A brat who’s supposed to be grounded gets caught going to the mall.
by Caroline Richards
Note: This is a real experience from when I was 17 years old. I’m posting it on the fiction site instead of memories because I have added some thoughts and commentary looking back on this years later, so I feel this is more like an essay about an experience I had than just a pure recollection. I wrote about this day in my diary at the time, but decidedly left out the denouement because I couldn’t bring myself to write about it, and also to save myself from dying of embarrassment in case anyone else ever read my diary. In some parts of this, I remember pretty clearly what was said, and in other parts I remember mostly the gist of what was said. Accordingly, a bit of the dialogue is me filling in the gaps, but consistent with what I remember and the way I and my family and friends talked and interacted at the time. More background on my family situation can be found on a post I have on the memories site titled, ‘A girl’s memories of growing up in California’.
This happened in northern California in 1991.
Ever since the time I started living with my Aunt Karen and Uncle Steve when I was 12, they had become, for all practical purposes, my step-parents. Likewise, their son, my older cousin Mike, and their daughter, my younger cousin Rachel, were my de-facto step-siblings. I don’t have the words to express how happy and grateful I was, and still am, to be part of their family. I wasn’t always the easiest kid to deal with, and I’m amazed how much my aunt and uncle were able to balance patience, kindness, and, when needed, firmness. They were both wiser than I gave them credit for, and I believe my Aunt Karen understood me better than I understood myself while she was raising me.
When I was 17 and in the second half of my junior year in high school (that’s 11th grade in the United States, for those keeping score), I was, and I’m just going to be honest here, still kind of a brat sometimes. I never did anything really bad or mean-spirited, but I could be stubborn and test the boundaries of what I could get away with. And I still acted a bit defiant, and I still do.
In a roundabout way, I feel like there’s a wholesome side to all that. It only makes sense to be defiant if you acknowledge that someone has authority over you. Even though it was wrong of me to talk back and otherwise misbehave, it meant that Aunt Karen and I had a fully established mother-daughter dynamic. Despite my little attitude problems from time to time, I was in complete awe of her and wanted to be like her someday, and I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world (which I still think). And having that relationship with her both made me unspeakably happy and made me feel genuine regret if I disrespected or disobeyed her.
At least, it made me feel regret afterward. Sometimes, even though in my head I knew better, I had to learn a lesson the hard way for the message to really get through to me. Fortunately for the development of my character, and unfortunately for my ability to sit down comfortably, Aunt Karen was quite willing to accommodate me when I needed to learn a lesson the hard way.
On that note, spanking wasn’t the only form of discipline Aunt Karen and Uncle Steve used with my cousins and me. Uncle Steve was very involved in our lives in general and in matters of discipline when they came up, but Aunt Karen was the one who administered any spankings to the girls. Sometimes, if we were on thin ice but not to the point of really needing to be punished, a stern talking-to would resolve the issue. For relatively minor things, like getting just a little too sassy, we might have to stand in the corner for a few minutes. That included when I was in my older teens, and it was effective, because it felt childish, so it helped press my reset button. If we said a swear word or mouthed off, we also might get one or two ‘reminder’ swats from Aunt Karen on the seat of our clothing. And in certain circumstances, we might get grounded. If one of us really screwed up badly, the penalty might even be getting grounded for a little while in conjunction with a spanking. But most of the time a spanking by itself was quite enough!
Aunt Karen and Uncle Steve would also occasionally give us a choice of punishment. My aunt and uncle knew very well that if one of us kids did something wrong and they didn’t know about it, the temptation would be to just never tell them. And if the punishment were the same whether you got caught in the act or they found out later, you may as well not tell them and take your chances on getting away with it. So they made sure we knew that if we confessed, they would take our owning-up to it into account when disciplining us. The alternatives they gave us were still both unpleasant; it wasn’t like I could say, “For my punishment, I would like to order pizza and watch my favorite movie.” The options would be something like you can take a spanking, or you can be grounded for a week.
When I got myself in those kinds of predicaments, if there was nothing in particular going on in my social life, I would pick being grounded. But if there was a school dance coming up or a school football game (American football) that all my friends were going to, or I wanted to go on a date, or my friends had been planning to hang out, then I would, extremely reluctantly, choose to get a spanking in exchange for freedom. I also got the small comfort that if either I chose a spanking, or if I admitted to some misbehavior that Aunt Karen felt needed to be dealt with that way without the option of grounding, it wouldn’t be quite as bad; she would just use her hand instead of the wooden spoon, for example.
I’m going to explain another part of Aunt Karen’s approach to discipline here because it will give context later as I’m recounting this experience. My Aunt Karen believed that when you got a spanking, embarrassment was part of the punishment. I want to be very clear that I don’t mean anything emotionally abusive or degrading. My family was always very positive about having a healthy self-image. In fact, when I was around 15, I went through a phase where I had bad self-esteem problems. It wasn’t to the point of needing professional counseling, but it was difficult nevertheless. All of my family stood by me and nursed me through that, and Aunt Karen most of all. She went above and beyond to make me feel important and good about myself. She always did that, actually.
The kind of embarrassment I’m talking about is that the process leading up to and getting a spanking was sort of formal and humbling and really put you in your place, as an antidote to the disobedience and naughty impulses that got you to that point. By having this little ritual kind of thing, you’re actually being forced back into obedience by having to follow instructions and being complicit in your own discipline. The idea was to make you really think over whatever you had done wrong and regret it and improve your behavior. And I have to say, her method worked. She really did make me own up to and reflect on whatever I had done, which isn’t easy with someone as hard-headed as I could be. I honestly felt like I had been taught a lesson whenever she disciplined me, even though the process of going through it was almost as bad as the actual stinging sore bottom. Almost.
