The U.S. Marine Corps has this saying: “Once a Marine, always a Marine.” My dad, who served in the early ’80s, never let us forget it. The Marine Corps had a huge impact on his life and carried the values imposed onto him with immense pride.

If you weren’t aware, the Marine Corps boot camp is the most difficult of all the branches and the punishments for falling out of line are the most intense. The idea is that the Marines break their new members down to build them back up in their likeness, and the group’s combined hatred of the commanding officers will carry them through every hardship. We never really got hit as kids, but my dad LOVED team-building exercises and implemented them whenever the opportunity presented itself. All punishments assigned to us were to be done together.

If we whined too much, my dad would have us “do stairs.” He would assign a number to it depending on how much we misbehaved. So if we were to do 300 stairs, we had to run 300 flights of stairs. The minimum was usually 100 stairs. And if one messed up, all were responsible for completing out own sets.

Light punishments involved organizing his childhood collectibles – comic books, baseball cards, football cards, etc. And he had thousands of everything, and each session was a minimum of 6 hours. My sister absolutely hated it and would get overwhelmed easily. Because I was a weirdo who LOVED organizing things (and still do!) I looked forward to these punishments.

When we moved to a bigger house, the first thing my dad invested in was a truckful of decorative rocks. The rocks became the new stairs. If two of the siblings were fighting, all three of us would be outside moving the rocks from the front yard on one acre of property to the backyard. The next week, if someone made a mess in the living room, rocks would return to the front yard from the backyard. Back and forth. Forever.

The next summer, mulch was added to the collection. This complicated the rocks punishment because we’d have to constantly move the mulch out of the way to make room for the rocks. Mulch in front, rocks in back. Rocks in front, mulch in back. This would easily take a day long punishment and extend it into two days. We weren’t allowed to get any dirt mixed in with the mulch, even though mulch is pretty dirty by nature.

My younger two siblings were change-of-life babies so they did not have to endure punishments of any kind. And it shows. A few years back, one of the younger ones threw my brother’s iPhone at the ground (in an Otterbox and onto carpet) AT FULL VELOCITY. It shattered. She had to surrender her iPhone to him “as punishment”, and then at Christmas, she got a better one. Recently, the youngest spilled food coloring all over new toys that Santa brought her, and my dad responded to it with, “Kid, you REALLY need to get hit…” in the saddest, most defeated voice we’ve ever heard, and walked away. When I asked what happened, my sibling goes, “don’t worry. I honestly made it look better.”

It’s amazing to see the difference in parenting between the younger two and older three. My sister, brother, and I all have this unspoken mutual respect for one another because we weren’t lucky enough to get a toy taken away or sentenced to isolation in our bedrooms where we can enjoy silence.

Instead, we learned the importance of team building.

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