Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Dear Mom and Dad: I'm Sorry for How I Acted

I know you can only count on a yearly call a couple weeks before it’s time to come up for Thanksgiving so we can schedule an airport pickup.  I might call once every couple years on your birthdays, or Mother’s Dad and Father’s Day (never both), but you’re always in my thoughts.  Especially now that there’s a child in my life.
What I want to know is, how the hell did you do this?  How did you raise a child not just once, but three fucking times?
My fingers are shaking so badly I can barely type.  It’s nothing major, just a normal child-rearing night gone wrong.  He pitches one fit too many, his tone is a little too bossy and demanding, he won’t listen just once more than you can take, so you tell him there will be nothing fun tonight.  He will eat, and he will go to bed.
He doesn’t like this.  At all.  Sure he’s exhausted and could use the early night of rest, but that’s not the point.  The point is, he’s not getting his way, and he needs you to know he’s not happy about it.  The end is fairly dramatic, a slammed glass of milk splattered everywhere, the child sent to bed without dinner.  
The screaming and crying continue, because he’s not happy with this development either.  
Now you’re at a crossroads.  Did the thousand little ways he tested you all day entirely deflate your patience?  Do you have one parenting urge that hasn’t been worn away by the incessant questions, neediness, wheedling, cajoling, bargaining, ignoring, whining, pleading, and crying?  It feels like you have nothing left to give; it would be so much easier to scream back.
I’m leaning over the oven, emotionally exhausted. The kitchen and dishes are clean, so I can’t avoid him any longer.  His behavior has been and continues to be terrible, and he’s headed for a spanking.  I don’t want to deliver one because I never have and I’m not sure I’d know how, but his actions leave little room for anything else.
How did you do this? 
I hear Dad’s voice in my head, answering me with a slanted grin.  Not very well.  Then my mom’s voice.  Kent, that doesn’t help him.  Yet somehow it does.
I go to Dylan’s bed and tell him he’s headed for a spanking.  That I can’t give it tonight because I’m so upset that I might accidentally hurt him, but that if we need to tell him one more time to be quiet and sleep, he will get a spanking first thing in the morning.       
When the fit continues because he’s hungry and doesn’t want a spanking, I scoop him into my arms.  I hold him close and speak into the soft skin of his neck.  I don’t want to hurt your feelings little one, but the world doesn’t revolve around what you want.  Forget about dinner.  Your behavior gave dinner away tonight.  It doesn’t mean we don’t love you.  Now.  You can choose to go to sleep, or you can choose to get a spanking.  It’s up to you.  I don’t want to spank you, and you don’t want to get spanked.  So pick.
He chose sleep.  I chose a big glass of Chateau Ste Michelle dry riesling.  
I think we both slept content.          


  1. Glad it was the wine that got the spanking. Tomorrow's another day.

    For both of you......

  2. Recommended by professionals:

    Plain Talk About Spanking
    by Jordan Riak

    The Sexual Dangers of Spanking Children
    by Tom Johnson

    by Lesli Taylor MD and Adah Maurer PhD

    Most current research:

    Spanking Kids Increases Risk of Sexual Problems

    Use of Spanking for 3-Year-Old Children and Associated Intimate Partner Aggression or Violence

    Spanking Can Make Children More Aggressive Later

    Children Who Are Spanked Have Lower IQs

  3. Anonymous,
    Do you have kids? Threatened spankings are very effective in controlling behavior when nothing else works. Do you beat a child? No, of course not. Do you follow through with your threat if the behavior continues? Yes, of course you do. Do you hit them so hard that it hurts? No, of course not. All things are not black & white. In essence, keep your judgements to yourself - it is not your place in the world to judge others or offer unsolicited advise to a stranger.
    Keep up the good work. As long as he always knows you love & value him - any actions you take that may hurt him (emotionally) will be forgiven.
    Love you bro

  4. Impressive Aaron! He's lucky to have you in his life. An your lucky to have some wonderful wine in yours.

  5. Duh..that last sentence should read:
    And you're lucky to have some wonderful wine in yours.

  6. That is one anonymous battle! Can I call you A1 and A2?

    In all seriousness, thanks for giving me something to think about, A1.

    A2 (AKA, Sister Extraordinaire), thanks for sticking up for your little brother.

    No sweat, Moxxi. The more typos you make, the more comments I have.

    (smiley face, or something)

  7. I thought about responding to A1 in a new post but I figure that's too close to blogging about blogging, and I'm supposed to blogging about my life. Although right now I'm supposed to be doing fiction, so there you go. I'm over the word limit, so bear with me.

