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We drove home in silence, and I could tell that it was killing my son.

If I had gone full-blown-hand-waving-talking-through-gritted-teeth-just-wait-till-I-can-get-you-home crazy, I might have Iet slip what was in store for him, and I wasn’t about to let that happen.

No, jail would have to be a surprise.

Moms raising sons alone too often find themselves in situations where they think they could really use a man’s hand. But divorce, widowhood or abandonment can strip that option. That’s when you do what you can and hope for the best. And this was one of those situations. 

Until that day, my child was aware that my discipline arsenal held two options: withholding privileges or spanking. In my house, corporal punishment was the consequence for only three actions, disrespect, dishonesty and disobedience. Drew knew what he’d done fell in the latter category. He’d heard me tell the camp counselor that his behavior ran counter to all my instructions.

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But hitting him to punish him for hitting someone else? It just didn’t make sense. I needed to make my son learn and think, not seethe and cry. After all, there’d been way too many times that I’d told him a lack of self-control could ruin, or end, his life. 

Yielding to anger or urges is dangerous for anyone, but I believe the consequences for such behavior are particularly dire for males. At 9, he was almost looking at me eye to eye. I would not let him become a towering teen with impulse issues. As a former crime reporter, too many times I’d seen where that could lead. 

The summer camp counselor said Drew’s “victim” had pushed him on the tennis court, and my son responded by hitting him with a racquet. My child had not swung forcefully. There was no blood, bruise or broken bone. The kid who initiated the conflict was not hurt, nor was he in trouble. But Drew was sent home for the rest of the day. 

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As we stepped into the kitchen from the garage, he turned and quietly asked, “Go to my room?” I just nodded.

Following him, a rapid instant replay started in my head. I thought about the trials I’d covered where boys let anger turn fistfights into shoot-outs, and wind up in coffins or cells. I was good and worked up by the time I reached the top of the stairs. This momma would not let that be the story of her son.

Through clenched teeth I said, “You will learn self-control, young man, and I can show you better than I can tell you. If you’re gonna act like a thug, I will treat you like a thug. You’ll be in jail this weekend because that’s where thugs go." I ignored the tears that followed.

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I confiscated the softer-than-silk jersey sheets and his pillow—inmates don’t get high-grade cotton. And I would have wrestled that pillow-top mattress to the garage and replaced it with a camping pad, but I figured I might need it for the next infraction if he failed to learn from this sentence. 

I closed and taped up the vent (there’s air conditioning in other jails, not mine). Gave him bland grits for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Since his room has always been electronics-free, Drew had nothing to do but think about his choice, and its consequences.

After 48 hours of confinement, we talked. I let him go first. He saw why his response to a shove was disproportionate and dangerous. He’d wondered why there hadn’t been any punishment for the child who pushed him. I could see that gave him something to ponder as much as his jail experience.

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For my part, I reminded him that a man without self-control is like a city without walls. Anything can come out, and anything can get in. Fortify yourself, and you’ll be less likely to lose the privileges, freedom and comforts you enjoy, want and deserve.

It’s been five years since his release. Regularly, I see evidence that the fake jail worked. Drew gets angry. He’s human. But within seconds of seeing his nostrils widen, jaw tighten or eyes narrow, I notice a deep exhale. He’s weighing his response. Recalibrating. Thinking.

In spite of being gripped by puberty, he’s not snarky or back-talking. I might get a measured, “Yes, ma’am,” when he’s not happy with one of my edicts, but that’s it. There have been no typical teen-reflexive, angst-ridden outbursts in my house. And teachers regularly praise his maturity and respectful behavior.

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I’ve got four years to go before he leaves, but I doubt he’ll develop disrespectful habits, or a penchant for yielding to those urges. I do what I can and hope for the best. Now what I see is a young man with walls.

What momma doesn’t want that?

Check back next week: "Redefining 'Momma's Boy' "

Christy Oglesby lives in Atlanta. She's a veteran writer for newspapers, websites and television. Hop on Facebook, share your moms-and-sons story and invite your friends to do the same.

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Christy Oglesby lives in Atlanta. She's a veteran writer for newspapers, websites and television.