And one last thing about my family, so that my interactions with my aunt don’t seem like I was putting on an act. Everyone in both my immediate family (my aunt and uncle and cousins I lived with) and extended family (my grandparents and other aunts and uncles and cousins) called the adults in the family ‘ma’am’ and ‘sir’. I assume this was another aspect of my grandparents’ southern upbringing that they had passed down to us. We all saw this as love and respect, not subservience. So I said “ma’am” and “sir” quite often in the ordinary course of dealing with my aunt and uncle, even when everything was copacetic. “Will you go check the mail, please, Carrie?” “Yes, ma’am.” That kind of thing.
Still, even though it was habit for me to talk this way among my family anyway, I found that when I was in trouble I had a very strong motivation to be extra respectful to Aunt Karen. Calling her ‘ma’am’ when I was in for it was sort of the mirror image of how I became ‘young lady’ when we were dealing with a disciplinary issue.
With all that out of the way, we go to early spring of 1991. I had just recently turned 17. As part of the festivities of how mature and grown-up I thought I was because of my birthday, one Saturday night I stayed out significantly past my curfew with a couple of friends. I did my best impression of a cat burglar sneaking into the house, but it turned out my aunt and uncle had the door to their room closed and the lights off, which guaranteed they were asleep. I had just enough time to believe that I had gotten away with it before the door to Rachel’s room opened and she stuck her head out and looked straight at me in the dim hallway. Rachel was 15 at the time. Even though the hall light was off, there was enough light coming through the windows from the streetlight outside that we could see each other’s faces in the gloom.
“Do you have any idea what time it is?” she whispered harshly to me, sounding more than a little bit like Aunt Karen scolding me.
I sighed heavily, mostly because there wasn’t a lot I could say in response. “Yeah.”
“You’re lucky Mom and Dad went to bed a long time ago. They were exhausted after working in the yard all day.”
Rachel looked down at the floor for a second, like she felt guilty about what she was going to say next. Then she looked back up at me.
“You know I have to tell them you came home late. I don’t want to, Carrie. I’m sorry.”
Carrie was my name in normal daily life. On official documents, as well as at home when Aunt Karen or Uncle Steve were having a serious talk because they were either very pleased or very displeased with me, then my name was Caroline.
I nodded in resignation. Rachel was referring to another rule we had that was meant to discourage honor among thieves. If you saw a sibling being bad, Rachel and Mike being my siblings in every meaningful way, as I said before, and you kept that secret from Aunt Karen and Uncle Steve, then you got the exact same punishment as the actual miscreant when they were found out. And as much as Rachel practically idolized me as the big sister she had always wanted, there was no way she was going to take the heat, both figurative and literal, for covering for me. On my side, there was no way I could have lived with myself if I had taken advantage of the way she looked up to me and tried to manipulate her into covering for me. The bottom line was, I was caught, dead to rights.
“Will you let me tell them myself in the morning?” I asked.
It was already well into the early morning hours, but I meant ‘morning’ as in when everyone woke up. I tried not to sound too much like I was pleading, but I wasn’t very successful.
“I promise, I’ll admit it to them. I won’t get you in trouble, too.”
Rachel slowly nodded, placated but still acting like she felt bad for letting me down, even though this was my fault and she had no choice. Because of the rule about a little bit of clemency for turning yourself in, we had developed an understanding that we would give each other a chance to confess before tattling on each other.
I think Rachel got a little nervous later when I waited until after our family got home from church before I confessed, but I did it. After a short lecture that included being commended for my honesty as well as chewed out for being irresponsible about coming home on time, I got the customary rock-and-a-hard-place choice of punishment. And that’s how I came to be sentenced to being grounded until the following Sunday.
Being grounded had clear rules. Unless there’s an extracurricular activity you can’t miss, like sports practice, drama practice, etc, you come straight home after school. You are restricted to the house unless going somewhere with Aunt Karen or Uncle Steve. You get no phone calls, your friends do not visit. In retrospect, I think this was actually a harsher punishment than a spanking, which is intense but only takes a few minutes. But then I really did not want to be spanked if I could help it. I could have helped it if I had just been obedient, of course, but that kind of straightforward logic didn’t always register with my adolescent brain.
Around Tuesday of this particular week of house arrest, I started getting a little stir-crazy. Or, more to the point, bored out of my freaking mind. As I sat there at home by myself, I suddenly realized that I was at home by myself. That’s when I started to consider that certain circumstances were aligned in my favor. Uncle Steve typically got home from work around 5.30 or 6.00 in the evening. Aunt Karen had a part-time job during Rachel and my school hours, but that week she was working later because she was covering for a co-worker who was either out sick or on vacation; I can’t remember which. Mike was in college and still living at home, but was always out until evening because of classes or going to the library or hanging out with friends and whatnot. And Rachel played high school soccer, and was at a soccer clinic all that week to get ready for try-outs for the following school year; that’s the high school soccer season in the fall. And I had the third, older car our family owned that was sort of mine and sort of the pool car for anyone who needed it. Mike had his own car. Usually I would drive Rachel home; she was one grade below me at our school, but that week Aunt Karen was picking her up after soccer because of Aunt Karen’s temporary later work hours. So I had transportation covered, with no witnesses.
It was the set-up for the perfect crime. Bored to tears as I was, it was okay for me to have a short reprieve from being grounded for a whole week, wasn’t it? With everyone busy away from the house, I could drop by the mall for just a little while on the way home from school, get back before anyone else, and no one would be the wiser!
