A BETTER WAY
By: Anne and Kenda
*A Better Way was born from Rick’s comments in the aired episode The Dark Side of the Street. That episode inspired the authors of this story to fictionalize why corporal punishment ceased in the Jack Simon household, as Rick alludes to in the conversation below that was taken from The Dark Side of the Street.
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“Do you ever remember Dad spankin’ ya? Hittin’ ya, I mean, even if you deserved it?” Rick asked his brother.
“He never laid a hand on me.”
“No, not you,” Rick agreed. “He did me, though. Especially right after you came along. You were probably too young to remember it. Then, he stopped.”
A.J. offered his brother a slight grin in an effort to ease the pain behind the older man’s words. “You probably just wore him out.”
“Yeah, we used to have some good ones. I guess he learned. I...I was the oldest. The first. There times though, especially right after Dad and I’d have a fight, that I used to wish I were you. . .instead of me.”
“It’s not your fault.”
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"Hey, A.J.! Catch!"
"No, Rick! Don't!"
Cecilia Simon's antique lamp, the one that had belonged to her grandmother, lay on the living room floor, smashed into what seemed like a million pieces. A.J. picked up his baseball. The one Rick had just thrown at him. The five-and-a-half-year-old boy had protested when he saw what his big brother had in mind. Mom had long ago strictly forbidden playing baseball in the house.
Eleven-year-old Rick fled out the front door. He stopped only long enough to peer back inside through the living room window. He saw his mother entering from the kitchen. Rick turned and raced for the garage. Jumping on his bicycle, he headed down the street with the hope that his little brother would once again cover for him.
Cecilia was advancing on A.J. where he still stood holding his baseball amidst broken pieces of glass, his tennis shoes grinding them into the carpet as he moved to get out of his mother's path.
“Andrew Jackson Simon, just look at what you've done! This lamp was my grandmother's! It's priceless! How could you be so naughty?"
Cecilia shagged A.J. by his arm and directed him toward the stairway. "Get up to your room! I'll be up to deal with you in a minute!"
A.J. stopped on the bottom stair, looking up at his mother with a pleading gaze. He tossed a glance at the door Rick had disappeared through moments before.
The furious Cecilia gave A.J. a little shove with her right hand. "March, young man, and I mean right now!"
A.J. turned quickly to do as his mother ordered, running up the stairway in an effort to get away from her frightening anger.
"And there will be no party for you this afternoon either! You'll spend the rest of your day right in this house."
A.J. turned to look back down at his mother.
"Not a word from you, Andrew! Now get in that room!"
A.J.’s head hung forlornly as he entered his room and plopped onto his bed. He'd been looking forward to this party for two weeks. His friend, Jimmy, was having a birthday party at the zoo today where Jimmy's mom had even arranged for ice cream and cake to be served outside Monkey Island, while the monkeys put on a special show for the birthday boy and his friends. Now A.J. wouldn't get to go. He knew his mother would never change her mind.
Cecilia was angrier than A.J., in all his short life, could ever remember her being and that really scared him. For just a brief moment he was tempted to tell on Rick, but then just as quickly decided against it. For one thing, A.J. wasn't a tattletale, and for another, he knew Rick would probably get a spanking from their father when Jack returned home that evening from work. A.J. couldn't stand the thought of that happening, so he resolved not to snitch on his big brother no matter what his mother did to him.
Cecilia was downstairs attempting to salvage something of the lamp that meant so much to her. As tears of loss welled up in her eyes, it quickly became apparent to the woman that the only choice she was going to have was to get out the vacuum cleaner and, to put it bluntly, sweep up her memories.
This lamp had been so precious to Cecilia. Every time she had looked at it she had been reminded of the dear, sweet lady she had loved so much. Her grandmother had been gone now over fifteen years, but Cecilia could still hear her voice as if it were yesterday.
"This lamp will be yours someday, Cecilia. You love it so much. And someday, in turn, you'll pass it on to a child of your own. It will always stay in our family that way."
Now, as Cecilia stood over the mess that was once her lamp, she recalled her grandmother's words and realized A.J. had just made that last wish of Grandma's impossible. The beautiful lamp would no longer be in the family to be passed on to another generation.
Cecilia's sorrow suddenly turned to cold fury once again. She hurried into the kitchen, grabbed the ruler from the drawer it was kept in, and ran up the stairway to the boys' bedroom. Cecilia was so upset she could hardly control the anger she felt toward her youngest son and his disobedient act.
The bedroom door flew open and little A.J.'s eyes widened in fright as his mother moved swiftly toward him, ruler in hand. He knew right away what she was going to do with that ruler.
"No, Mommy!” He shook his head. “No, please!"
Ignoring A.J., Cecilia yanked him off the bed and sat down on the edge of it. She held her son in front of her. "Lay over my knee, Andrew. Right now! You're going to get a spanking for what you've done today."
"Mommy!" A.J. protested. "No, Mommy! Please no!"
