When I was a little girl, growing up in Brussels, I remember being very quiet and a stutterer. I was also a tad overweight as who could say non to Belgium waffles AND frites with mayonnaise, I ask you? A bit of a book worm, too, I loved school and adored being a Brownie. By most standards, I was well-behaved. Although once a year, like clockwork, I would rev up my emotional motors and become uncontrollably bad.
A trifecta of naughtiness
I don’t recall the exact cause, but around the age of ten, I flew into a rage, burst into my bedroom in a flood of tears, forcefully jumped on the bed breaking its wooden frame. My mother heard the loud crack and came in to see what had happened. My punishment? One hour of silence in the WC.
As my anger had not fully abated, I proceeded to look around for something else wicked to do. Considering the tight quarters in a toilet, this was not an easy task. The porcelain handle of the chain flushing devise caught my attention. Over the next 50 minutes I managed to methodically knock the handle against the wall until a six-inch hole was produced right through the plaster board. But that wasn’t enough. As I knew my mother, the disciplinarian, was going to give me holy Hel anyway, I decided to see what else I could do. What next? There it was, right in front of me: a roll of toilet paper. With the ten minutes left in my incarceration, I chose to rip off each sheet producing a tidy mound of fluffy, white paper next to the heap of fine plaster dust.
When Mom opened the door to release her prisoner and discovered my misdeeds, she summoned my father. As was the case in most families at the time, fathers were only called upon when the kids were in serious trouble. “Tony, get over here quickly! Come see what your goodie-two-shoes daughter has done.” As I recollect, I was grounded for two months and my allowance was to garnish garnished until I paid back the cost of the repairs. To this day, when I see an old-fashioned chain pully on a toilet, I laugh out loud remembering what deviant fun it was being naughty.
A good Catholic girl
My trainer, Sara, told me about something wayward she did while in middle school. Wearing her Catholic girls’ school uniform, she pranced into a local gas station and purchased a packet of cigarettes for her friend who claimed Sara looked older than she. The man behind the counter didn’t seem to notice the grossly underaged kid in a navy blue and hunter green plaid and pleated skirt flashing dollar bills in his face. He handed over the goods to Sara with a nonchalant shrug, much to her surprise. She actually got away with it!
The world is an empty canvas
Beatrix, my German-born friend from spin class regaled us with a tale about her escapade which she and her three younger siblings pulled off one summer evening. Beatrix was raised in Munich and came from a family which practiced the old-world tradition of entertaining one another after dinner. Pondering what might liven up the family’s evening recreation, the kids decided to each take a wall in the dining room and decorate it with original designs using paint from their art class. When their mother walked in and saw the wild, fauvist strokes of colors she didn’t know what to do. “I still remember the bewildered look on her face. Here we were, four impish little kids awaiting our mother’s reaction to our ingenuity. Luckily,” Beatrix added, “our nanny—she was so mean—was away for the weekend so we missed being severely punished. Mom, on the other hand, was a fun-loving, gregarious sort of woman always surrounded by a coterie of amusing friends. Clearly, she didn’t know if she should laugh or cry with the mess we’d created but she certainly appreciated our quest for fun but even more so, parental approval. “
Free candy for the taking
Another friend, Michaela Rodeno—who retired several years ago as CEO of Napa Valley’s St. Supery winery—shared with me her favorite childhood experience of breaking the rules. When she was seven, she found herself with an overwhelming desire for a Tootsie Roll. As Michaela described it, “I didn’t have any money, but I had a plan. I jumped on my 26” two-wheeler with the balloon tires and a push-button horn in the chassis and rode off to the neighborhood shop. I walked in doing my best to look innocent, pocketed a large, five cent Tootsie Roll, and ran outside. I tore home on that huge bike as if the hounds of hell were on my tail, certain that I’d be chased down and punished. The guilt I’ve felt ever since was punishment enough.”
When I asked Michaela whether she ended up eating the Tootsie Roll after lamenting her actions, she replied, “Are you kidding? Of course, I ate it, ashamed but undeterred.