I planned it all so thoroughly that I even wrote down in my diary the outfit I picked out for the furlough I had awarded myself. I wore a long-sleeved rugby shirt with blue and yellow horizontal stripes and a white collar. I didn’t play rugby, I didn’t know anyone who played rugby, and I didn’t know anything about rugby. But rugby shirts were in style at the time, so that’s what I had on. With that, I wore acid-washed blue jeans and yellow socks. I should explain that at the time, where I lived, teenagers thought it was stylish to do what we called ‘pegging’ our pants. This is American English, so to us, ‘pants’ means jeans or trousers, not underwear. Pegging your pants was done by taking the cuff of your jeans and pulling it forward until the back was tight against your calf, folding the loose part in front over until it was sort of tight across your shin, and then rolling the cuff up a couple of inches above your ankle. I still have no idea why we did this, or why we called it pegging, but everyone thought it looked cool. It also gave girls one more way to accessorize by making your socks visible, so that’s why I had yellow socks to match the stripes on my shirt. And then I had my hair in a ponytail held in place with a yellow Scunci. That’s a brand name for a kind of hair accessory that’s basically an elastic band with a fabric covering, known as a scrunchie in some parts of the world. And I had on white sneakers. And I put on make-up. I put a lot of thought into being fashionable for my unauthorized day out.
Now all I needed was a friend or two to come with me.
There were three girls who were my closest friends in high school. They all knew I was grounded, because I wanted them to know there was a reason why I wouldn’t be talking to them or seeing them after school for a week, the same reason why I knew whenever one of them got grounded. That Wednesday morning, I saw two of them, Megan and Tracey, talking by their lockers before school started. I told them my brilliant plan and asked if they wanted to go to the mall with me, “for just a little while?”
It did not go anything like how I had envisioned. Instead of being all for helping me be just a little bit naughty and having some innocent fun that wouldn’t hurt anything, they both started lecturing me about how dishonest it was for me to do that and I should just deal with it and get through being grounded so we could all hang out when it was over. In my head, I knew they were not only right, but they were also being true friends and looking out for what was best for me. But that wasn’t what I wanted to hear. So I dug in more firmly in my determination to do what I wanted, and our conversation ended with me flippantly saying, “Fine, whatever!” In the teenage vernacular, this was a concise way of letting them know that I was dismissing their advice out of hand.
It wasn’t until lunch time that I got to see my other best friend, Lisa. She of course also knew that I was grounded. Discipline was a delicate subject between the two of us, because Lisa was the only girl I knew outside of my family, including cousins in my extended family, whose mom still spanked her. And she was the only person outside of my family who knew I was disciplined that way. How we found this out about each other is a whole other story, but suffice it to say that Lisa and I had made every promise to each other short of a blood oath not to tell anyone else about it. Even between the two of us, we were too self-conscious to say ‘spanking’. We usually called it ‘getting in bad trouble’ instead of the dreaded ‘s’ word.
This doesn’t mean Lisa was the only girl who got spanked around my age, which is not something I was about to start taking a survey about around school. It just means she was the only one who I knew for sure was still spanked at that age.
Lisa is still a close friend to this day, and when we were teenagers, there were times that our relationship was sort of like I was Pinocchio and she was Jiminy Cricket, trying to be my conscience. Bless that girl’s heart, she put up with a lot in those years, because once my stubborn attitude got going, there was absolutely no reasoning with me. But she still tried.
We had finished eating and were walking aimlessly around campus until our lunch break ended, and I told Lisa about my really great plan to give myself some time off from being grounded and suggested she should, “Totally come to the mall with me.”
Now, Lisa did have her own naughty tendencies, as evidenced by the occasional spankings from her mom that I mentioned. Excuse me, “getting in bad trouble” with her mom. But where I had a way of digging in my heels and not listening to reason when I was in full brat mode, she had a way of getting really conscientious about the ethics of teenage rebelliousness. So, if it bothered her that I was so casual about being flagrantly disobedient to my de-facto parents, she was outright offended that I assumed she would want to be an accomplice to it.
Long story short, the reverse peer pressure I had already gotten from Megan and Tracey was off the charts with Lisa, and she gave me a peer-to-peer scolding that I deserved, that I needed, and that I resented so hard I was more determined than ever that I was going to the mall after school. Our little chat did not end on the best of terms, either. Lisa said something that included, “I know it sucks to be grounded, but be a big girl and deal with it.”
That was a very inflammatory thing to say to me when I was already past the point of no return of being a brat. To which I replied that she was being a total bitch to me. In my defense, I did not technically call her a bitch. I said she was being a total bitch to me. See? I was describing her behavior, not her character.
Okay, no, that really isn’t a meaningful distinction, and Lisa didn’t take it that way, either. If she had slapped me right there, I wouldn’t have blamed her, even in the state of mind I had at the moment. I remember actually thinking, ‘Do you hear yourself?’ as if whatever was left of the voice of reason inside me was determined to go down fighting. But the voice of reason lost; Lisa didn’t slap me, which honestly might have gotten through to me, and we each stomped off in a huff in opposite directions.
Fast forward about three hours. School is out, all of my family is conveniently occupied at various places, and I’m strolling around the mall without a care in the world. The one thing I was careful about was keeping track of the time, because I had planned this out way too cleverly to overstay my welcome. After some brief window shopping at a few different stores, I wandered into the music store and bought a CD. I still remember what it was: C&C Music Factory. My taste in music is yet another thing about that day that I’m not proud of. Then I went by the food court and got a soda, and decided I better head back home.