A.J. was terrified. He had never been spanked before. Rarely did A.J. cause his parents any problems. For what minor offenses he ever had committed, a stern scolding or being deprived of a favorite toy was as far as A.J.'s punishment had ever gone.
"Now, Andrew! You've been a very bad boy!"
When A.J. made no move to do as his mother commanded, Cecilia jerked him to her and forced him over her knee. As she began applying the ruler to A.J.'s bottom he moved to shield the area with his hands. He quickly jerked them away, shocked at the stinging.
Several hard whacks later, A.J. began to cry and plead. "Mommy! Mommy, please! You're hurting me, Mommy. Stop! Please stop!"
Cecilia stopped only long enough to yell, "Shouldn't you be saying something to me, Andrew?"
A.J.'s only thoughts at this time were on the pain radiating from his backside, and the fact that his beloved mother was spanking him. He stammered and sobbed, "What? I don't...I don’t know. I don't know. Stop please! Don't hit me again!"
Cecilia gave A.J. five more hard whacks with the ruler before her anger finally dissipated somewhat. She stood up then, jerking A.J. to his feet. "I want an apology, Andrew, now!"
Tears ran down the little boy's cheeks as he finally managed to speak between sobs, "I...I'm sorry your lamp was broken, Mommy. I'm sorry."
"What else do you need to tell me? What have I told you boys at least a hundred times?"
A.J. was really scared now. His mother was so mad at him. Even Rick had never made Mommy this angry. All his numb brain could think was that his mommy hated him. She loved her lamp more than she loved her little boy. A.J. couldn't begin to think of what his mother expected him to say. He had already told her he was sorry. What more did she want? A.J. started to cry harder then. His body shook as he stood before his mother, so afraid if he couldn't answer her questions she would spank him again.
"All right, Andrew, since you can't seem to remember that I've told you boys over and over never to play baseball in the house, and you won't promise not to do it again, I'm taking your glove and ball away. When you show me you can remember the things I tell you and obey the rules, maybe you can earn the right to have them again." Finally recognizing she needed to calm down and control her fury, Cecilia told her youngest sternly, "I'm going downstairs and call Mrs. Johnson to let her know you won't be able to make it to Jimmy's party this afternoon. I want you to put your pajamas on and get in bed right this minute, A.J. If you can't remember the rules any better than a three-year-old, then I guess you'll have to be treated like one. Maybe a nap will do you some good."
As Cecilia walked out the doorway, she paused and looked back into the room.
"No books either! You just lie there awhile and think of how bad you've been. Don't you dare come out of this room until I say you can."
A.J. stood by his bedside crying while slowly changing his clothes. Just when the little boy thought the sobbing was under control and starting to subside, he would think about all that had just happened to him and the tears would start up in full force again.
A.J. climbed into his bed, his feelings and his bottom hurting. He didn't know what hurt worse, the spanking, or his mother's harsh words. It mattered to young A.J. what others thought of him - especially his family's opinion of him. He tried hard to obey his parents and be a good boy. He liked being a good boy. It was easy for him. A.J. was devastated now that his mother said he was a bad boy and was naughty and that she thought he had disobeyed. The five-year-old curled his body into a tight little ball of misery and lay facing the wall. He sobbed into his pillow as though his young heart were breaking.
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Two hours later the kitchen door slowly opened. Rick peeked his head in, checking to see if the coast was clear. No sign of his mother was to be had, so he cautiously stepped into the house.
Rick had been forced to return to the scene of the crime. He didn't have much choice. He had to go to the bathroom real bad. Closing the door softly behind him, Rick tiptoed to the downstairs bathroom. The boy didn't encounter anyone as he passed through the living room. He saw that the broken pieces of the lamp, which had been scattered across the carpet the last time Rick was here, had been cleaned up. No evidence of the earlier misdeed was anywhere to be seen. Rick could hear the dryer running, and the basement door had been open as he went through the kitchen, so he assumed his mom was downstairs doing laundry.
Maybe, just maybe, I can get done in the bathroom and get outta here before Mom knows I've been home.
Rick was washing his hands at the bathroom sink when he heard his mother's voice from the other side of the door.
"Rick, is that you?"
Oh brother. Now I'm in for it!
As nonchalantly as possible, he called back, "Yeah, Mom, it's me. I'll be out in a minute."
"I'll be in the kitchen. Please see me before you run off somewhere."
Rick swallowed hard. "O...okay, Mom."
Figuring that he couldn't stay in the bathroom forever, and knowing that he had to face the music sooner or later, Rick took a deep breath and opened the door. He walked out and headed for the kitchen.
Rick found his mom chopping vegetables for that evening's supper. "You wanted...wanted to see me, Mom?"
Cecilia turned to face her oldest. "I just wanted to make sure you let me know where you're going to be the rest of the afternoon. The last time I saw you was right after lunch, and I was getting concerned as to where you had disappeared to." Sternly, she added, "You know better than that, Rick. You're supposed to let me know what your plans are."
