The Boy in the Box


This true story begins by my saying “no children or animals were harmed in the telling of the tale.” I’ve seen this at the end of films involving pets or young actors.

The boy in the title of this column was my son, who has now reached the venerable age of 50. As a child he was always quiet and well behaved at home, unlike his three siblings, who were not quiet and often misbehaved.

My children frequently fought with each other, and I desperately wished for some peace and quiet. As a young mother brought up as an only child, you could say I was teetering on the edge of sanity. There were no computers then, but we did have television as a baby sitter. Due to my ingrained sense of ethics, I only allowed them to turn on the set at 5 p.m. for “Batman.” Thank God for Batman and Robin. That show saved me. After that I would say, “Just wait until your father gets home!”

The quiet son will go nameless to protect the innocent and ensure privacy. When he began kindergarten, his younger sister was born, but that’s another story. In that story, I will have to say she was just perfect and never gave me any trouble at all. I will add that when she became a teenager, I elevated her brothers to sainthood.

The first day of kindergarten arrived and my husband and I expected our youngest son to be a paragon of virtue. My only worry was that he was quiet and a bit shy. I knew he was smart and thought he would love learning. He could already read and had the advantage of two older brothers who behaved when out and only misbehaved at home. I was surprised at how differently his brothers acted in an educational setting. I kept my mouth shut and never divulged to their teachers how unruly and impossible they were at home.

Two weeks of school went by before I heard from the kindergarten teacher. I was called in for a conference and expected to hear glowing reports. I couldn’t believe what she said. My quiet, little squirt was acting up, showing off, never stopped talking or telling jokes and continued to cause an uproar in the classroom. What!? How could this be?

His father and I were in disbelief and shock. We talked to him, cajoled him, punished and bribed him. We told him he had to stop this nonsense immediately. How could he be so quiet at home and so ridiculous at school? We did secretly suspect the teacher was exaggerating and thought things would improve in first grade.

We held our breath every September as he entered the new school year. It was always the same report. “A nice youngster but severe discipline problems; he causes a disturbance in the classroom.” His grades were good, but ...

By third grade, I decided to see for myself and volunteered to help in the new mathematics program. Every year there seemed to be a new math program. I figured he wouldn’t dare act silly with his mother in the classroom. Not! I was shocked to see him play the class clown, hold up his paper and say “failed again” and throw it in the trash. He had the kids in hysterics. When he arrived home from school that day, he was grounded. Time-out hadn’t been invented yet.

Fifth grade came and there seemed to be a solution. His teacher was a wise woman. She called me in for what was now my predictable conference. She had heard about my son and was now experiencing the same old problem. My now older “ding-a-ling” boy had gotten himself a reputation.

I was surprised when she asked me if I would agree to placing him in a refrigerator box in the back of the room. It would be a cardboard carrel. This remedy had dawned on her the day before when her new appliance was delivered. She had already asked his permission and now needed mine. I was desperate and said yes.

Would you believe my son was proud of being in the back of the room in a box? Only when he did his work was he allowed out. He didn’t stop fooling around completely, but the “kid in the box” was better behaved.

Throughout middle school and high school, we had occasional reports of his antics, but the problem seemed to subside. At home he was quiet and pleasant as usual. We were happy his nonsense phase was over.

It wasn’t until his graduation from college that we suspected things hadn’t changed. We were sitting in the stands at a large university waiting for him to receive his engineering degree. My husband remarked on all the messages on top of tasseled hats like “Hi Mom” or “Made It Thru.” One of the graduates marched in carrying a large, green balloon-like object. My husband, who had never suffered fools, said, “Look at that idiot.” When the graduates got closer we realized it was our son, carrying Gumby.

Kathleen Donnelly lives in Beach Haven Terrace.







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