Maybe I missed the announcement. When did bratty little kids take control of the world?

The question came to mind twice last week as I watched two pint-sized tyrants make life miserable for their parents and everybody near them. I kept thinking about Benjamin Franklin’s advice: “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” and of my mother’s hair brush.

At a restaurant, I watched a mother and father practically do handstands to try to make their darling sit in a booth. The kid, maybe 3 years old, ruined what would have been a nice family dinner. He yelled, he cried, he stood up, he became all rubbery and slid onto the floor, he pushed the plate, he made faces and he refused to eat. There were sugar packets all over the place. His favorite word was “NO!” followed by an exaggerated pout. I mean, a bald eagle could have perched on that boy’s bottom lip.

The parents tried to plead with him, pressure him, ignore him. They gave him the evil eye. They tried to distract him. Nothing worked. They finally left with meals half eaten.

A few days later, another little boy ruined church for his mom and another woman, who I think was his grandmother. The pew and the floor were covered with the Cheerios that he dumped from a plastic bag. He refused to play with the toys brought from home, he refused to sit still and he refused to shut up.

Both women tried to hold him in their arms and get him to simmer down, but he kept squirming, kicking and hitting. I couldn’t believe my eyes. If anyone deserved the hair brush, it was him.

Yes, my mother had a plastic hair brush when I was small, and she didn’t hesitate to use its hard, flat side to spank my brother and me. I guess she used the brush because she didn’t want to carry a switch around with her. Anyway, it got our attention.

One incident still stands out. I was probably 4, so Pat would have been 3. We were at Meis Brothers, that wonderful, old-time department store that stood at the southeast corner Main and Hazel streets. Mom was looking at something in the ladies’ department. As soon as she turned her back, we took off and started running around under the dress racks. We’d pop out from under one, then scurry under another, then hide and watch Mom as she frantically looked for us.

Within a few minutes, the fun was over. Mom grabbed me by one arm, and Pat by one arm, and marched us off to the dressing room. There, without discussion, she turned each of us over her knee and gave us a few quick, sharp whacks with the back of the hair brush.

Seconds later, she emerged with two blubbering, respectful, mannerly — almost angelic — little boys.

Mom never beat us, of course. She loved us dearly, and still does. But she knew that children aren’t adults, and they don’t always respond to reasoning, debate and windy conversations. Sometimes, you have to get their attention with good, old-fashioned corporal punishment.

In the Westville public schools of that long-ago era, paddlings were common. No one even thought about sassing Miss Edith Farn, the science teacher, or Mr. Roscoe Murray, the sixth-grade teacher, or Mr. Omer Creech, the principal of Edison School. You could be accused, convicted and sentenced before you knew what hit you, then ordered to bend over for five or six whacks with a ping-pong paddle or a short length of 1-by-4 lumber. No one was hurt and classroom order was restored instantly.

Our daughters are now 21 and 19. They are wonderful young women — smart, funny, considerate and kind. They were never spoiled brats. They never were allowed to be selfish, out-of-control little jerks at home or in public. I’m convinced that a few well-timed spankings made a difference.

Thank you, Mom.

Danville native Kevin Cullen is a former Commercial-News reporter. Reach him at

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