"Um...yeah, I know. I'm sorry, Mom. I forgot, I guess. Uh, I...I was in a hurry. A bunch of the guys were getting together at Mike's to play basketball."
Rick was carefully observing his mother as he spoke these words.
She doesn't seem mad. A little uptight maybe, but that's probably ‘cause she didn't know where I was.
"Well, don't forget again, Richard, or you'll find yourself spending the rest of your summer vacation in the house with me."
Deciding to throw a smile his mother's way to see what the response would be, Rick grinned and said, "I won't forget again, Mom, I promise. I'm sorry I worried ya."
Cecilia gave her dark headed boy a smile in return. "All right, I'll let you off the hook this time. Now where are you going to be?"
"Well, the guys and me--"
"Rick, please, it's ‘my friends and I.’"
Trying again as he snitched several pieces of diced carrots, Rick said, "Well, my friends and I are going down to the park and play football. I just came home to use the bathroom. Is it okay if I go?"
Cecilia focused her attention back on her supper preparations. "Yes, go ahead. It's two thirty now. Your dad's going to be home early for a change tonight, so I'm planning supper for five. I expect you home shortly before then so we can eat right at five on the dot. Don't come running in here at five-fifteen, son. Surprise us all and be on time, please."
Not believing his luck, Rick headed out the kitchen door. "Okay, I'll surprise you. I'll even be home at a quarter-to-five, how's that?"
Cecilia’s eyes widened in a gesture of make believe shock. "I don't think my heart could stand the strain, Richard."
Rick closed the door behind him and headed toward the bicycle he had left lying on the front lawn. Since he had seen no signs of A.J., and since his mother hadn't mentioned of his little brother, Rick assumed A.J. was at Jimmy's birthday party. And, since his mother wasn't angry with Rick and hadn't said anything about the broken lamp, Rick also assumed A.J. had covered for him and hadn't snitched on him as to how the lamp had gotten broken. A.J. must have taken the blame himself.
The more Rick thought about it, the more he figured that, yeah, his mom was probably pretty angry about the whole thing upon first discovering the lamp - or rather, what was left of it. She probably even yelled at A.J. a little bit. But, knowing his little brother, as soon as Mom started hollering, A.J. started crying and looked at her with those big sad blue eyes filled with tears. Then A.J. probably told Mom how sorry he was, and how much he loved her, and that he would never do anything like that again. Then A.J. had probably given Mom a big hug and kiss, along with a sincere, “I’m sorry, Mommy,” and soon all was forgiven. Oh, maybe Mom made him help clean up the mess, and she probably lectured A.J. about playing ball in the house, but that would be about it. A.J. knew every trick in the book when it came to wrapping himself around Mom's little finger, there was no doubt about that.
As Rick rode off toward the park, he smiled to himself.
I've got a terrific brother. He doesn't snitch on me, and he covers for me real good when I need him to. I guess I owe him one. Tonight I'll read A.J. any book he wants, and I'll even let him win at checkers. That'll make him happy. If Mom scolded him for that lamp, that should make up for it. I'll even read him two stories. He's a good kid; he deserves it.
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Cecilia was finishing her supper preparations and glanced up at the clock seeing it was three-fifteen. All was still quiet upstairs, but she decided to check on A.J. She had peeked her head into his room about two o' clock, intending to tell her youngest he could get out of bed but would have to stay in his room until supper time. Cecilia had found A.J. curled under the covers sound asleep, so hadn’t awakened him.
Cecilia quietly opened the boys' bedroom door for the second time that afternoon, only to see that A.J. had hardly shifted position since the last time she was up here and was sleeping yet with his back to the doorway. Any other time Cecilia would have found this to be unusual and would have investigated further. A.J. hadn't napped for her in over a year now. But, the previous evening the Simon family had been to a picnic at the home of some friends that had included several other families with children the same ages of both Rick and A.J. By the time Cecilia got her men packed up to come home, and got her boys in bed, it had been after eleven. Well past normal bedtime for either one of her sons. As usual, A.J.'s internal alarm clock went off at six-thirty this morning, and he had been going strong ever since then, playing outside with Rick and some other neighborhood children until lunch time. She imagined those circumstances, combined with the trauma surrounding the broken lamp, had worn her youngest son out.
Cecilia closed the bedroom door and headed down the stairs. As she had been for the past hour, the woman found herself regretting once again that she had lost her temper when spanking A.J.
Once Cecilia had cooled down sufficiently, she had begun going over in her mind the afternoon's events and was beginning to question her method of punishment. Perhaps having kept A.J. home from his party and in his room all afternoon would have been enough. Although she was still angry over the loss of her lamp, Cecilia was also ashamed of herself for spanking A.J. when she was so out of control. Add to that the fact that her youngest son had never been spanked before, and you now had a mother who was waging a battle between two emotions. Anger at the child who had disobeyed the rules, and guilt on the part of the woman who now wished she’d thought the punishment for the crime through prior to dishing it out.
