Clara Does The Dishes
The NON-Spanking 'Cooperative Discipline' Version
(It takes place in a parallel universe)

Story  by  HandPrince

"Photos" by Stable Diffusion AI

Clara's parents died in a car crash.
Her Uncle Mark has taken her in.
He is in
the early stages of legally adopting her.

    A few days after my niece Clara had moved in and settled into her new room, the two of us sat down and negotiated a list of chores for her to perform around the house.  Among these was doing the dinner dishes on alternate evenings.  On her first turn, she and I did our dishes together, she washing, me drying.  I showed her where to put everything away, explained why kitchen scraps went onto the compost pile in the garden rather than into the trash, and so forth.  She was a pleasant, cheerful little helper throughout. 

Unknown artist

     Indeed, earlier that afternoon she had vacuumed the entire house without being asked, and even shamed me into straightening up my bedroom a bit by standing in my doorway and crinkling her nose distastefully at my mess.  Hence I was surprised the following evening, after we had just finished dinner and I reminded her that it was her night to do the dishes, to hear her whine, "Aw, Uncle Mark, I don't wanna."

    "It doesn't matter whether you 'wanna' or not, Clara," I chided gently, "Dishes don't clean themselves.   A person has to do the job for them.  And I am afraid tonight is your turn to be that person."

    She made a face and looked down at her plate.

    "Clara?" I queried, "You agreed that we'd each do half the dish washing chores, remember?  What's going on with you now?  Why the attitude?"

    "Why do I hafta do them all by myself?" she asked petulantly.  "I want to do them with you, like we did last night."

    I pictured myself pleasantly relaxing in my armchair reading my paper while the sounds of my dutiful niece's dish washing wafted in from the kitchen.  I wanted that.

    "Now that you know where everything goes, Clara, you don't need me there to show you.  You're a big girl.  You can do it yourself," I said with a smile.

    "I don't want to do it myself," she replied, in a measured matter-of-fact tone, "I want... to do it... with you."

    My pleasing mental movie of myself reading the paper, with the splash and clatter of Clara's dishes-doings as its soundtrack, continued to captivate.  "We both eat off those dishes, Clara," I intoned, no longer smiling.  "It's only fair that we both do half of the work of getting them clean."

    She straightened to her full seated height, and in that didactic tone of childish "authority" of hers which I'd always found so endearing, declared, "If each of us doing the dishes half the nights is fair, then both of us doing half of the dishes every night is fair."

    "Yes Clara," I frowned, "but..."  I found myself brought up short. What could I say?  The kid had a point.  My congenial fantasy of reading my paper while Clara did all our dishes still beckoned, but I realized that was my only objection to Clara's logic.  And if I responded with "But I wanna read my pa-perrr!" who then would be the one behaving like a child, eh?

    "And," she continued in her same annunciating-every-word-carefully tone, "Since I washed and you dried, last night, it's my turn to dry and your turn to wash tonight."

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    And, dear Reader, that's exactly how we did dishes henceforth.  And I'm so glad we did!  While we get them done, I can listen with fond indulgence as she prattles away about school and her friends and the book she is reading - without me admonishing her for talking with her mouth full or interrupting to point out that her peas are getting cold, like I have to do at the dinner table.  For her it was Uncle Mark Time rather than boring-dumb-chore time. And she perceived our arrangement as fair and of her own devising, thus leaving no basis for battles.

     When I was her age, if I'd dared tell my father "I don't wanna," it would have been "Do as you're told!  Now!  Do you want a spanking!?!"

    And I probably would have dealt with Clara that same way if not for those Parent Effectiveness Training classes I was taking.  I would have forced doing our dishes into an onerous, lonely chore for her; and whenever she fussed or procrastinated I

would have concluded that she was "asking for a spanking," and proceeded to grant her request - a classic 'Parent Wins Child Loses' scenario, instead of one where everybody wins.

    I learned that children are much more inclined to obey rules which they themselves negotiated and helped fashion than rules handed down fully-formed from above accompanied by explicit or implicit threats of a sore bottom for noncompliance.  I sure wish my father had known stuff like that!

    Our story resumes.  

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    Clara, I soon discovered, had exacting standards for what constituted a clean utensil - standards distinctly exceeding my own.  She would, upon spotting even the slightest stubborn speck of remaining food, respond with a comical declaration of "Eeeoo gross!" followed by a haughty thrust of the offending utensil back into my hands for a scrungy-pad treatment. 

    An upbeat mood filled our kitchen as the Clara and Mark Singers' rendition of "There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly" made our work fly by.

    Upon drying and putting away her last dish, she dashed into the living room and turned on the television.  I followed, settled into my armchair and opened my newspaper at last.  My earlier yearning to do this with Clara out in the kitchen washing and drying and stacking all the dishes by herself seemed trivial and silly now.

