I will confess right off the start that I grew up in a different time and place. Some of you may find the following experiences somewhat offensive, even violent. For those who cringe when they read this, let me say-
Get over it.
While growing up in rural West Tennessee, we had traditions and celebrations that may seem odd. One of our favorite annual celebrations was the traditional birthday spanking, or ‘whippin’ as it was affectionately known. These birthday spankings were part of our family ritual. While we pretended to hate them, the truth is, we enjoyed the wrestling match and the tickles and the laughter that went with it. Never painful, never mean-spirited, the licks always included one smack for each year of our lives, plus “one to grow on”. I don’t know from where that saying came, but I think I should research it, find the origin and context of the phrase. Or maybe not.
My dad always delivered my birthday “whippin'” when he got home from work. He’d grab me, and to the floor we’d go; rolling around on the carpet, me squirming like a toesack full of snakes, Daddy’s big hands laying licks on my posterior amid our laughter and my flailing limbs. He would reach way above his head, swing those huge hands in a fury, and just before making contact, would slow down so that the actual contact was nothing more than a loud love pat. He would count aloud, often purposefully forgetting what comes after 8, or like a broken record, repeating the same age over and over again.
Things changed when I turned 15.
As usual, Dad caught me and took me down to the floor. We were having so much fun! My mom was across the room, pulling first for me, then Daddy, then me. Short of piling in herself, she did everything she could to keep us both worked up. I squirmed as much as I could, trying to wrench myself free from Daddy’s hands, but not really wanting to get out of his grasp. I rolled over; I curled in the fetal position; for several minutes I kicked and flailed, laughing my head off. But I did not notice that Daddy was no longer laughing.
I had succeeded in rolling over onto my back for the third or fourth time, when Daddy suddenly gave up and said, “Well, you whip me then!”. With that said, he stood up, dropped my legs to the floor, and walked out of the room.
The room was suddenly quiet. I didn’t really understand what Daddy meant, and didn’t understand why he would give in like that and leave the room. I looked at mom, who seemed to understand what was happening.
“Did I do something wrong?” I asked my mom.
“No, you didn’t.”, she replied.
“Then why did Daddy give up? Why did he leave?” I was still not convinced that I was not in trouble.
Wisdom flowed from my mom. “Your dad quit because he couldn’t whip you. You have grown up to the point that he can no longer handle you by wrestling on the floor, no longer muscle you around. So, you whipped him”
My heart sank. Because I enjoyed the closeness and the frenzy of goofing around with my dad, I hadn’t considered that there would come a day when he couldn’t whip my hind end. I had never ever considered what would happen if I won the wrestling match.
When I turned 15, I didn’t get my birthday licks, but I did get my “one to grow on”. I learned that when it comes to their children, even tall, skinny, tough dads can have a hard time when suddenly struck by the reality that their kids are, in fact, kids no longer.
I try to remember that lesson as I watch my own kids grow up. It is our job to teach and train them so that when that horrible day comes- the day I can no longer give them their birthday licks- they are ready to take life by the shoulders, wrestle it to the floor, and whip it at will. The book of Proverbs calls it “training up a child in the way he should go so that when he is old, he will not depart from it”.
I think that’s a good one to grow on….
What are some hard lessons you’ve learned either from your parents or from your kids?