Cecilia usually took pride in the fact that she could calmly handle any discipline problem that arose with her two boys. Until today, A.J. simply had never done anything that warranted punishment as harsh as a spanking. And although Jack could be short tempered with Rick at times, delivering a hard spanking now and then to their oldest over uncompleted homework or some reckless stunt pulled, Cecilia, on the other hand, could always handle anything Rick did with a level head. She could not recall ever having lost control when punishing Rick, as she had with A.J. today. She couldn’t even remember now, how many times she’d struck A.J. with the ruler. Was it eight times, or nine times, or even more maybe?
Cecilia hurried on through the living room. She pushed her thoughts, and her guilt, to the back of her mind as she ran to answer the ringing telephone.
What Cecilia didn't know that afternoon, was that each time she checked on A.J. and thought he was asleep, she was wrong. Whenever A.J. had heard his mother coming up the stairs he would burrow further under the covers, his entire body tensing. He was so afraid she was coming to spank him again.
The first time she checked on him, as soon as the door closed, the tears that had subsided started up again. Now she had been up here again, and after she had left, the tears had started all over. Only this time A.J.'s head hurt, and the stomachache he’d had ever since the spanking was getting worse. A.J. wrapped his arms around his stomach and drew his knees up closer to his chest. He gave a ragged sigh, while wondering if this day would ever end.
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At four-thirty Jack Simon was pulling his Buick into his driveway. He met up with his oldest son, who was walking out of the garage having just arrived home on his bicycle.
"Hi, sport,” Jack greeted Rick as he got out of the car.
"Hey, Dad," Rick returned as he fell into step beside his father as the two Simon men headed for the side kitchen door. Rick began telling his dad all about his busy day, leaving out one minor detail concerning a lamp.
Jack greeted his wife with a kiss. Cecilia returned the kiss, then told her husband and Rick to wash for supper.
Father and son returned to the kitchen together after having washed their hands in the same bathroom Rick has used earlier that afternoon. Jack hung his dark suit coat over the back of his chair, then took off his tie and did the same thing with it. As he undid the two top buttons on his shirt and rolled his sleeves up to elbows he asked, "Where's Andy? Isn't he home from his party yet?"
As she sat dishes of warm food on the table Cecilia related the events of the afternoon to her husband. She ended her monologue by saying, "I'm afraid I lost my temper with him, Jack. I spanked him awfully hard. I kept him home from the party, as well. He's been up in his room asleep all afternoon."
Had either of his parents been paying any attention to Rick during Cecilia's narrative, they would have wondered as to the reason for the look of shock on his young face. But, they weren't paying attention to their oldest son as Jack said to his wife, "I'll go up and bring Andy down to supper. I imagine he's been punished enough, don't you, Cece?"
"Yes, I'm sure he has," Cecilia replied softly, once again her actions from earlier causing her to feel guilty over her lack of control when dealing with her small child.
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Jack opened the boys’ bedroom door. "Andy. Andy, son, supper is ready. Mommy sent me up to get you."
From the doorway Jack could see the form of his youngest laying in a fetal position under the covers on his bed, back to the doorway. Jack could hear muffled sobs coming from that vicinity as well, and began to wonder if A.J. could have been up here crying all afternoon.
Jack walked into the bedroom and immediately noticed a peculiar odor. As the father of two children, Jack had encountered vomit often enough to recognize the smell as soon as it assailed his nostrils.
He swiftly moved to the bed and went around it so he could see A.J.'s face. Sure enough, the youngster had thrown up on the covers and sheets. A.J. was now lying on the opposite side of his twin bed, having moved himself as far away from the mess as possible. Jack was confused and also worried, wondering if A.J. was so sick that he was unable to call for his mother, as he normally did when he was ill.
Jack laid his hand on A.J.'s forehead and was relieved to find that he wasn’t running a temperature, but was shocked when he studied his son closer. A.J.'s eyes were puffy and swollen, his nose running, and his face damp and almost chapped from the tears that were still running down it.
"Andy, tell Daddy what hurts. Does your tummy hurt?"
"Please, Daddy, don't spank me! I'm sorry I got sick,” A.J. begged in a hoarse voice that bordered hysteria. “Please don't spank me. Please!"
Jack Simon, who had never laid a hand on his youngest son, was shocked at this outburst. Soothing A.J.’s matted hair back off his forehead, he said, "Daddy's not going to spank you, Andy. No one's going to spank you. Daddy's going to carry you into the bathroom and clean you up, okay? Now I want you to stop crying, please."
At A.J.'s meek nod, Jack bent, and in the process of picking his son up, noticed there was also vomit on A.J.'s pajama top. Jack was heartsick at the thought that his little boy had been in this condition for who knew how long, because he was afraid to tell someone he was sick for fear he'd be punished again.
Jack sat A.J. up on the edge of the bed and unbuttoned his top. He helped the boy work his arms out and then laid the dirty pajama shirt on the top of the soiled covers. He picked A.J. up and walked over to the closet. He pulled a small blanket down from the shelf and wrapped it around his son.