    After finishing the headline news, the sports, and a long feature article, I looked up from my paper to see her stretched out on her tummy on the living room rug in her favorite TV viewing position: shoes off, chin on fists, legs from the knees down bent back again over her thighs, ankles crossed, toes pointing ceilingward.  I wished I'd had a camera just then.  She looked awfully cute lying there, her chestnut brown hair tied with blue satin bows, dressed in her favorite navy blue sweater, a blue and white plaid pleated skirt, and pale blue knee socks.

    It was a Sunday night.  Tomorrow would be Clara's first day at her new school, I thought to myself.  I do hope she fits in and finds friends!

    Suddenly she leapt to her feet and tore upstairs as fast as her legs could carry her.  Moments later came the gushing sound of the bathroom sink.  Glancing at the TV screen I saw that credits were rolling and noticed that it was not quite 8 o'clock.  Ah yes, of course.

    The previous night, when I had told her that I wanted her to finish TV-watching at half past eight on school nights so she could be washed, toothbrushed, in her pajamas and under her covers by nine, she reacted with dismay.  "That's the middle of my favorite show, Uncle Mark!  Please! Can't I just stay up until nine?!?"

    "No Clara, I want you in your bed with your light out and your eyes closed at nine, not just getting started preparing for bed.  Little girls need plenty of sleep, and I can't allow you to stay up late and then be tired and inattentive all day at school."

     Clara's eyes filled.  "NO FAIR!" she wailed in a tone which might well have gotten me spanked if I had addressed my father that way at her age.  "Mommy and Daddy let me stay up until nine on school nights!  It's not fair!"

    "Your new school starts a half an hour earlier in the morning than your old school did, Clara," I replied, with more than a hint of sternness in my voice.  "You will need to be in bed with your lights out at nine in order for you to get a proper amount of sleep.  And that's final!" 

    Shoulders slouching, eyes downcast, Clara's brow furrowed for several moments.  Inwardly, I braced myself for an unpleasant battle of wills, a battle which I determined I must win at any cost.

    Abruptly she straightened herself and out popped: "What if I'm all ready for bed first before my show starts?"  Then without awaiting my reply, in an excited rush, "I could wash my face and brush my teeth and hang up my clothes and put my socks and panties in the hamper and get into my jammies before my show starts.  And I could brush my hair a hundred strokes while I'm watching and-" she gasped for breath and continued, "-when my show was over I could run upstairs and get in bed and turn off my light before it's nine o'clock!  Please Uncle Mark!  Oh Ple-e-ase?"

    This brought me up short.  I had always thought of bedtime preparations as something one does immediately before one takes to one's bed, not an hour earlier.  At least, that's how I was raised.  But... could Clara's plan work?

    "If we do it that way, Clara," I reflected, still mulling it over in my mind, "And I'm not saying we will. I don't want to ever see you lying on the carpet in your nightie watching TV and getting grit from the carpet into your clean bed, is that understood?"

    "Yes Uncle Mark.  I'll sit on the sofa and watch.  I promise!  So can I please-"

    "I'm sorry Clara," I interrupted, "but I want you going to bed with clean teeth.  If we do what you're suggesting you'll have to brush your teeth again after your bedtime snack and that will make you miss your nine o'clock bedtime.  I'm afraid I just can't-"

    "I won't have a bedtime snack on school nights!"  Her anxiously expectant eyes remained riveted on mine as she proceeded to effusively pledge her rigidly-inflexible and unwavering obedience to a no-bedtime-snack rule if it meant she got to her watch her show all the way to the end on school nights. 

    Hmm.  I hadn't been expecting that.  Clara's cup of milk and her choice of cookie or pretzel was an unchanging feature of her evening routine immediately before she went upstairs to brush her teeth and get ready for bed.  But then I remembered how the P.E.T. instructor had told us that children will sometimes offer to impose surprisingly restrictive rules on themselves if doing so permits them to have the thing they most want, while working around any objection from their parent in the process.

    "Clara, suppose we do things the way you're proposing, and then I see you sitting on the sofa in your nightie eating a pretzel or a cookie while watching your show?  If you were me, what would you do?"  I certainly knew what my father would have done if he caught me disobeying, but I wanted to hear Clara put herself in my shoes.  How would she handle "disobedient Clara?"

    Instantly came her solemn response, "I would make me go upstairs and brush my teeth again." 

    "And what would you do if you were me and you said 'go upstairs and brush' but then your darling niece says," (I continued with my best half-baked imitation of her whine) "No fa-ir Uncle Ma-ark, I'll miss my sho-ow."

    Imagining herself the severe disciplinarian, her countenance darkened into a looming thundercloud, "I would turn off the TV," she declared in a severe tone, "and tell me I can never watch that show again ever ever ever and... and I would hold me by my arm and make me go up to the bathroom and make me brush my teeth and-" she paused for a moment, reflecting further, then continued, "and then make me go to bed early and..." she paused again then folded her arms decisively across her chest, hands balled into fists, and concluded, "...and then spank me!  VERY HARD!"

    I couldn't keep from chuckling.  It was just like they said in my parenting class.  The less intention your child has of breaking new a rule you're negotiating with her, the more severe the consequences she'll offer to receive should she violate it. 