I need to explain a little about the layout of the mall in my city at the time, because it will help what happened next make more sense. There was a big multi-level parking lot on one side of the mall, and when my family and I would go there, we almost always parked at Mervyn’s because it was the most convenient way to get into the mall without a long walk to where you had parked your car. Mervyn’s was a chain of department stores in the US that went out of business several years ago, but it was in its heyday at the time that all of this I’m telling you about took place. It was a mid-range, family-oriented establishment as far as prices and fashion sense go. This Mervyn’s had two floors. The top floor was mostly women’s and children’s clothing. The bottom floor was mainly men’s clothing and housewares: linens, bedding, knick-knacks for decorating, and kitchenware. The kitchenware section included small appliances like blenders and microwaves, pots and pans, and kitchen utensils. Note the italics!
Each floor opened right onto the two levels of the mall and the store was almost exactly in the middle of everything. So, as I said, that’s where my family and I almost always came in and out of the mall, regardless of whether we were shopping at Mervyn’s itself.
So there I was, on the top floor of Mervyn’s, fountain drink in one hand, sack from the music store in the other, carefree and scot-free, this cool and fashionable teenage girl having a great little time by myself that would sustain me through the second half of my week of grounding. And as I was walking through the main aisle of Mervyn’s on the way out to the car, I came around a bend in the floor plan and looked straight into Aunt Karen’s face.
I’m not a medical professional, so I can’t say for sure if I had a heart attack at that moment. But it was something very similar to a heart attack. Instead of being the kind of scared when your heart starts beating really fast, it felt like my heart just completely stopped and went up into my throat.
For how fool-proof my scheme was, it turns out that the odds of this happening were fairly reasonable. I was leaving the mall right around the time Aunt Karen was taking lunch while working a later shift this week. And with her work being about a block away, it wasn’t a stretch to think she might come to the mall food court with a friend or co-worker to get something to eat. And this was where my family habitually came into the mall. I had factored exactly none of this into my strategy. As they say, the best laid plans of mice and bratty girls often go awry.
Since I described what I was wearing, I’ll add that, from what I remember, Aunt Karen was wearing khaki slacks, flats, a red designer sweatshirt, and had her purse slung across her over one shoulder. Aunt Karen has brown hair, and so do I, but hers was darker. Mine is more sandy. Hers was shoulder-length and combed back that day. Mine, as noted before, was in a ponytail. And my eyes are blue. Hers are hazel.
Aunt Karen was with some friend of hers, I assume from work, walking and chatting as nonchalantly as I was strolling and swinging the bag that held my questionable choice of CD. I heard her say to her friend, perfectly calmly, “Linda, why don’t you go on ahead? I need to take care of something.”
Then she turned back to me, and her face had gone all red and tense. I’ve tried to think of how to do justice describing the look on her face, and I can’t. She was as pissed-off as I had ever seen her.
I just stood where I was, because what else could I do?
Aunt Karen didn’t exactly rush at me, but she definitely was walking toward me with a purpose. When she covered the maybe 10 feet or so between us, she grabbed my upper right arm with her left hand. She didn’t squeeze it hard or anything like that, but it was clear that I was going to go wherever she directed me. Relative to what I was used to, this was a shockingly public display. Aunt Karen strongly believed that discipline was a private matter, not just between our family members and the rest of the world, but even at home, lectures or worse were almost always between just her, or her and Uncle Steve, and whichever one of us was in trouble. And yet the way she latched onto my arm like a little kid, it would have been obvious to anyone who saw, and I’m sure a few people did, that I was being reprimanded.
“Come with me,” she said, and it was kind of disturbing to hear her speak so calmly when she was clearly upset with me. She marched me over to the women’s dressing rooms and took me into one of the booths, and for a horrifying moment I thought she might spank me right then and there.
Still holding my arm, and a little less calmly than she had been out on the store floor, she demanded, “Is Rachel with you?”
Foolishly, I picked this time to get irritated over the suggestion that I would have roped my effective baby sister into my treachery.
A little too sarcastically, I said, “No, she’s at soccer! You know that!”
Aunt Karen had been directly face-to-face with me. When I popped off in response to her question, she pulled my arm she was still holding and turned me sideways so my back was toward her right arm, then gave me two really, really hard swats with her hand, one on each cheek. That was one of the few times she laid a hand on me while she was angry, and I was kind of shocked how much it hurt, even over my jeans.
I actually exclaimed “Oww!” with each swat. Then I put my drink down on the bench in the changing room so I could rub my behind.
She turned me forwards again to look me in the eye as I was still rubbing. She was about an inch taller than me, but it felt like she was about a foot taller right then.
“Are you getting an attitude with me, young lady?” Aunt Karen asked rhetorically, even less calmly than before.
I had become really meek, really fast, after those two hard swats she gave me.
Lowering my eyes, I said, “No, ma’am.”
I knew that, no matter what, I was in for a lot more than those two swats, and that I wouldn’t have such luxuries as the protection of a pair of jeans and underwear for the rest of them. But I still wasn’t quite sure whether the fate that awaited me might happen in a department store dressing room that was not particularly soundproof.
Aunt Karen looked at me for a few more seconds until I suppose she was satisfied that I was sufficiently cowed, then let go of my arm and said, “Follow me.”
That wasn’t as reassuring as it should have been. While relieved that everyone on the top floor of Mervyn’s would not be audio witnesses to the consequences of my disobedience, and realistically Aunt Karen never would have done that, I was extremely apprehensive about wherever we might be going instead, and what that might have to do with said consequences of my disobedience.
I followed her, head slightly down, out of the dressing rooms and over to the escalator. When we got to the ground floor, Aunt Karen headed straight for the kitchenware section.