A.J. rested his head on his father’s shoulder as he was carried to the bathroom he and Rick shared on the second floor of the house. Jack took a washcloth from the linen closet and dampened it with cool water. He sat down on the closed lid of the toilet with A.J. in his lap. Jack wiped off A.J.'s face, then grabbed a Kleenex from the box on the vanity and made him blow his nose. Jack then pulled a Dixie cup down from the wall dispenser, filled it with cool water, and had A.J. take several drinks. With A.J. still seated on his lap, Jack began gently rubbing his back until A.J.'s little body relaxed and molded itself to his chest.
"Does your tummy hurt, Andy?"
"A little bit," was the soft reply.
"Do you feel like you're going to be sick again?"
"I don't know. Maybe."
"Well, we'll just sit here a little while, then, and see if you feel better. If you think you're going to be sick, tell Daddy, okay?"
After a few minutes of silence, A.J. spoke in a hushed tone, "Mommy hates me."
Putting his hand underneath his son's chin, Jack forced A.J.'s head up and looked down into expressive eyes filled with hurt and betrayal. "Why do you say that?"
"She hit me hard, and yelled loud, too! She wouldn't do that if she loved me. I could never hit anybody like Mommy hit me, not you, or Mommy, or Rick, or anybody, Daddy. I told her she was hurting me and I asked her to stop, but she wouldn't, she just kept spanking me." A.J. paused and gave a little hiccoughed sob before continuing. "And she said I don't obey. Mommy thinks I'm a bad boy, and I don't want her to think that! She really, really hurt my feelings."
Jack patted his son's back. Though the situation wasn’t to be taken lightly, Jack had to hide his smile at A.J.’s words. This youngest son of his was so different from Rick. Although, like his older brother, Andrew was ‘all boy’ as the expression went, he was also far more sensitive to feelings – both his own, and those of the people around him.
"Andy, don't start crying again, son. You'll just make yourself sick. Andrew, come on now. Don't do that please."
A.J. did his best to stop crying as Jack rocked gently back and forth with him. As they sat together in silence, Jack mulled over everything A.J. had just said.
The words A.J. had spoken had struck a nerve within Jack, and all of a sudden his mind took him back to when he was a small boy and had received a severe spanking for some injustice he couldn't even recall now. He suddenly remembered what it was like to be five years old and be terrified of one of the two most important people in your young life...your mother or father, and to have that normally loving and giving person suddenly transform before your eyes into what seems like a monster who is doing nothing but inflicting pain. Much to his chagrin, Jack recalled many a night lying in his own bed with a sore bottom, making this vow to himself.
Someday when I'm a daddy and have a little boy, I'll never hit him when he's naughty. I'll find another way to teach him to be good.
Jack Simon now wondered what had happened to that small boy and his vow. He realized, of course, that little boy had grown up, and that the pressures and demands of everyday living had caused him to forget what it feels like to be a child.
Although Jack had never spanked A.J., he had given Rick his fair share of spankings and then some over the years. Yet it took A.J., voicing his own thoughts and feelings, to make Jack realize that Rick must have felt these same things, too, every time Jack had spanked him. Rick and A.J. were just two different personalities who handled the same situation in two separate ways.
True to Rick's character, he took his spanking and never said anymore about it. Never acted like it bothered him afterwards, and sometimes the only trace of tears were the ones welled up in the corners of his eyes. Rarely did Rick actually break down and cry.
At least, not in front of me. But, just like Cecilia scared Andy today and hurt his feelings, I must scare Rick and hurt his feelings, too.
Jack continued to turn these thoughts over in his mind for a few minutes as he stroked A.J.'s head where it rested against his chest. He was suddenly angry at himself to think that his boys might actually be afraid of him, like he sometimes had been afraid of his own father.
That's not what I wanted, thought Jack. There has to be a better way.
Picking up the conversation where A.J. had left off, Jack said, "You're not a bad boy, Andy, and neither is Rick. Sometimes you or your brother do naughty things, but you're not bad, and Mommy doesn't think you are. Sometimes grownups say things when they're angry they don't mean, and that's what happened to Mommy today. Little boys do that sometimes, too. I've heard you get mad at Rick and tell him you never want to play with him again, but you don't mean it, do you?"
“No. Or least not after I’m done bein’ mad at him.”
Jack chuckled. "Well, that's what happened to Mommy today, too. She said something she didn't mean."
As A.J. absorbed Jack's words, Jack himself wondered if all of this made any sense to his young son. Again, Jack thought of himself as a boy and how he had viewed his parents as people who did not make mistakes. He could understand A.J. thinking, "If Mommy says I'm bad, then I must be bad." Jack's boys, like most children, had been taught to listen to adults and to trust adults, especially their parents. Naturally this child in his lap would take everything that had transpired today to heart.
The more thought Jack gave to the situation, the more his mind turned once again to his encounters with Rick. Had Jack ever, when losing his temper over a bad report card or mischievous stunt, told his oldest that he was lazy, or unmotivated, or a bad boy? Jack just couldn't remember, but thought, I'll bet Rick can. At that moment Jack Simon came to the realization that he had a lot to think about, and a lot to talk about with Cecilia.
