You didn’t have an Irish childhood unless the wooden spoon was involved.
‘Tis true. Many a wooden spoon was broken in our house, between me, my brother and my little sister. While some nations preferred using, for instance, a belt, Irish mammies always relied on their trusty wooden spoon to mete out justice, Irish-mammy style. Or, they would use psychological warfare against use and just use the open threat of taking out the spoon if you were acting up and didn’t listen to your Mammy. It was a little bit like a nuclear deterrent. You knew it was there and what is was used for, but you hoped to fuck she never grabbed it from the kitchen counter to use it on you.
I even had my own mother break my Tech Drawing T-square over my back as she chased me up the stairs because I took a step too far….which was followed by the taunt of how I would have to explain to my teacher WHY I couldn’t finish my tech-drawing homework. Irish mammies are great when it comes to psychological warfare…must be the Catholic Church’s influence 🙂 And yes, I readily admit it…I was testing her to see if her threats were idle, and if she’d follow through. It’s part of that child/parent dynamic where the child is constantly pushing boundaries.
We usually had the wooden spoon thwacked on our open palms. And it stung like fuck! Three was the optimum number for your average infringement. And almost anything was classed as an infringement – answering back, telling lies, stealing biscuits when you were told “No”, not doing your homework, coming back with a note from school, not eating your dinner, not doing what you were told….for the umpteenth time. The list was long and (sometimes) arbitrary, the sentencing varied, but discipline was abided by.
It was an era when the phrase from parents, aunts and uncles was “Children should be seen, and not heard” was oft used. I never really knew what this meant as a child. But now as an adult, living in a country whose idea of disciplining their children is a simple “Jan, sweetie, you cannot do that”, or “Jan, honey, please stop that”, rather than the Childline like disciplinarianism that was doled out in my childhood home, I can now understand why adults prefer their children to go up to their room or out to the garden and play rather than hanging around adults all day long.
And whilst some of you might think how horrible it must have been to have grown up with “the wooden spoon”, let me tell you this. It taught us respect, manners and how to behave. Unlike today’s 21st Century kids who haven’t had it so good – am starting to sound like my old man now – and have no fecking clue how to behave, either with adults or with their peers. Sure, there was bullying when I was growing up. But I don’t think it was ever as bad as it is today with kids thinking that the only solution available to them is to take their own life, because they can no longer handle the constant barrage of hatred and violence they experience from fellow children. If it was 1980’s Ireland, and a school headmaster complained to a bully’s parents, you could pretty much guarantee that those childs parents would swiftly and surely sort out their little gurrier, and some semblance of civility would soon take hold once again.
And as a “wooden spoon boy”, I don’t think I am a mal-adjusted adult, with social or mental problems. In fact, I think I am the exact opposite….a hard working, law abiding and sociable person who understands right from wrong, and will always try to err on the side of doing what’s right. Why? Because my Mammy (with help from her trusty tool) taught me what was right and what was wrong. Ireland back then was a very black and white world. Unlike the world of today with its 50 shades of grey and everyone’s opinion chiming in from all sides…Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Instagram, 24/7 News Channels, Talking Heads etc.
What’s the point of this article? I guess that I am reminiscing of a childhood that once was, and I find myself comparing the kids of today to the children of my own yesteryear and asking myself are we the same or were we really very much different. And I guess that I am in a round-about way, asking all those who are parents of children, to actually educate your children, to teach them right from wrong and to not settle for mediocrity when a child just can’t be arsed to do the right thing, respect others and just do their very best in life.
Maybe the wooden spoon is not the 21 Century answer, but neither is the constant “Good Job” philosophy that Americans are so quick to afflict the rest of the world with. As did I at an early stage of my life, so too must every other child discover for himself, that life is NOT a bed full of roses where you always get everything that you ever wanted, handed to you. You have to graft and doggedly pursue what you want. As a parent, your job is to make sure that they have the skills to make their own dreams come true, to encourage them to pursue their dreams, and to comfort them when they feel that the world has crushed and defeated them. But they should do so whilst ensuring deferential respect for their peers and fellow man.