Among families that use spanking for discipline, it seems fairly common for there to be a regular spanking and one or more kinds of more serious spankings for worse misbehavior. In my family, a regular spanking was over the knee or lap with Aunt Karen’s hand on the bare bottom. For more serious offenses, every once in a while, a hairbrush might enter the picture, but for the most part Aunt Karen preferred to use a wooden spoon. And I would like to mention here that a wooden spoon is a greatly under-rated tool for adjusting attitudes and helping you see the error of your ways, even if, like me at the time, you are in your late teens.
But we already had a couple of wooden spoons at home that were specifically set aside for disciplinary purposes. So why were we headed to the kitchenware section?
Well, you may be familiar with, or have even experienced, the tradition of making a misbehaving young person go outside and cut their own switch off a tree to be spanked with. Aunt Karen was about to do the early 1990s mall version of that to me.
We made our way over to an aisle that had a rack of various cooking utensils hanging up. There were spatulas and spoons of different sizes, some made out of wood, some made out of plastic or rubber.
Aunt Karen turned toward me, pointed at the rack of utensils, and said, “Pick one.”
Obviously, this little exercise was not completely necessary from the standpoint of just getting a spanking done. But remember, I said that Aunt Karen believed the whole process leading up to the actual spanking was part of the punishment. And from that standpoint, what she was doing was an excruciatingly effective way of disciplining me for flagrant disobedience when I was already being punished. Aunt Karen was determined this lesson was going to get through to me, and holy cow was she delivering. I felt my face get flush with humiliation, and that feeling got mixed up with trying to anticipate how each of these different torture devices might feel when applied firmly to my bare butt. Between the embarrassment of this whole process and the confusion of trying to think what might hurt the least, I ended up stalling.
However long it was that I stood there indecisively, eventually Aunt Karen said, “I don’t have all day, Caroline. Pick one right now, or I will pick one and I’ll tell the cashier what it’s for.”
She and I both knew that was a bluff, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t serious about getting this over with. I settled on a white rubber spatula with a plastic handle. The business end of the spatula was a little smaller than the palm of my hand. Trying to think this through under the duress I was in, I figured that a flexible rubber surface wouldn’t sting as badly as the hard wood I was used to.
It seemed like a sensible assumption at the time.
Aunt Karen handed me some money out of her purse and gave me some instructions.
I was to go pay for the spatula. I was then to drive straight home. Then I was to bring a kitchen chair into my room, put the spatula on the seat, and take my jeans off and wait for her to get home. Telling me to take my jeans off and wait was partly for the anticipation, and partly as a way of telling me I was confined to my room until she got home, since I wouldn’t have walked around the house in just my panties.
In the sort of time warp that tended to happen in situations like this, my drive back home was both terribly long and desperately short. As instructed, I got one of the armless wooden chairs from the kitchen table and put it more or less in the center of my room. In addition to the misery of preparing for my own spanking, the presence of a chair was sending a message. We never explicitly spelled this out, but I had come to notice that the way the punishment was carried out varied somewhat depending on Aunt Karen’s assessment of what I had done.
If I had simply made a bad choice out of immaturity or lack of judgment, and it was more like I was being spanked to help remind me to do better, then it was more likely that Aunt Karen would sit on my bed, have me lie across her lap, and give me sort of a strict but motherly chastisement.
On the other hand, if I had been defiant or rebellious or knowingly disobedient, then the spanking was more like making me pay the price for being bad, and usually she would sit in a chair with me going over her knee. That might seem like a subtle distinction, but in my family dynamic, it was a meaningful symbolic gesture.
So there I was, pouting on my bed in the same outfit I wore to the mall but now just my socks and panties from the waist down, and nothing to do but look at that chair with the spatula on it and think about what was coming. As much as I was in absolute misery, I had to admit that it was diabolically brilliant to make me do this. I regretted my disobedience more than anything in my life, and the real punishment had not even started yet! I felt vulnerable having my pants off. I felt helpless because I had no excuse at all for what I had done, and all I could do was accept that I totally deserved this.
I do remember at one point during this waiting I got irrationally concerned about some of my attire. I had been so thorough about planning my outfit that even my underwear matched, even though nobody but me was going to see them, or so I had thought. I was wearing white cotton panties with yellow flowers on them. And somehow, with everything going on, I started feeling like these looked kind of juvenile and maybe I should put on some more ‘mature’ ones. As if somehow Aunt Karen was going to evaluate my maturity based on what my underwear looked like, rather than literally everything else that had happened. I ultimately decided not to change, because I had much bigger things to worry about.
I wasn’t watching the time, so I don’t know how long it was between when I got home and when Aunt Karen got home. It was probably around an hour, I would guess. I later found out that Aunt Karen had left work early and had Uncle Steve go pick up Rachel so that only Aunt Karen and I would be around for the conference we were about to have.
I had been stewing in guilt and regret and apprehension up to that point, but when I heard the garage door open, the butterflies in my stomach woke up again, so much that I almost felt nauseous. Aunt Karen puttered around doing something or other for a few minutes, then finally came into my room. Incredibly, she knocked on the door first, which actually made me feel worse. Knocking on the door just reminded me that I still had some tiny bit of privacy left, but it was about to be taken away.
Aunt Karen closed the door, picked up the spatula, and sat in the chair. I knew what I was supposed to do and didn’t wait for her to tell me. I got off my bed and stood in front of her. I clasped my hands in front of me, mostly because I wanted to hold on to something, and held my head down, which I tended to do whenever I felt bad about something or was in trouble. Both were applicable here. The butterflies in my stomach must have done a few lines of cocaine between when she got home and when she came into my room, because now they were going crazy. It wasn’t even because I was about to assume the position. It was because I was about to be lectured and interrogated, and I had been dreading this part nearly as much as what would immediately follow.