Standing up, Jack said to the little boy he was still holding, "I'm going to put you in Mommy and Daddy's bed, Andy, so Mommy and I can get things cleaned up in here. How about if I have Rick come up and keep you company?"
A.J.'s body stiffened in Jack's arms as his father carried him out of the bedroom. "Don't tell Mommy I got sick, Daddy, please! Put me down, I'll clean it up, I promise I will."
Jack pulled the blanket that had slipped down to A.J.'s waist up over his bare torso and hugged him tightly. Speaking barely above a whisper, Jack assured A. J., "Everything's going to be all right, son. Mommy's not going to punish you for being sick. Nobody in this house ever gets punished for being sick. I promise, okay?"
A.J. whispered a soft, "Okay," in return, as his father reached the landing at the top of the stairs. Jack had intended to yell down to Cecilia that A.J. had been sick, and to send Rick up to keep him company while the bedroom was cleaned. As Jack was about to open his mouth to do just that, he changed his mind. He decided the child in his arms had heard enough yelling for one day. Therefore, Jack proceeded down the stairs and into the kitchen with A.J.'s arms wrapped tightly around his neck.
When Jack entered the kitchen, both Cecilia and Rick looked up from their plates.
Cecilia smiled and said, "I thought you two got lost," then saw A.J.'s bare arms wrapped around his father's neck, and part of his bare back where the blanket had fallen away. To the back of her son's head she asked, "A.J., where's your pajama top? Why'd you take it off?"
Jack answered quietly, "Andy threw up on the bed, Cece. Some of it got on his top, so I helped him get it off."
Cecilia, anger all but forgotten, rose from the table and moved toward Jack and A.J.
“What? He's sick! Does he have a fever, Jack?" As Cecilia reached her hand out to lay it on A.J.’s forehead, the boy stiffened and buried his head in his father’s shoulder.
Cecilia put her hand over her mouth when her child shrank form her in fright. Jack could see tears forming in her eyes, and could easily guess at the wide range of thoughts and feelings running through her mind.
Deciding now was not the time for more tears, Jack said, "No, hon, I don't think he has a fever. He just told me a few minutes ago he was feeling better." Then, more softly, Jack said to his wife, "I think it's just nerves."
Raising his voice to normal pitch, Jack said,"I think Andy would like some 7Up, Mommy, and maybe Rick could come upstairs and read to him in our room while you and I change his bed."
"Yes, that would be a good idea," Cecilia’s voice quivered as she went to get the ginger ale. "Rick, is that all right with you?"
Jack looked at his eleven year old. He saw Rick nod, then saw tears in his eyes as well.
Not Rick, too! Well, I guess if the whole family has to feel bad, we might as well feel bad together.
Cecilia handed Rick the glass of 7Up and asked him to carry it upstairs for his dad. To Jack she said softly, "I'll be up in a minute." She reached out to gently lay a hand on A.J.'s back, then abruptly drew it away, suddenly afraid of how this gesture would be received.
Jack gave her a small smile of encouragement and a wink as he turned away with A.J. in his arms, Rick following. Cecilia had been married to Jack Simon long enough to read the silent message of, "It'll be okay. We'll get through this. Everything will be all right."
As she wiped her eyes, Cecilia wondered if Jack's message was correct. Would everything be all right, or had she inadvertently caused damage today she could never fully repair? While those questions ran through her mind, Cecilia put supper back in the oven to keep it warm, then headed upstairs to talk to Jack.
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Rick had gone into the boys' room to pick out a favorite book of A.J.'s, while A.J. was deposited on his parents' queen-size bed. Rick entered the room carrying the book. He set it and the glass of 7Up on the nightstand, then climbed on the bed with his brother.
Jack looked at his oldest child. "I'm going to help Mom change Andy's bed. Rick, would you see to it that he drinks his 7up? He needs the fluids."
At Rick's, "Yes, Dad," Jack smiled at both his boys and said, "I'll be back in a little while," then quietly closed the door as he left the room.
As soon as the door closed, Rick hugged A.J. to his chest, two tears starting to run down his cheeks. "A.J., I'm so sorry. I didn't mean for you to get punished in my place. You shoulda' told Mom it was my fault before she hit ya.'"
A.J. was hugging Rick like he would never let go. "I couldn't tell on you, Rick. That would be tattling and I'm not a tattletale."
"Did she really spank ya' hard, kid?"
"Over and over and over! She wouldn't stop. She hates me, Rick. I know she does."
"Shhh, shhh, come on now, it's okay. Mom doesn't hate you, kid. She was mad, that's all. I'm going to tell them it was me that broke the lamp. I should never have run off in the first place, then none of this would have ever happened."
"No, Rick, don't tell them. Then the spanking was for nothing. It was wasted if they spank you, too!"