Spicing up a dish
Replacing one ingredient for anther seems to be a favorite adolescent act of troublemaking. When I asked my canine fashion designer pal, Joan DeCollibus, if she recalled doing anything particularly naughty l as a child, she responded gleefully by tattling on her older sister. “When my sister was seventeen, she decided to mix half a bag of marijuana into our mother’s potato salad. From the looks on our faces and my sister and my inability to stifle our giggling, Mom surmised something was afoot. But she never let on when the family noticed our father was acting a bit more ‘mellow’ than usual.
Sometimes children act out just to get attention from their parents. This was the case for Public Relations guru, Kimberly Charles. She explains her restless nature and desire to over-throw authority from her position as third of four sisters who all grew up as a “military brats.”
Yo-oh, heave ho
When Kimberly was a teenager, she had an opportunity to work in Scotland. There, she met Tom—who, to this day, is one of her best friends. They worked in a fancy restaurant in a miniscule fishing village on the coast of the Outer Hebrides, noted for its windswept, dramatic landscape. “We worked long hours with little time off. Given how small the town was, let’s just say there was not much to keep us occupied.”
As Kimberly elaborated, “One evening after sunset, we ‘borrowed’ one of the fishing boats, smuggled a bottle of wine and listened to classical music under a full moon, drifting along the Scottish coast. We were feeling quite smug and satisfied until we heard what sounded like a huge bathtub being drained. The tides off the mull of Kintyre were dramatic and within minutes we were stuck on a sandbar with the boat and our oars. Knowing that the tides wouldn’t come in for hours, we opted to drag the boat about a half mile along the sand to get it back to its slip.” As she recalled her deed of wickedness, Kimberly said she remembered being grateful at the time to have avoided being caught. However, as she also remembers: “The bad news was Tom and I were stiff for days having hauled the heavy wooden boat back to its rightful home!”
I didn’t inhale!
Connie, my highly regarded analyst friend, recounts how she decided to try smoking when she was a sophomore in high school. “I didn’t like the taste and I certainly did not consider myself cool, given the way it made me wheeze. Turns out I burned a hole in my skirt. For a second, I thought I could get away with it, because the skirt had tiny box pleats, and the cigarette hole was not that big, really. But my mother found me out.” As Connie remembered, “I decided that nothing was worth the trouble this got me into even though my mother was herself a smoker.”
Taking care of baby
Sisters can often be naughty with their siblings. George told a funny story about what his sister Fiona did to him when he was two and half living in Detroit. “We were latch-key kids as both parents worked. At the age of five my sister was responsible for making our breakfast. Every morning, Fiona would put me in a high chair and gave me a bowl of cereal and milk. Dressing me came later in the morning. Only problem was, one morning when Fiona decided to put me in my little red wagon and take me a stroll around the neighborhood, I was still buck naked.” George acknowledged he was too young at the time to think anything of it. However, when he was older, people would point him out, snicker and ask, “Is that the little naked kid who used to roll around our streets in his Radio Flyer?” George was kidded unmercifully by the older kids in his hood and never quite forgave his sister for creating this humiliating situation for him.
Ice Cream’s on me, everyone!
There are some people you just can’t imagine ever doing anything bad. Such is the case with Ann Stratt, the illustrious president of Les Dames d’Escoffier International, and the epitome of an upstanding citizen. But I was curious so popped the question anyway. “Hey, Ann. Ever do anything bad when you were a kid?” It took her a while to recollect but eventually she offered, “I must have totally buried all of the wickedly bad things I did as a child. I was really a good little girl. No siblings to lead me astray, I guess.” However, when she was four, she remembers treating the neighborhood children to the Dairy Queen every day for a week. “I was using money from my parent’s coin collection I found in a drawer. I just wanted to make friends by being generous. Eventually, one of my parent’s caught on. I can’t say I was wicked, just stupid.”
Try it. You may just like it!
Explain it as you will, being naughty can be a liberating experience. Behaving all the time at any age is a bore. Even as a mature adult, I relish the odd break from convention by spontaneously doing something unanticipated and out of character for me. Go ahead. Try it yourself and see if I’m not right.