John, Philip, William and Edward.  Last summer, as we celebrated John's engagement.

John, Philip, William and Edward.  Last summer, as we celebrated John's engagement.

One Sunday morning, when the boys were teenagers, we were sitting in our usual spot at church. Like most regular church goers, we had figured out the best place for our family to sit. The front row of the balcony offered an excellent view to keep us engaged, yet kept us far enough away so as not to distract the preacher or stodgy old people who thought children should magically disappear on Sunday mornings. It happened to be Halloween and the boys were excited about a party they were going to that night.  Candy and costumes seem to make you act a little crazy at any age. 

As a sidebar, we had all the kids, when they were six and under(!), at church with us one Christmas Eve. It was packed!  We had to sit downstairs on about the sixth row. It was not my choice to have the boys crawling all over us, looking for crayons, being total wiggle worms, as four little energizer bunnies tend to do – but no one had shown up to tend the nursery.  First, I heard the people behind us wondering why we couldn’t control the situation when another lady actually leaned over and told me, “You know, we DO have a nursery!” I was embarrassed and miserable and wanted to flee but then I got mad – it was CHRISTMAS EVE for heaven’s sake; I had a right to be there and so did our children. Those ladies could just go jump in a lake for all I cared.

OK, back to the balcony, the boys were 18, 16, 15 and 12. When there are four children and only two parents, you can’t exactly separate all of them. So, Edward and Philip, the two in the middle, ended up side by side and they refused to be still or quiet.  I tried all of my usual tactics to get them to behave: my snapped fingers, my pinch to that place on your shoulder where it really hurts, a tight squeeze to the knee and even my look that clearly stated I-might-just-commit-murder-right-now-with-you-as-the-victim – nothing worked. Although I love our church and everyone there are our friends, I was still moritifed at the show the boys were putting on for all those tiered rows behind us (that is probably why they chose those spots – to get a birds’ eye view of the highly entertaining Crouse family!).

Needless to say our ride home that day was no picnic.  The oldest, John, and the youngest, William, got to blissfully look out the window while Philip and Edward were on the hot seat. Jay and I began with, “You are NOT going to act like THAT at church!” Clearly, they were and just did.  Jay and I had quickly decided, during Sunday School, that the offending offspring would not be allowed to go to the Halloween party that they were so excited to attend that night. We lowered the boom and meted out the punishment. We never felt that grounding our children was very effective.  Staying home at our house where there was always something fun going on just never seemed to get the point across. But not getting to go to this long awaited party, with costumes at the ready, might just be the end of the world to them. The wailing, negotiating and never-ending discussion on what is fair ensued.

The fifteen minute ride thankfully came to an end and the boisterous discussion burst out of the car and into the house. They begged, “Please let us go to the party. We will do anything you ask, just don’t take that away….please please please.” Every parent in the world has heard this line. After a brief discussion, Jay and I stepped out of the box.  “Ok, boys, you two go off and talk and if you can come up with a punishment that we that seems fair to us, we will consider it.” We went off to do our various Sunday chores and left the boys to figure out their “offer.”  After a while, they came to us, grinning ear to ear, to convene the committee.  Jay and I sat to listen.  Here is what the boys came up with.  They would cook dinner for two weeks.  They would not only cook dinner, they would go to the grocery store (my ears were starting to perk up), they would serve it and…….they would clean up.  I was immediately sold! Jay concurred.  

What followed was two weeks of bliss for me. They actually did what they had promised and did it so well that we were all begging for them to keep going.  Our young adult chefs insisted we eat in the dining room and Edward took on the role of head butler, complete with a fresh, white towel hanging over his forearm.  They served us delicious dishes they had found in cookbooks and made up themselves. They had a ball, the four of us enjoyed every bite and I had a mini vacation.  It was absolutely my favorite punishment ever! I considered paying them to be our in-house chefs but then remembered they needed to go to school and soccer practice, do their homework, etc. Darn.

All of our sons and our niece love to cook now, as does Jay, and the kitchen is a focal point whenever the family gets together. They enjoy the preparation and planning weeks ahead of a gathering and savor being in the kitchen together.  I move out for the cooking and back in to stage the clean-up, which is fine with me.  I cooked for a family of six for enough nights to satisfy that urge. I think this particular teenaged “punishment” was the beginning of a lifelong interest in preparing food for others to enjoy -for those two boys especially.  Philip, at 32, has his own organic beverage business in New York ( – his drinks are served in about 90 restaurants. Edward, 30, went on to get a graduate degree in food and culture at Carlo Petrini’s University of Gastronomic Science ( in northern Italy. He works in the food industry as well, as manager of The Daily, here in Charleston. They are both outstanding cooks and anyone invited to dinner at their homes can look forward to an amazing experience.

Jay and I found that "name your own punishment" worked really well. In fact, our kids often came up with harsher consequences than what we had planned for them. Plus, if they had a voice in the situation, they were much more likely to follow through,  and the added bonus was that there seemed to be a lot less complaining along the way. So, instead of sending them to their room, allow them to be creative - maybe you will get a clean attic out of the deal (thank you for that, William).