    "How about if the TV just goes off for the rest of your show," I inquired, "And you brush your teeth again before bed.  And we skip... um, all the rest of... those other things you said."  She emphatically nodded Yes.

    "So Uncle Mark, does this mean I can-"

     I silenced her with a wave of her hand.  "I'm still concerned about you being in bed promptly at nine.  You'll be all wound up and excited from your show."

    "I'll go straight to bed, Uncle Mark! Honest I will!  I'll run up the stairs!"

    She watched my expression intently as I pondered for several moments.  "Okay Clara, we'll give this a try.  On a trial basis!  But if you're ever not in bed even one minute past nine, then that's it - we're going back to my rule about the TV going off at eight thirty from then on."

    Suddenly Clara looked to be on the verge of tears. "You mean if I'm one minute late just once, I hafta stop watching my shows in the middle forever and never see how any of them end??"

    I realized then that I had proposed what to her seemed like a severe and never-ending punishment for the trivialest of rule infractions. I regretted not having  thought it through a bit more before speaking.  Hoping to forestall her tears, I prompted,  "Well Clara, if you are late getting into bed, what do you think a logical consequence for you should be?"

    Her brow furrowed for several moments.  Clearly she was not as confident of never breaking this particular rule as she'd been regarding the pretzel.  "No TV for a week?" she asked hesitantly, looking at me sidelong, with her lack of any reference to a spanking quite conspicuous in its absence.

    "That would be a punishment, Clara.  I meant a logical consequence instead.  I want you in bed promptly at nine, you want to watch your show.  But if you aren't responsible enough to be in bed by nine, then as a consequence..."  I thought for a moment.  "How about this.  As a logical consequence, the TV goes off at eight the following evening, to give you plenty of time to get ready for bed and under your covers on time.  I have to take care of you and that means making sure you get enough sleep, one way or the other.  That's why I couldn't allow you to watch your show again the following night because I need to make sure you get plenty of sleep."

    "What if I do?"  She paused, regarding my puzzled expression for a moment.  "I mean, what if I do everything I'm s'posed to that night, and I'm in bed when it's nine and everything?"

    "Well then, I suppose that the night after that, you can have another chance to prove you are responsible by watching your show and then getting into bed on time.  Does that sound fair?"  Clara sighed, nodded agreement with a smile, and our little family meeting moved on to other matters.

    Back on the following evening, continuing to listen from my easy chair I heard the bathroom sink water sounds cease from upstairs followed by the creak of Clara's dashing footfalls in the hallway to her room and her door closing. 

    I returned to my paper and was soon absorbed once again.   All at once came the scurrying of little feet down the stairs.  I noticed that the theme music of Clara's show had begun playing.  Then I noticed that although she had plopped herself onto the sofa rather than the floor as we'd agreed, she still wasn't dressed for bed.  She had taken off her sweater and undone her hair, but she was still in her blouse, skirt and socks. 

    Frowning, I arose from my chair, strode to the television and held my finger over the Off button.  "Clara?" I said in what I hoped was my firmest no-nonsense tone, "Why aren't you in your pajamas like we agreed last night?  I'm afraid you leave me no choice but to-"

    "NO!" cried Clara, leaping to her feet and bounding to my side.  Gripping my free arm with both of hers, she blurted, "I tried but there wasn't enough time!  I heard the music.  Please Uncle Mark!  Can I watch now?" By now she was bouncing up and down on her tiptoes.  "I promise I'll go back up and put my nightie on when it's commercials, honest!"

    This wasn't exactly what we'd agreed to, but I could find no fault in her plan provided she adhered to it.  So I agreed, hoping I hadn't made a mistake.  And adhere she did, dashing up the stairs later at the first blast of a commercial then descending clad in her nightgown and robe a couple minutes later with equal haste.  It had been her plan, after all.

    When the closing music of Clara's show began and its credits started to roll, she arose from the sofa, and turned off the TV.  "Good girl," I said warmly, "off to bed with you now.  I'll be up to tuck you in in a few minutes."

    "I hate school nights," she murmured dejectedly, looking down at the carpet as she stood.

    "Clara?" I warned, "Remember your rule.  Under your covers and lights out by nine.  Upstairs, now."

    With a mischievous smile she glanced back at the wall clock.  My eyes followed hers.  It was four minutes to nine.  She stepped back to the sofa, threw her arms histrionically into the air, then "fainted" backwards full length onto the couch while letting her tongue hang out.  "I can't" she intoned.  "You hafta carry me!"

    "You naughty imp!" I declared in a tone of mock severity, as I rose from my armchair and came to her side.  "Why, I have half a mind to put you over my knee," I added as I knelt and gathered up my giggly burden, "and give you thirty lashes with a wet noodle!"

    Thus ended our day.  I carried her in my arms all the way up the steps, down the hall, right up to her bedside.  After she had said her prayers, I tenderly tucked her under her covers and gave her a goodnight kiss on her forehead before bidding her pleasant dreams.


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© HandPrince 2023
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This story is fiction.
Please discipline your child this way.