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Red Dirt and White Shorts

imagesLast week when I wrote suggestions for how parents can partner with their children’s teachers, I alluded to letting children suffer natural consequences. Ramifications of behavior and choices.

Mom and Dad parented by allowing my poor choices, my mistakes, to be followed by natural consequences. Like the Saturday I spent all my money on comic books and then wanted to see a movie, probably a Gene Autry western. Because I didn’t have money, I didn’t see the movie.

One time, when I was about 6 years old and Mom and I visited her parents, I wore a new pair of white shorts and a red and white stripe top that Mom had made. After greeting Papa and Grandma and playing a few notes on their pump organ, I went outside to play. The dirt bank between my grandparent’s house and the road was red clay. On that hot summer day, the dirt was dry and hard. Papa and Grandma’s yard was several feet higher, maybe about eight feet, than the road and although I knew to stay away from the road, I drew pictures with sticks on the hard-packed dirt.

Rain had washed gullies in the red clay because there wasn’t any vegetation –none, no grass, no weeds. I walked barefoot on the soft dirt down the gullies; the slope was steep and I crawled up to the yard.

Then I discovered I could sit on the dirt bank, push myself, and slide. I’m sure the more I scooted down the slope, the slicker it became. By the time Mom discovered how much fun I was having, my white shorts matched the red in my top. I had wiped my dirty hands on my clothes, my hair, my whole body.

I wonder what I would have done if I’d been the mother. I can see myself, a little kid, covered with red dirt, wearing a new outfit, and as the mother I would have been angry – really mad! And probably Mom was, but I don’t remember that. I do remember sitting in our white enamel bathtub for a long time and Mom scrubbed my skin so hard it hurt – especially my feet and knees. She scrubbed with a washcloth and a small brush, probably the one she used to scrub the bathtub. And she must have dug into my head with her fingernails. It wasn’t a gentle hair washing like most times.

Mom’s scrubbing on my body was something I never wanted to endure again. And it was a natural consequence that the new shorts I had really liked, I could only wear at home. The red dirt became pink stains that never came out, and I didn’t get a new pair of white shorts. I don’t remember, but I bet Mom made me scrub those dirty shorts, with an old toothbrush.

I wasn’t forbidden from Grandma and Papa’s bank. In fact, after that day I slid down the slope many times, but I’d wear my oldest clothes, sometimes sitting on a piece of cardboard, and I didn’t rub dirt in my hair or on my body. Then I’d wash myself using Papa and Grandma’s outside water faucet.

At my elementary school, Byrdstown Elementary, there was also a red bank – much longer and steeper than Papa and Grandma’s, and many kids played on it, but I didn’t, not while wearing my good school clothes. Being scrubbed hard and not having a favorite pair of shorts to wear taught me a lesson.

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