This weekend I had one of those pivotal moments in parenting, when you get the feeling that everything you're doing with your kids is finally setting in. Parents of kids older than a year know what I'm talking about. I say over a year, because parenting a child under 12 months is mostly just an exercise in keeping them alive. Maybe it's when your kid says "please" or "thank you" for the first time. Maybe it's when they do something without being asked five hundred times.Maybe it's when they can recognize the helmet of a professional football team without prompting. This past week, my son ran from me in fear for the first time. More specifically he ran from my mad disciplinary skills, but I'll take the credit.
Before we progress further, I should probably explain some things. First of all, neither I, nor my wife employ strange or violent disciplinary measures. We don't spank, hit, pinch, slap or otherwise use physical force. No one gets forced to stay in a dank cellar. No one lives under the stairs. No one gets whipped for using wire hangers. We use the tried and true methods of denying privileges and banishment to one's room. When I say "room" I actually mean the room of the house designated as owned by the child in question, not some shackled up outhouse with nothing but a bucket to pee in and an eye hole to look out of. So when I say that my kid ran in fear of being disciplined, I can assure you that it's not because he thought I was going to hit him with an oar.
Allow me to set the stage. Sunday mornings I get up with the kids while Linda sleeps in. Like all good parents, I do my best to avoid the children entirely and encourage them to play with one another. Anyone with multiple children knows exactly what I'm talking about as the only reason to have more than one child is so that you don't have to play, and lose, at race cars 500 bajillion times. Parents that say they had multiple children because they had lots of love to give, or some similarly rosy sounding bullshit are lying to you. They had multiple kids because they did the math and realized that 2 years of putting up with a child that can't do anything for themselves is better than being chief playmate and entertainment source for 18 years.
But I digress. As the kids play, I get the menu for the week together and make the grocery list. It takes some time as I don't like to repeat meals from week to week. The kids are usually content to spend this time playing with one another. They're playing, for the most part, consists of Ben ordering Abby around and her doing whatever he tells her. That is, when they're not arguing over something. Linda read somewhere that the normal amount of time between conflict for kids their age is roughly 10 minutes. If ten minutes were to go by with my kids not yelling at each other about something, I would worry that the book case fell on them.
Of late, Abby has taken to playing with this set of 16 wooden blocks that Ben had as a toddler. I don't know what it is about them, but she will sit for upwards of an hour and just dump them out of their wooden tray and then put them back. It's kind of strange, but it makes her immensely happy. Ben is less than thrilled about this recent development, in part because it's his right as a sibling to immediately want whatever his sibling is receiving enjoyment from, even if not 5 minutes ago he cast it aside as the most repulsive thing ever. The other part is that, and I think this is more important, when she's playing with the blocks, he can't tell her what to do. 4 year olds excel at few things, but instructing others how to do things is one of them. When Abby is in her block fugue, not only does she not listen to what he's saying to her, but it's like he doesn't exist.
Given that there is so little in this world that will actually make Abby happy, and not just happy but entertained and enthralled for long periods of time, the general rule around the house has become "don't mess with your sister when she's playing with the blocks." An odd rule, to be sure, and one that really only applies to the blocks, but it's necessary, because the boy absolutely will not stop fucking with this child when she's playing with those damn blocks. You might, at this point, say "well, why not make them share the blocks and get him involved so that he can play too?" No dice. He doesn't want to be involved, he wants to take over and once he starts playing with her, they won't be playing with the blocks in the manner she wants to, they'll be turning the blocks into eggs or Lego Racers or something else and using them to play Super Block Ball or some shit. All the poor child wants to do is dump out the blocks and put them back. We've told Ben that he can help her do that, but it rarely stays that way, so the block rule has been enforced.
Now, on another note, my take is that Abby, whom I love to pieces, don't get me wrong, can be a fucking hornet's nest if riled up, so why, in the name of all that is good and holy, would you do anything to bother her if she's happy and content? I'm not saying you should tiptoe around the kid if she's smacking the dog with a fireplace poker, but if she's playing with something that is completely ok for her to play with, and having a good time, why not just leave her the fuck alone? Alas reason is lost on 4 year olds, although he will be the first one to point out when his sister is screaming at the top of her lungs.
So, back to Sunday morning. She's playing with her blocks, I'm menu planning and he starts messing with her. I tell him a number of times to leave her alone and then I hear silence. Then I hear the sound of a pom-pom being waved. The kids have some stupid pom-pom they got at the grocery store as a giveaway or something. I really have no idea how it got into the house. Then I hear the sound of the pom-pom being smacked into something. I assume it's the floor. Then I hear Abby plaintively wailing "Daaaaddddyyyyy!!!" It would appear I was wrong in my assumption.
I get up and come into the room, but as I'm coming into the living room, I hear him running out of the room, a sure sign that something's up as he's never ran that fast to do anything in his life. I check on Abby and she's ok, playing with the blocks, with the pom-pom on the floor next to her. I then leave the living room through the other door into the foyer and I still don't see Ben but I can hear him. He was actually moving away from me to escape capture. "Well played," I thought as I was impressed that he didn't just pause outside the door.
I may be many things, but capable of being outsmarted by someone who can't tie his shoes ain't one of them. Knowing that he might think I'm still in the living room and not come back, I went back the way I came, into the hallway connecting the living room to the family room and waited. This way, when he came back through a glance from the foyer or the dining room would make the room appear to be safe to return to. In a moment he returned and just like that, the steely jaws of my trap sprang shut.
I walked out and the look of surprise on his face was priceless. Then the interrogation began.
"What were you doing before I came into the room?"
"I don't know." This is his new thing. It rarely works, yet he persists in trying it.
"Don't lie to me boy." I don't know why I call him boy in these situations. It must be a southern thing. "You must have been doing something you knew was wrong or you wouldn't have run away. Now, what were you doing?"
Pause. Another pause. "Hitting Abby with the pom-pom."
"Because she wasn't sharing the blocks with me."
At this point, I went into the whole thing about not hitting and you're a big brother, you should be looking out for her and she's half your size and blah blah blah. The end result was that he got sent to his room for 45 minutes. The entire time, Abby played with the blocks with the biggest smile on her face.
Now, had it just been a he said she said thing and he hadn't ran and hadn't confessed, there wouldn't have been much that I could do because I didn't actually see anything and I couldn't trust that Abby would tell me the truth. 2 year olds are notoriously unreliable eyewitnesses. Even if he had just ran, and not confessed, I still wouldn't have been able to do anything, because again, I didn't see it and he could have just been running to run. I'm glad he did confess, because I want my kids to be honest, even if it means owning up to something they're going to get punished for, but at the same time, I know that there will soon come a day when I know he's lying to me, but I can't do anything about it because I won't have seen the infraction occur.
In the end, it wasn't a big deal. He got lectured again when he came out of his room, he didn't hit her again and the day continued like any other. Obviously, I don't like punishing my kids, but at the same time, it's nice to know that they know there are consequences to their actions. It'd be nicer if they didn't carry out the act that they're going to get punished for, but alas, punishment is not about prevention, it's about teaching accountability.
For the record, were that Abby whipping Ben with the pom-pom, not only would she have stayed in the room as I entered, but she would have flashed me the "hold on one second" hand sign as she continued to beat him about the head and neck. As much as it pains me to have her in this emotionally volatile state, I fear the days when she's older because I know that she's stubborn and willful and traditional disciplinary techniques won't work with her. When those days arrive, I may have to go out and buy an oar.