"No, it's not wasted. I've got the best brother in the world! How many brothers would do what you did for me today? I'll bet none, that's how many! You missed your party, too. I'm real sorry, A.J. I'll make it up to you, I promise. Somehow I'll take you to the zoo myself. And I am gonna tell Mom and Dad the whole story."
The two brothers remained locked in a fierce embrace a few moments longer, Rick wiping his eyes with the back of his hand while hoping A.J. hadn't noticed that he had been crying.
Pretending he didn't see Rick's red eyes and runny nose, A.J. broke the embrace and reached over Rick to the nightstand. He picked up the book Rick had carried into the room. Seeing Rick cry made A.J. feel bad, so he handed him the book. "Just forget it. Please don't tell Mommy and Daddy. I want you to read to me now."
Taking the book from A.J., Rick opened it. Before he started reading he retrieved the glass of 7Up and gave it to his brother. "Here, drink this, all of it, while I read. Dad says you need it.”
At A.J.'s nod, Rick began to read. The eleven-year-old didn’t pay much attention to the words. His mind was on what he had to do when his father returned. Rick had every intention of telling his dad the truth, no matter what his father did to him. He imagined he'd get spanked awful hard, but there was no way he could let his parents go on thinking what had happened today was A.J.'s fault. Just knowing what his little brother had been through on his behalf made Rick want to start crying all over again.
Focusing back in on the words he was reading, Rick became more involved in the story. For a little while, the young Simon brothers were transported to a world full of wizards and knights, and dragons, and castles. A world where harsh words aren't spoken, and little boys aren't spanked.
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A half hour later the door opened and Jack and Cecilia entered their bedroom to find Rick and A.J. still seated on the bed, Rick reading aloud from A.J.'s book.
Before either parent had a chance begin the discussion they planned to have with their sons, Rick jumped off the bed.
"Dad, Mom, it wasn't A.J. who threw the ball today, it was me."
"Rick, no, please!” A.J. begged. “It's over. Just forget it!"
Rick ignored his brother as he looked up at is parents. "I'm the one who shoulda' been spanked, not A.J. I never woulda run if I'd of thought he was going to get punished, honest I wouldn't have, Dad. I'm sorry, Mom,” Rick apologized as tears began flowing down his cheeks. “I didn't mean for anything like this to happen. I'm sorry about your lamp."
Before Jack had a chance to say anything to Rick, he heard Cecilia's, "Oh, no!" and turned to see her burst into tears and flee the room. Jack could hear the boys' bathroom door shut and could faintly hear Cecilia crying.
If the whole situation hadn't been so serious, Jack would have burst out laughing. He had just spent a half an hour drying his wife's tears, and now she was holed up in a bathroom crying again. His oldest son was standing next to him crying, saying, "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," while little Andy was sitting up in the bed, teary-eyed as well, looking from Jack, to Rick, to the doorway his mother had just disappeared through.
I swear I feel like I'm in a soap opera. If this story takes one more bizarre plot twist I'm going to lock myself in a bathroom and cry a while, too.
Taking the present situation into hand, Jack put his hand on Rick's back and gently guided him over to the bed. Jack sat down and placed Rick on his left knee. A.J. crawled over and got off the bed, leaning against Jack's right knee.
"Daddy, don't spank Rick, please. I was already spanked for him. It will all be for nothing if you spank him now. Please don't, Daddy.
At the same time, between sobs, Rick was saying, "I deserve to be spanked, Dad. I know what I did was real bad. I'm sorry. Take away my bike, spank me, it doesn't matter. I should have never run. I didn't mean for A.J. to get spanked, honest I didn't."
Jack smiled and hugged Rick. "Rick, I'm not going to spank you. I want you to stop crying now. I have something to say to you boys. Come on now, Richard, you won't be able to hear me if you keep crying. Calm down. Everything's going to be all right.”
Jack stopped his oldest from wiping his nose with his shirtsleeve and pulled out his handkerchief. "Here, Rick, use this."
Rick wiped his eyes and blew his nose, then handed the handkerchief back to his father.
Sitting A.J. up on his right knee, Jack put an arm around each son. "Guys, your mom and I just had a long discussion about how punishment is handled in this house. After everything that's happened today, she and I think we need to make a few changes. The four of us are going to sit and have a talk tomorrow, and everybody's going to have a chance to have his or her say. Mom and I are really going to try to issue punishments that don't involve spankings any longer. I don't ever want one of my boys to be sick again because he got spanked."
With that, Jack gave A.J. a tight little squeeze. "I know it's hard for you to understand this, but sometimes Mommies and Daddies make mistakes, too. We don't always make the right decisions, so tomorrow we're going to talk this over as a family. How's that sound?"
Both boys nodded. Rick sniffled and said in a soft voice, "But I should still be punished for what I did today. I think I deserve a spanking, really. I'm not just sayin’ that."
"No, Rick! No, Daddy!" A.J. interjected on his brother's behalf.
