By the third time we crossed paths in the Shoprite, I was convinced she was checking me out. She tried a few times to make eye contact and even gave a little smile. She had a son, too, but he was a few years older than mine. Probably home sick from school. In the canned vegetable aisle, she confirmed my suspicions by walking over and introducing herself.
"Hello. My name is Stephanie."
"Hi, Stephanie," I said, shaking her hand, "nice to meet you."
Grocery store dating is nothing new to me. From our earliest days together, when Moon was an infant and D. and I lived in a one bedroom apartment in Novi, I would check out other moms at the supermarket.
"D." I would come home excited, "I saw another mom in the produce section! She was young and she had a little boy that was probably the same age as Moon. I think she wanted to be my best friend." D. would always laugh at me for trying to pick up new chicks while shopping. But being a stay-at-home mom can make finding friends a seriously difficult task. When you're in school, you hang out with your classmates. If you work, you pal around with co-workers. When you're a mom, your adult interactions are primarily with doctors, dentists & teachers. Not exactly BFF material. Though it's been over ten years since D. and I moved in together, I still haven't given up hope that I'll make a friend at the grocery store. So, when Stephanie pulled her cart up next to mine, I was ready to buy whatever she was selling.
"I belong to a Mom's group that happens to be getting together tomorrow," she began her pitch. "It's for moms of pre-schoolers, and if you'd be interested in attending we'd love to have you."
I had intended to join some sort of mom's group since moving to New Jersey, so I pulled out my iPhone, took down the info, and made plans to go. When I told D. about the group, he was concerned that it might be a recruiting effort for the church that hosts the meetings.
"It's a national group," I reassured him. "It's not a churchy thing. They just use the church meeting space. It says right on the website that it's for people of any denomination as well as for people who are not religious at all." I was just excited to meet a nice group of women who were in the same boat as me, and I was promised free brunch.
When I arrived the next morning, the brunch did not disappoint. Oven-baked french toast, brownies, and eggy casseroles crowded a room-length table. Childcare was offered, but not mandatory, and toddlers of various ages criss-crossed the room. I was immediately welcomed by several other women, and conversation was easy. I learned that the topic for this meeting was "discipline" and that there would be a panel offering advice on various parenting methods.
"Awesome," I thought. "I can always use other ideas to help with discipline." The talk began with a prayer. Praying isn't really my bag, but I wanted to be respectful so I popped a chunk of french toast (yum) into my mouth and bowed my head. When the panel was introduced, the two primary speakers turned out to be a couple who handled the youth ministry for the church and were about to have their fifth child.
"Well, I grew up in a house where spanking was the discipline method," the wife began. "So, when it came to disciplining my children, it was just natural for me." This was the part where I expected her to keep going and say, "to find other, more creative ways to teach my children." Instead, she handed the microphone to her husband who added, "Yeah, we start from a really young age with just like, you know, flicking them on the inner thigh when we want them to behave. And then, as they get older, we, well, we believe that spanking is what the Lord created the bottom for."
I looked around the room, truly expecting that the other moms in the room would be as horrified as I was. Instead, I found that most were listening intently and nodding their heads.
The husband continued, "We do not, however, believe in hitting the children with our hands. When I was in seminary, one of my teachers told me that if you hit a child with your hand, they can start to associate you with pain. So he suggested that you always use something else to spank them. We want our children to love and trust us, so we never hit them with our hands."
At several tables, womens' hands shot up in the air with questions. Relief flooded over me. Surely, this was the part where someone would protest that spanking is not ever a legitimate or useful discipline method. Someone would point out that study after study after study has shown that spanking is detrimental to children and should never be used for discipline.
When the first woman was called on, she asked, "What do you do if you're out in public and your children misbehave? You don't spank them in public, do you?"
"No, no," the husband replied. "That is the sort of situation where you have to get creative."
"Like, time-outs, or removal from the situation, or a distraction to diffuse the bad behavior?" I wondered.
"For example," he continued, "when my wife is at the grocery store, and one of the kids starts to act up, she's really good at this," he beamed at his wife, "and I'm sure some of you do this, too. What she does is, she pinches them. And then she continues pinching them while she whispers in their ear. It's very effective."
The moderator called on another woman with a question. "You mentioned that you never use your hands to spank. So, I'm just wondering, I mean, I grew up being paddled with a wooden spoon, so, what do you use to spank them?"
The panelists laughed. "Yes, kitchen utensils." The husband nodded. "We use a spatula."
"So, how did it go?" D. asked when I walked in the door afterwards. "Did they try to recruit you to come to their church?"
"A little bit" I responded. "They also told me I should hit the kids with kitchen utensils."
"What?" He laughed.
Later that afternoon, Peanut and Moon were fighting and behaving horribly. "Both of you, two minutes, nose on the wall," I barked. Peanut immediately put his nose against the wall, wanting his two minutes to be over quickly. Moon, however, continued to argue. "That's it. Get me a spatula."
"What, why?" Moon's eyes grew wide.
"Because I'm going to hit you."
"Yeah, right," Moon went to the drawer and got a spatula just to see what this was all about.
"Now, pull down your pants" I was stern.
"No. You're not really going to hit me with a spatula."
"Yes, I am. That's what they told me to do at church today. Now pull down your pants."
Nose still stuck to the wall, Peanut chimed in, "You don't even go to church!"
"Well, I did today, and they told me I should hit you guys with a spatula."
"Mom, you're not really going to hit me are you?" Moon was more curious and amused than fearful.
"No, I'm not. Now go put your nose on the wall."
At the end of two minutes, Peanut walked over to me, picked up the spatula and placed it in my hand. "Mom, hit me with the spatula."
"I'm not hitting you with a spatula."
"Do it, Mom!" He bent over.
"No. Stop it. I'm not hitting you with a spatula."
"Come on, Mom! Please. Just hit me with a spatula. Hit me!"
It's pretty unlikely that I'll be going back to another meeting of that particular mom's group. And I didn't pick up any handy new discipline tricks. But I do now believe that I know what happened to Jimmy Swaggart, Ted Haggard, Jim Bakker, Earl Paulk and Mark Foley. I'm guessing that their parents weren't using kitchen utensils for flipping flapjacks.