Does The Dishes
The NON-Spanking 'Cooperative
(It takes place in a parallel universe)
"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
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
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."
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.
queried, "You agreed that we'd each do half
the dish washing chores, remember?
What's going on with you now? Why the
"Why do I
hafta do them all by myself?" she
asked petulantly. "I want to do them
with you, like we did last night."
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.
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
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."
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."
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?
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."
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
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!?!"
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
"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!"
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
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.
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
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
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?"
Mark. I'll sit on the sofa and
watch. I promise! So can I
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
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.
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?"
came her solemn response, "I would make me go
upstairs and brush my teeth again."
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."
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!"
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.
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.
Mark, does this mean I can-"
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."
straight to bed, Uncle Mark! Honest I
will! I'll run up the stairs!"
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."
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??"
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?"
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.
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?"
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
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
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-"
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,
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.
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
school nights," she murmured dejectedly,
looking down at the carpet as she stood.
warned, "Remember your rule. Under your
covers and lights out by nine. Upstairs,
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
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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