and challenged them to take him to jail.

They complied.


MANKATO, MINNESOTA — Two stepsisters, ages 6 and 7, were nabbed by police late at night after the girls liberated a goat from a petting zoo and were taking it home.

Responding to a 911 call, an officer located the two girls at 11:30 PM walking along a busy street about a mile from the petting zoo, wearing footie pajamas and leading a baby goat on a leash.

When questioned, they told the officer that the goat lived in their bedroom closet, and they walked it every night. They said their mother gave them the goat, but they kept it hidden because their father had not been told yet.

The officer took the girls home, and the mother, who had been asleep, had a different explanation: that afternoon, the girls had attended a birthday party at the petting zoo, and they were smitten by the baby goats.

Police were unable to determine how the girls freed the goat undetected.

Baby goat

SHENZHEN, CHINA — In preparation for the first day of school, the parents of identical quintuplets shaved identifying numbers into the boys’ hair to help teachers and classmates tell them apart.

The boys are Jiang Yunlong, Jiang Yunxiao, Jiang Yunhan and Jiang Yunlin, age six.

The parents said the numbers were necessary because even the parents struggle to tell the difference.

“My sons are identical, even to me,” said their mother. “Even now, their father can’t tell which one is which. Sometimes, he punishes the second one for something the third one has done.”


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Last week, on my way to the lake to go kayaking, I stopped at Bell’s Grocery Store in Jefferson to get a deli sandwich to take along for lunch.

Bell’s is a small North Georgian chain, much smaller and more limited than your Krogers and Publixes, but they’re close, and they have good deli sandwiches.

Ahead of me in the checkout line was a young mother with a little boy of about two. The boy was babbling at full volume. Dennis the Menace was written all over him.

Dennis was seated in the cart, facing me. He shut up when I got in line behind him. He eyed me critically, taking in my NASA baseball cap, UGA t-shirt, red swim shorts, and blue mesh water shoes.

Finally, with a sour expression, he made eye contact. I gave him a cheerful smile.

His mother was the harried type. She fretted and fumbled with her purse, mumbling to herself as she struggled to fish out some cash. The checkout lady sighed.

“Mommy! Mommy! Let me hold it!” cried Dennis, straining to grab the cash from his mother’s hand.

Mom held the money out of his reach. “Not now, Brandon. Be still and let Mommy pay for the groceries.”

Aha. The child was a Brandon, not a Dennis.

“Give it to me, Mommy! I want to pay for the groceries!”

The mom hesitated, stuffed the bills back in her purse, and withdrew a credit card instead. “I think I’ll use this,” she said to the checkout lady, who gave her a whatever look.

When the mom reached forward to swipe the card, Brandon reached out with lightning speed and deftly snatched it from her hand.

“Brandon, give me the card.” said the mom. Brandon held the card behind his back.

She tried several times to grab it, but Brandon was too fast.

“Would you like a sucker?” the checkout lady asked. Her mouth was smiling, but her eyes were not.

“No!” he yelled.

“Mommy, I know how to pay! Let me pay!”

The mother looked tired. She turned to the checkout lady. “I changed my mind,” she said. “I’ll pay cash.”

She took the bills from her purse again and held them out for the checkout lady. Simultaneously, Brandon struck like a cobra, intent on grabbing the cash, too.

But the checkout lady was faster. She snatched the money from the mom’s hand and held it in the air, out of little Brandon’s reach.

“I knew the little fella would try that,” she said, sounding smug while trying not to.

Brandon, defeated, began to cry. His mother put down her purse and moved close to comfort him. While the checkout lady made change, the mom cooed and whispered to her son.

Through it all, I detected no anger or frustration from the mom. Fatigue and resignation, yes, but no anger and no frustration. Not a good sign.

She collected her change, placed her groceries in the cart, and wheeled off toward the exit. Brandon was still snuffling and pouting. She continued to talk softly to him.

After they were out of range, I said to the checkout lady, “That lady has her hands full.”

“That lady needs to snatch a knot in that boy’s tail,” she huffed. “She needs to put a stop to that nonsense, for his own good.”

“Yeah, it’ll only get worse,” I said.

“If that child was mine, he would act up that way exactly one time!” she said indignantly. “I would tan his little hide! My kids learned their manners, and that boy needs to learn his!”

Brandon’s mom, I suspected, was incapable of tanning his hide, or of teaching him much of anything. She seemed terribly weary, like a woman who was in over her head.

The checkout lady rang up my deli sandwich, and I paid her and turned to leave, but she wasn’t through.

“If she doesn’t do something about that boy, he’ll be in a world of trouble when he starts school.”

I nodded my agreement while edging sideways toward the exit.

“And it’s never the child’s fault! When you see a child like that, it’s the fault of the parents, every time!”

Oddly enough, my son Dustin has expressed that same sentiment. Dustin, a former juvenile probation officer, and a former detective in the Domestic Violence unit, knows whereof he speaks.

“Maybe you should make a deal with his mom,” I said. “She could pay you to straighten the boy out. From what I saw, I don’t think she can handle him.”

The checkout lady paused to consider the idea.

“I like it,” she said. “The Brat Whisperer.”

“You might end up on TV,” I said.

“That’s fine with me. It’s bound to pay more than Bell’s.”

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