Jack took his hand off Rick's back and tilted his chin up so he could look into his son's eyes. "No, Rick, no spanking. I've got a feeling that what happened to Andy today on your behalf is punishment enough." Jack knew there was no quicker way to hurt Rick than for A.J. to be hurting. He knew, too, Rick was sincere in all he had said about deserving a spanking, and wasn't just trying to win his father's favor. As a matter of fact, Jack imagined this was one instance it was hurting Rick worse not to be punished.
"Yeah, Dad, I feel real bad that A.J. got spanked and Mom was so mad at him."
"I know you do. I don't imagine you'll forget today for a long time to come."
"No, sir, I won't", Rick stated emphatically.
"Neither will I!" a little voice piped up from Jack's right knee.
Jack looked down into A.J.'s twinkling eyes and chuckled. He stood A.J. up on the bed next to him and gently rubbed his hand over the pajama-clad bottom. "I bet you won't, Andy! I just bet you won't!"
Giving Rick a final hug and kissing the top of the dark head, Jack tilted his knee so the gangly Rick could slide off.
"Go into the master bathroom, Rick, and wash your face. Then go down and finish your supper, please. Mom put it into the oven. Your brother and I will be down in a minute to eat with you."
"Okay." Rick hugged his dad once more and then reached up to hug A.J. As A.J. bent down Rick whispered in his ear, "You're the best brother, A.J., honest! I love you," and then ran off to do as he was told.
A.J. stood on the bed next to his father, leaning against Jack's right side and shoulder. They shared a few moments of peaceful silence when A.J. let forth a big sigh. "I'll sure be glad when today is over."
"I know you will, son."
"Now Mommy's crying, too. How come, Daddy?"
"Well, Andy, Mommy feels bad because she lost her temper and spanked you today. She feels bad that you got sick and were afraid to tell her. Now, I imagine, Mommy feels bad because she discovered she punished the wrong little boy."
A.J. shrugged his bare shoulders. "She made a mistake. Grownups do that sometimes."
Jack laughed and hugged his son. "Yes, Andy, they do.
After everything that's happened today, do you still love Mommy?"
A.J.'s eyes grew round with shock that his father would even ask such a thing. "Sure I do.”
"Well, Mommy is afraid you don't love her anymore, or at least not as much as you used to. She's worried that you're afraid of her. Do you think you could go to Mommy now and give her a big hug? I know that will make her feel better. Then I bet she'll stop crying." Jack patted A.J.’s back. "As a matter of fact, I bet you're the only person in this house who can make Mommy happy again. What do ya' say, tiger?"
A.J. scampered off the bed with a firm nod. “I can do that.”
"That's my little man," Jack said as he lightly swatted A.J.'s behind.
"Daddy!" A.J. yelped, covering his bottom with his hands.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I forgot." Jack knelt down beside his son and rubbed his palm over A.J.'s bottom again and kissed his forehead. "Better?"
"Yeah, it's okay."
"Good. Now go to Mommy. I think she's in your bathroom. Then come downstairs and have something to eat. If your tummy feels up to it, we'll go out for ice cream after supper."
"My tummy feels up to it," A.J. declared as he hurried toward the bathroom he and Rick shared.
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A.J. knocked on the bathroom door. “Mommy! Mommy, can I come in?"
Cecilia wiped her eyes and tried to pull herself together. "Yes, A.J., you can come in."
She wasn't prepared for the little boy who launched himself at her, hugging her tightly. "Mommy, don't cry, please. I love you. Don't cry anymore. Let's just forget about today."
Cecilia started crying softly again while she hugged A.J. to her chest. "No, A.J., we'll never forget about today. Never. I love you so much, sweetheart. More than you'll ever know. I’m sorry about today."
Cecilia began rocking back and forth with A.J. in her arms. Of everything that had occurred today, it broke Cecilia's heart to know that A.J. had gotten sick, and then had been too afraid to come and tell her about it. She never wanted either of her children to be afraid of her again. Cecilia knew she could have lost so much today. Her child's love would probably always be a given, but his trust in her had almost been taken away by one reckless, unthinking act.
After a few minutes of rocking and hugging, A.J. looked up at his mother. She kissed his cheek and nose as he wiped away the tears on her face with his hands. Cecilia smiled at him and said, "Tomorrow we’re all going to the zoo. We'll spend the day there, then go out for pizza. How's that sound?"
A.J. smiled back at her. "That sounds like fun, but Daddy says we're having a meeting."
"A meeting? Oh, you mean to talk about punishment?" At A.J.'s nod Cecilia continued, "Well, we'll do that right after breakfast, then we'll have the rest of the day free. There'll be plenty of time left for the zoo."
Cecilia was content to sit holding her little boy against her chest for a few minutes longer, stroking his hair and rubbing his bare back.
A.J. finally broke the silence by sitting straight up on her lap and looking into her eyes. “Even though I didn't do it, I am sorry about your lamp getting broken today. I know it was real special to you.”
With tears coming to her eyes again, Cecilia once more pulled A.J. close and held him as tightly as she dared. She kissed the top of his golden head and said softly, "Not as special as some other things, A.J. Not nearly as special as some other things."
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