When one of us did something merely foolish or immature that was enough to get us punished for it, Aunt Karen’s tone was something like, “I wish we didn’t need to do this, but I can’t let you get away with what you did.” But when one of us deliberately did something we knew we shouldn’t, her attitude was more like somewhere between a fire-and-brimstone preacher and a hanging judge. I have heard some people call a really stern scolding a tongue lashing, and that metaphor was perfectly on point when Aunt Karen scolded me for willful disobedience. Especially on this occasion.
In a very stern but measured voice that I could tell was taking some effort not to become yelling, she started.
“I cannot believe this. You were already in trouble. You chose to be grounded. And may I remind you, young lady, that your punishment was to be grounded for a week, not grounded for a few days, take a break, and then grounded for a few more days. So now we’re going to start over, and everything up until now doesn’t count. You are grounded until a week from today. Do you understand?”
I expected that was coming, and I nodded, still hanging my head. I also almost flinched, because asking me a question meant the interrogation phase was about to start, and I knew it was going to be awful.
“Oh, so now you do understand what it means to be grounded? Did you understand what it means to be grounded when you went on your merry way to the mall this afternoon? Look at me, Caroline. Did you understand you were grounded when you went to the mall today?”
I looked up, just about on the verge of tears. “Yes, ma’am, I did,”
I knew she wasn’t going to be done with me until we had fully explored the matter.
Aunt Karen continued. “Well, if you understood you were grounded, and you understood what that means, then explain to me why you didn’t come straight home after school.”
My stubbornness when I was being a brat was only matched by my guilt and shame for what I had done after I got the bratiness out of my system. This questioning was sheer agony for me. I wished she would just turn me over her knee and get it over with, as terrible as that position was.
Aunt Karen didn’t say it, but the implication was that she wanted me to look at her while I came up with whatever answer I had, which my guilt and shame made hard to do.
“Um, I just, um, I got bored, and I thought I could just go for a little while today and then, um, I guess I thought I could hang out for just a little while and then I could deal with the rest of being grounded.”
I dropped my head again, waiting for the next metaphorical verbal lash. Here it came.
“You don’t get to take a break when you’re grounded, young lady. That’s the point. There’s a really easy way to deal with being grounded when you don’t like it. You come home on time like you know you’re supposed to. I thought we had already dealt with this on Sunday, but I guess not.”
Although I was hanging my head in shame/remorse/etc, I had my eyes tilted up enough to see her, and saw she was wagging her finger at me. That was a major non-verbal way for her to tell me just how much trouble I was in.
“Now tell me the truth, Caroline. How many days have you snuck out this week?”
This was a matter of honor, dictated by how much I loved my Aunt Karen. It was unthinkable for me to lie to her when she said “tell me the truth” like that, and she knew it. She knew that whatever I said in response was going to be honest. So I just spilled my guts.
“Just today. I promise, that’s it. I haven’t been on the phone or anything, either, I swear. I tried to get Lisa and a couple other friends to come with me and none of them would because they knew I was grounded. I promise that’s the truth.” I felt a tear trickle down as my regret just burned inside for putting myself in a position where I had to convince Aunt Karen I wasn’t lying to her.
Aunt Karen had not quite finished squeezing everything out of me.
“Be honest. If I hadn’t run into you, you were going to keep this secret and just get away with it, weren’t you?”
A couple more tears trickled down from what I now had to admit.
“Yes ma’am, I probably was. I’m so sorry.”
In my family, you tended to get addressed by your first and middle name, not your full name, when you were in trouble. That’s what she did now, and my middle name is my grandmother’s name. If I was in awe of Aunt Karen, my grandmother was almost God to me. Hearing my grandmother’s name made me think of how utterly ashamed I would be if she knew about how dishonest and disobedient I had been. The tears started to drop more freely.
“Caroline Rebecca,” Aunt Karen said. “Not only were you flagrantly disobedient, you were disobedient about something you were already in trouble for, and that you were given a choice about. I didn’t think anything of your being grounded while you were home alone because I trusted you. You broke a promise, and you’re admitting to me you would have been able to live with yourself knowing that you had lied to me if I hadn’t by chance caught you. Your father has raised you better than that, Caroline Rebecca. Your Uncle Steve and I have raised you better than that. I’m really disappointed in you right now, young lady.”
Now I was crying. I would rather have been horse-whipped than have my Aunt Karen tell me she was disappointed in me. But she wasn’t being cruel, she was accurately assessing my behavior. By now, I was almost glad to take whatever punishment I had coming to make amends for what I had done. And I’m pretty sure that was exactly the point of these lectures.
Even still, I really wished she wouldn’t do the part of this ritual I was expecting to come next.
“So,” she asked. “What do you think we need to do to deal with this?”
‘Please don’t make me say it,’ I thought. ‘You know how self-conscious I am. Please don’t make me say it out loud.’
She knew I was stalling for time, and she knew why. This was part of the punishment, too, as far as she was concerned. She wasn’t going to let it go.
“Caroline Rebecca, what do you think we should do to take care of this problem?”
‘Please please please don’t make me say it out loud. Please, Aunt Karen.’
She couldn’t hear my thoughts, but I’m pretty sure she could guess them. Aunt Karen just gave me the ‘I’m waiting’ look.
I sniffled and swallowed hard, then finally blurted out what I knew from all-too-familiar experience was my line at this point in the script.
