Things Are Getting Nutty


Maybe money doesn’t grow on trees, but at our house, discipline does.

“You’ve gotta crack a half a cuppa nuts!” is a very familiar phrase heard in my family. It is not unusual for our mother or dad to say it, and we’re all quite used to the strange and puzzled looks we get from those visitors who have no idea what it means.

It all started a couple of years ago when my dad was out of ideas to keep us under control. Being the father of ten active and quite rambunctious children, he needed a way to discipline our behavior. Consequently, he tried several methods of punishment that didn’t work particularly well.

One of the most boring discipline remedies that I can remember was “sitting on the chair.” When we were being punished for misbehavior, we had to sit on a hard chair in a corner of our dining room for a certain time which Mom would set on the oven buzzer. What made this punishment particularly unpleasant was that the chair was right by the piano. It never failed that a big sister would plop down on the piano bench and, seeing she had a captive audience, sing and play to her heart’s content. Talk about a fate worse than death!

That form of punishment failed because Mom and Dad had to worry about us sneaking off the chair and reducing the time on the buzzer, or simply disappearing. It proved a discipline dead end.

Another time Mom tried the “write an essay” form of punishment in which we had to write about what we did and how we would never do it again. None of us had much problem coming up with a lot to write about, but for some of us the punishment disintegrated into page-long poems that began with “Roses are red,” while others developed a unique writing style in which they could snugly fit about 17 huge words on a page. Another dead end.

Unfortunately for us, Dad came up with an idea that he thought was absolutely brilliant. Dreadful was a better word for it. We have a walnut tree in our backyard. Dad had been noticing how many walnuts go uncracked every year. He decided to mix that chore with our punishment. Every time we would break a family rule we would have to crack one half cup of nuts. Half a cup of nuts became the standard unit of punishment.

Cracking nuts may sound silly, but, believe me, it’s hard work. Picture a bunch of kids sitting on a hot sidewalk cracking each walnut one by one with a brick, then picking out the meat. Filling up one-half cup takes about 45 minutes, 35 if you’re a pro.

We children weren’t exactly thrilled with the idea, but we always had an abundance of cracked walnuts around to add to breads or cookies.

It takes forever to clean the slate when you get behind in your nut cracking. Once our family was planning a vacation. Dad decided that we weren’t going until everyone had his nuts cracked. Those who didn’t have nuts to crack were encouraged to help the others. We started out being grumpy, but by the end, we were all working together and actually enjoying it! Spending that time together, just talking while we were at our nut cracking, made us closer.

As for the days when the trees are bare and walnuts are scarce, we can work off our obligation by helping a parent or doing extra chores around the farm or house at the rate of one half cup of nuts per 15 minutes. As I have grown older, I have noticed one nice side effect. Working one-on-one with a parent gives us time to talk and learn how to work.

We’ve all grown and become better people because of our Dad’s nutty idea. Over the years even Mom and Dad have had to crack a few nuts themselves. It has proven an equitable way to discipline our family. Having nuts to crack was an unpleasant task but never a punishment that would damage our self-esteem.

I have just one word of warning to any kids out there who happen to have walnut trees in their backyards—obey your parents, don’t fight, and don’t call your little brother a “stupid nerd.” Or your parents might end up a little nutty over discipline.

[photos] Photography by John Luke