“Do You Know What You Did?”

If you grew up in the ’50s as I did, you might remember your parents saying this: “do you know what you did?” This covered acts of rudeness, going somewhere on your own without permission, taking something that wasn’t yours, being “fresh” and also being “smart” (as in “smart-mouthed”).

The whole point of punishment back then was for the miscreant to understand why they were getting punished. For example, in my house, you didn’t just walk out of the house without letting everyone know that you were walking out of the house. That way, everyone knew where you were going and when you would be coming home.

Once on a summer evening, Mom had run a bath for me, and I walked right out of the house by myself. I was about 8 or 9 at the time, and I knew better. But the summer evening was so inviting, so I slipped out of the door and took off on my own. I still remember how thrilling it was to be out by myself!

I wandered around the neighborhood, and was thrilled at my adventure. In the back of my mind, I knew I was going to pay dearly for this transgression, but I didn’t care. I was free and on my own. Of course I planned to go home—eventually. I knew was going to be in deep trouble for running off, but in the moment, I just didn’t care.

Of course, my dad went on the war path looking for me. Eventually he found me, took my by the hand quite firmly and walked me home. He was furious, and even as young as I was, I realized how scared he must have been when I couldn’t be found in the house.

My mom just about cried with relief to see me, and then she lit into me. Both of them said “did you know what you did?” Of course I knew, and I knew I was going to be punished. In our family, the rules of the house were clear and defined. At my age I was not allowed to use the telephone, to raid the refrigerator without asking, and certainly I was not allowed to leave the house without telling my parents.

At my age, there was no spanking; just a sit-down with my parents to go over the rules of the house—again. Of course I knew them by heart, but the fact that I brazenly flew in the face of them must have scared the bejeebers out of my parents. Hence, a review of what I was and what I wasn’t to do was laid out before me—again.

Of course I knew better. Of course I knew I had scared my parents. Of course I knew I was going to be punished. I don’t even remember what my punishment was, but I do remember how I felt afterwards, lying in bed before sleeping. I knew I had broken a serious rule and that I wasn’t going to do that again.

When my parents asked me “do you know what you did?” I parroted back the rule: “no leaving the house without permission.” Mom asked me why I did it, and all I could think of to say was, “I dunno.” But in my heart of hearts, the real reason was this: I left the house on my own, and it felt like freedom. However, I was darn glad to be home.

That night there was no dessert for me, and for the rest of that week I was not allowed to go outside in the evening to join the neighborhood kids to play Red Rover, Statues or Hide and Seek. But even as young as I was, I knew I was paying the price for flouting the house rules.

But here’s the heart of the thing: I completely understood the meaning of “do you know what you did?” It meant “you scared us. We thought that someone stole you. You could have been hurt. You could have gotten lost.” All in all, I paid my dues for breaking a house rule, and I actually learned from it. I knew that I was loved and cared for; that the house rules were meant to keep me safe.

It was a reminder that I never forgot; you may step out of line and be punished, but you are still loved. And “rules is rules.”

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