“I deserve a good bare bottom spanking.”
I didn’t have to say that exact sentence, but something more or less like it was expected.
That was Aunt Karen’s cue. “You certainly do. So let’s take care of this right now.”
Then came the final little gestures of this procedure. She pulled the right sleeve of her sweatshirt up to her elbow, transferred the spatula to her right hand, and then held her arms outward to make space for me.
“Come take your punishment.”
I was already right up next to her while I was being scolded and cross-examined, so I didn’t have to do much more than pivot to my left, bend down and crawl forward, and then I was in the most humiliating, juvenile position in the universe. I always had mixed-up feelings going over her knee. Yes, the humiliation was unbearable. And yet I felt oddly comforted. I hated this, but it felt so wholesome and motherly to me at the same time. If I had to be physically disciplined, at least she was sort of holding me and keeping me close while she did it. I felt miserable and loved at the same time.
Now for the next-to-last humiliation. The final humiliation was when I eventually broke down sobbing. But there was one more thing before that. The hem of the rugby shirt I had put so much thought into wearing was lifted a few inches above my waist, and the panties I had been so concerned about earlier slid down to just above my knees. It never got less embarrassing for my panties to come down, even though we were both females and Aunt Karen had already seen my bare buns more times than she should have had to, owing to the reasons I kept giving her to do this. But there were those mixed-up feelings again. This was sheer torture, indescribably humiliating, and at the same time it felt to me like the most wholesome and motherly and nurturing thing there was; to be over her knee with my bottom bare to be corrected after I had been a brat.
It’s not like I needed this to feel like she was my mother, since there were plenty of positive things she did to express that to me. But it felt like she was really being my mom all the same.
I felt a room-temperature rubber spatula head resting on the fleshiest part of my right cheek as I got the final instruction. “I want you to think about why you’re getting this.”
I was somewhat less philosophical about the whole thing once Aunt Karen got down to business. As soon as she told me to think about it, the spatula went up and came right back down, not actually giving me time to think about it at all. And with that first spank, I realized that I had made a very poor choice of implement for Aunt Karen to use on me.
When Aunt Karen spanked with a wood spoon, or very occasionally a hairbrush, she didn’t do a big wind-up and spank hard, exactly. What she would do is raise her arm shoulder-high, then drop her elbow and flick her wrist. This motion was a little bit like cracking a whip, so the spanks were like a really firm tap that stung instead of thudding very much. And she would take her time, letting the sting set in between spanks, so that all these stinging taps turned into a steady burn. If a hard paddling is like being attacked by a shark, Aunt Karen’s wooden spoon spankings were like getting attacked by piranhas. The bites are smaller, but there are lots of them.
Aunt Karen was using the same technique with this wicked rubber spatula. And while I had thought a softer material would hurt less, it turned out that the more flexible handle, and the more flexible material of the part making contact with my butt, made the flick of her wrist and elbow even more like a whip cracking.
When I got the wooden spoon, it felt to me like there was a biting sting on the spot where the spank landed. Then, for about half a second, I wouldn’t feel the sting anymore. And then all of a sudden the place where the sting was turned into a burn that spread out from where the spank landed.
With this spatula, though, it was a terrible sting that just sat there on my skin and didn’t let up. It didn’t really seem to turn into a burn either. It was like the sting from the initial spank just didn’t stop. I yelped right on the first one. And after giving me a few seconds to feel that spank, the next one snapped across my lower left cheek, and I couldn’t help verbally reacting.
Kind of verbally, anyway. “Aaah!”
Now both cheeks had that sting that just kept going. And it was only two smacks so far!
Spankings get compared to fire and burning a lot, because they tend to feel that way. The closest I can think of to compare the spatula with is an electric shock, although that’s not exactly it, either. Worse, because the spatula head was relatively small, Aunt Karen was making very precise smacks, especially on the lower curves of my buns that were the most tender part. The noise was bad, too. I always found the sound of her palm or the spoon slapping my cheeks to be both embarrassing and sort of enhancing to the whole experience. Like hearing my own spanking added to the punishment somehow. The sound this spatula made on my poor behind actually sounded like ‘smack!’ That’s how I would try to spell out the sound. This was the first time that calling a spanking a whipping would have been accurate for what I was going through.
I had already been crying because of how bad I felt during the lecture, but I usually was able to hold out a little while before a spanking made me start bawling. Not this time. It wasn’t more than about 4 or 5 before I lost it. Wracking sobs, runny nose, can’t see because of all the water in my eyes. I couldn’t wipe any of it away because I was resting on my hands on the floor to hold my upper body in place.
“Aaahs!” and “Unnhs!” kind of whimpers in between sobs when each spank landed.
I was getting short of breath and sweat was running down my forehead and mixing with my tears as it went down past my eyes. My chest and arms were hot and sweating, too, from the effort of enduring the punishment. My arms were starting to ache from holding myself up. I was kicking more than I think I ever did before, until Aunt Karen told me to cross my ankles, and that actually kept my legs in place.
It’s kind of interesting how getting thoroughly spanked is like an athletic event. Interesting when it’s not actively happening to you, that is.
Including the pauses in between to make sure each smack counted, I’m sure it was only a few minutes that I was actively being spanked with this evil kitchen utensil that the Devil had laughingly placed for sale at Mervyn’s just for me. Eventually, I went limp and was crying in steady sobs instead of big outbursts. I was used to my rear end feeling completely roasted and burning by that point. Instead, the sting had been so constant that my butt was just kind of numb. I could still feel it stinging, but the bite of it was sort of dulled.
