Tony Woodlief | Author


My children are developing personalities. Caleb, for example, is a persuader. “Daddy, would you like to go to the ice cream place after dinner?”

“We’ll see.”

“Well, after we eat, we could go to the ice cream place, you know, and I can get a ice cream with sprinkles on it.”

“Maybe. You’ll have to wait for the answer.”

“Okay. After I eat all my beans, we can go.”

Eli is more bull-headed. He’s developing this remarkable sound, which is exactly the noise a teapot makes when its contents reach the boiling point. We’re getting a full dose of it lately, along with the lying on the ground and the screaming when he doesn’t get his way. Remarkably, there’s only one thing that will get instant compliance.

“Okay baby,” I tell Eli, “it’s time to put away the basketball and take a bath.”

He sprawls to the ground and begins to squeal. “Eeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!”

“Tea’s ready,” says the wife. Sometimes she’s not what they call, in common parlance, “helpful.”

“Eli, get up,” I say in my most serious voice.


“I said, get up!”

Eli adds foot stomping to his performance. “Eeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!” Thwap thwap thwap.

“Alright. Go get the spanking spoon.”

At this the boy pops up and gives me a half cheerful, half tearful “Okay.” He toddles into the kitchen, where I hear a drawer open, and a little hand rummaging through it. Then around the corner he scurries, a wooden spoon in his hand. “Here go.”

I take the spoon and tap him on the bottom a few times. “You must be obedient.”


“Now say, ‘I apologize.'”

“Apologize, Daddy.”

“Okay, I forgive you. Now put away the spoon for Daddy.” He takes the spoon and returns it. Then he comes back to the scene of the crime and stands looking up at me, feet planted, waiting.

“Eli, it’s time to take a bath.”

Pitch forward, commence wailing. It reminds me of that Bugs Bunny cartoon in which a sheep dog watches over a flock while a wolf devises various ill-conceived schemes to steal sheep. The sheep dog, of course, catches the wolf at every turn, and generally gives him a good pounding. What’s funny is that they both behave like employees; they greet each other cordially as they punch a time clock to begin the day, they take lunch breaks, and so on.

I’m not sure whether I’m the crafty sheep dog or the stupid wolf, but I definitely see the parallel.

The good thing is, he’ll grow out of it. I think. Sometimes I work with people who make me think otherwise. The difference is, I can’t tell co-workers to go get the spanking spoon, because apparently there’s some law against that.

I worry, though, that Eli will figure out that the command to fetch the spanking spoon can also be met with a tantrum. Fortunately, Caleb is always close by, and delighted to retrieve the spoon when it’s not for him. He’s helpful that way.

That’s what big brothers are for.

On Key

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