Crime and punishment

I was 13 years old when I discovered that I could sneak out my bedroom window at night after Mom had gone to bed. Dad was often out of town or working late and I’d normally be home before he returned, so I had a few hours after my official bed time to spend cutting up with my friends who also would sneak out.

One Sunday night a few of us pooled our resources and managed to get an older kid to buy us some beer and wine. I think there were four of us, a six pack of Budweiser, and a bottle of Boone’s Farm something or other. We went down by the creek and proceeded to get stupid.

I don’t remember a whole lot about the walk back home. Just little bits and pieces. We did discover some kid’s Big Wheel left in a yard at the top of a hill, and we took turns trying to ride it down the hill. As I recall, we were all too big to actually ride the darned thing. We’d just sit in it, try to make it roll, and then give up in disgust. Yeah, we were pretty drunk and probably making all kinds of noise in the neighborhood as we stumbled home.

I lived farthest from where we had been, so I got to go the last half mile by myself. I got tired of walking and sat down under a tree in somebody’s front yard. Next thing I remember, I was waking up under that tree, and throwing up in the grass. I got up, wiped my mouth, and stumbled the rest of the way home.

When I got home and tried my window, it was closed. I guess Mom discovered that I was sneaking out. I knew it was later than I usually got home after one of my after hours excursions, but I didn’t know how late. I tried the back door, which was locked, and every other window in the house. No dice. I wasn’t thinking too clearly and I needed some sleep, so I went to the front door and rang the bell.

Mom opened the door, took one look at me, and said, “You’re drunk. Go to bed.”

In my inebriated state, I wasn’t in much condition to consider the ramifications of my good fortune. No scolding or anything? I just went to my room, stripped off my clothes, and passed out on the bed. It was 2:00 AM.

Dad woke me up at 6:00 AM. “Son,” he said, “time to shower and head to school.” I was still drunk and tried to pull the “I don’t feel good” routine. But Dad was having none of it. He made it clear that being drunk or hung over was no excuse for skipping school.

I felt marginally better after a shower and a glass of orange juice, but that day was miserable. I went through most of the morning in a fog, and the afternoon was a giant headache. By the time school was over all I wanted was to go home and get some sleep. But when I got there, Mom had a bunch of chores for me to do. I didn’t get to bed until my normal bed time.

The only thing Dad said to me about that incident was that I can’t use my bad decisions as excuses to shirk my responsibilities. Neither he nor Mom ever mentioned it again.

They could have let me sleep, and punished me that afternoon: extra chores, restrict me to school and home, no phone privileges, etc. But making me to go to school was the most fitting punishment Dad could have devised. He forced me to face the direct consequences of my actions. Any other punishment would have been a proxy, and not nearly as effective.

I doubt that memory of a grounding would have stuck with me for 40 years like my memory of that day at school has. I rarely drink on a “school night,” and if I do over indulge, I don’t use that as an excuse to skip work. All because my parents wouldn’t let me skip school because I was hung over. I’d say they did a good job teaching me a valuable life lesson.

 

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