When I got to that point, Aunt Karen shifted around a little and put her hand on my back instead of wrapped around me to keep me in place. I knew she could tell I was defeated. According to standard procedure, this meant that she was about to pause and talk to me for a moment, then tell me I was going to get a few more spanks to help me remember, and then it would be over.
The reason for the sort of curtain call of one last bit of lecturing and a few final spanks was something Aunt Karen took seriously, as did her siblings. It was something her own mother, my grandmother, had instilled in her. My family were firm believers in spanking, in case there was any doubt about that so far. And part of that belief was that a spanking was meant to clear the air and relieve guilt. As a parent, my family believed, once a punishment had been administered, that was it. You did not hold a grudge over your child. They had paid the penalty, and they were forgiven. So whatever you had to say, you said it then, because once a spanking was over, the matter was closed. The misbehaving party was, of course, expected to remember the lesson they had been taught. But that was all; any bad feelings were supposed to have been worked out.
Aunt Karen paused a little longer than I expected her to, as if she was gathering her thoughts. Finally, she said something to me in a gentle but serious way, and her tone of voice told me she was hurt by what I had done. She cleared her throat, and said, “Caroline, help me believe that I can trust you. How do I know you’re not going to just sneak out again this week when you’re grounded and I’m not home?”
I knew the answer immediately, and it made me start sobbing again. Through my crying and sniffling, I managed to get out, “Because I hate myself for making you disappointed in me!”
I felt my panties get pulled up and adjusted for me, and then Aunt Karen guided me up without saying anything. I was kind of wobbly, and before I had completely stood up straight, she dropped the spatula, put her hands on my wrists, and said, “Come here, sweetie.” Then she guided me into sitting on her lap. My behind did not feel very good resting on her thigh, but I didn’t care. She put one arm around my shoulders and started wiping my tears with her other hand.
Aunt Karen knew that when I said what I did when I answered her question, I wasn’t just being a drama queen. I was starting to reopen that wound she had worked so hard to help me with, the wound of really feeling bad about myself, far beyond the justifiable guilt and regret I had for misbehaving.
Her voice had become soothing and almost a whisper. “Caroline, I think we can both agree you were pretty darn naughty today. Right?”
With all the water and everything in my eyes and my nose and my throat, I could hardly talk, so I just nodded.
Aunt Karen cupped my face with her hand and continued.
“And you’ve been punished pretty severely for that, and you needed it. But you’re still a good girl, and you know you are. I don’t want you to ever say you hate yourself, you hear me?”
I just nodded again. There was a lump in my throat besides everything else.
“Good. Don’t you ever forget that I love you like you’re my own daughter.”
Then she kissed me on the cheek.
I was emotionally worn out as it was, and what she had just said melted my heart, and that started a whole new round of sobbing. Aunt Karen held me and rocked me on her lap. I remembered her once teasing me that I would never be too old to go over her lap or on it, and here she was proving it.
Through my crying, I started babbling, “I’m so, so sorry!” as my head rested on her shoulder.
Aunt Karen put her hand on the back of my head as she continued to hold and sooth me. “It’s okay. We took care of it and you’re forgiven. Now we need to move past this, alright?”
I nodded into her shoulder. After a moment I got my crying mostly under control and she sat me up so we could look at each other.
“You are still grounded like I told you before, though. I’m sorry, sweetheart, but you earned that. Understand?”
I nodded yet again, and she started helping me stand up. As I did, she said, “Why don’t you come help me with dinner?”
I wiped my nose and my eyes with the back of my hand. “Can I have a little while alone?”
Aunt Karen shook her head. “Carrie, I think I would rather that you come be with me for a while.”
This was very insightful of her. If she had left me alone in my room, after I had said out loud that I hated myself, there was a risk that I might start obsessing over telling myself that I was a bad person. What I really needed was to be reassured that I had atoned for everything.
I could see Aunt Karen wasn’t going to leave until she was assured I was coming with her. Instead of my jeans, I went to my dresser and got a pair of sweatpants that I usually wore to sleep in. Very loose sweatpants.
We had a nice rest of the evening. I ate dinner standing at the kitchen counter, though.
Nobody asked why and nobody said anything about it.
Before going to sleep, which I did on my tummy, I went to the bathroom to assess the damage and to put some skin cream on the affected area. My butt was beet red. Not the bright kind of sunburn red it normally was after my behavior was soundly corrected, but dark red. This spanking had not really been any stricter than usual. It was the flexible rubber I had naively selected that did this to me. I’m pretty sure Aunt Karen felt that this spanking turned out to be more harsh than expected, too, because I never saw that spatula again.
Although my renewed grounding was in effect, I asked for and received specific permission to run one errand before school the next day. When I found Lisa at her locker, I handed her the results of my errand; a big bag of Skittles with a bow on it.
“I’m really sorry, okay? You were right and I was wrong and I should have listened to you.”
Lisa gave me a hug. “Do you regret going?”
“Hell yes, I regret it! I got caught!”
Lisa got a smirk on her face. “I knew it! And you got in worse trouble, didn’t you?”
We both knew what that was code for. With a knowing nod, I said, “Leese, I kind of feel like the classy thing would be to take my peace offering and not tease me.”
‘Leese’ was her pet name, since two syllables were apparently too long.
She gave me another hug. “Listen to your friend from now on, dammit!” she said, laughing.
I did get better at listening to Lisa’s appeals to my better judgment, even though her efforts were not always entirely successful. And that was very far from the last time Aunt Karen needed a hands-on approach to discipline with me. But I definitely never snuck out again while I was grounded!
© Caroline Richards 2021
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