    To comment on the links, A1, I don't like that they speak of spanking in the same context as shaking, beating, choking, etc. I think we (read, "American society in general") have gone from the extremes of child labor to coddling children far too much. Becky often passes Dylan and gives him an affectionate pat on the butt or shoulder. Dylan will look up in surprise and say, "You hit me." This is what he's learning in school, that basically any touch from another individual is violent. A few of the links spoke about empowerment, that spanking is a way of telling a child his/her body doesn't belong to him/her. That point hit home, and I have to admit I never thought of it that way. I suppose if Dylan thinks a gentle pat on the head is a blow, then it's a blow, because who am I to tell him he's wrong when it comes to his body?

    At the same time, I think we're creating a touch-phobic culture. Dylan craves physical affection so much that no amount of hugging and kissing ever satisfies him. I'd like a middle ground which allows Dylan's teachers to rub his back or pat his shoulder and say, "Good job!" while protecting him from sexual predators, but I guess erring on the side of caution is the way to go on this one. That's okay; his family hugs the shit out of him.

    But back to the links. I think it's counterproductive to use such extreme examples (when spanking was a small portion of what can only be called a beating) to emphasize the point. A mole is not pancreatic cancer, banter is not adultery, and a scratch is not a severance. Sure it's all the same family, but if you're trying to stop spanking, it's too easy for folks to see spanking=hospital and dismiss what you're saying as nonsense.

    You could dismiss my discomfort with spanking being equated with baby-shaking as defensive, but I have trouble with anything clearly labelled good and bad. We live in the grey area between, and what's good (small "G") one day might not be on another.

    I also resent the implication in the links that anyone who'd stoop so low as to spank must have a host of parenting problems. Again, if the issue is spanking, let's focus on good parents who should consider removing it from their repertoire of disciplinary practices, not as one of a host of bad parenting problems.

  8. Some background on violence in my family. I'm two generations removed from a wife-beater. My father grew up seeing his father, my grandfather (from whom I take my middle name), beating his mother, my grandmother. Dad decided that would never be him (I've never been given the details of violence my grandfather may have inflicted on my father and his siblings). My father became passive-agressive instead, equally unhealthy for everyone in the family. I think he may have spanked me once, but I may just be remembering someone else's story. I do remember him breaking a yardstick over my butt once in a fit of temper, when I was very young. He also lost his shit with both my brother and my sister on one occasion in their teens, but it never reached that point with me. Mostly, his weapon was his Stare, and the Dad Voice. My mother, meanwhile, comes from a strong matriarchy. Voices are raised in anger, but I've never seen a hand raised. Her weapon was the Talk.

    The first time Dylan threw a fit, I picked him up and hugged him until it passed. "That was easy," I thought, until the second time he threw a fit and I tried to pick him up and hug it away. He squirmed and kicked the whole time, telling me not to touch him.

    I had no idea how angry children can make you. I got violent with Dylan once. We were in a hurry to get to school and he'd been difficult all morning. He sat on the bed, refusing to listen. I pushed him on his back and put his shoes on myself. He told me I hit him. I can't remember my exact response, but it may as well have been, "Not as hard as I wanted to." Of course I apologized later, but it's a moment I'll take to the grave. He seemed to have forgotten about it by the time we dropped him off, but who knows?

    Despite my mother's influence, I'm glad I didn't have children earlier in life. A younger version of me might have plowed ahead, telling myself it would get better. Thirty-eight-year-old me admitted to myself that raising a child was actually much harder than I thought it would be. I had to educate myself on how to talk to a six-year-old. I also watched Becky.

    When Dylan threw a fit, she didn't get in his face about it. When he wouldn't go where she told him to go, or do what he told her to do, what she did was talk. It was amazing to watch, and I learned that talking to Dylan is the best approach.

  9. In the incident above, I did the right thing. Dylan is the only child in his generation in a large family, and is in genuine danger of becoming a spoiled brat. Well, I refuse to raise a spoiled brat. As my sister said, I used the THREAT of spanking. I'd seen the threat of spanking cut through his fits and make him listen when nothing else would. I thought it would be a threat I wouldn't need to follow up on, and I was right.

    After reading the links, I think I gambled. I want to take the threat of spanking off the table when I deal with Dylan because I could never go through with it. There are few things worse for a child than a broken promise, few things more detrimental to character development than disciplinary promise unfulfilled. Reading those links makes me realize that spanking is wrong. I'm sorry to see that fail-safe go, but withholding his Nintendo DS has proven effective, and I'm sure it will work just as well.

    Overall, though, I think parenting situations (and I'd like to emphasize parenting vs. chuckleheads with children) need to be viewed the way cops treat each-other when there are problems in the field; if you weren't there, you can't judge.

    Thanks for reading.

  10. Now you know what a huge difference there is between parents and those who have no children! For what it's worth, I think you are doing a GREAT job with Cleo Jr. I am hugely impressed with you. There was a time I thought you might not be up to the task, but I underestimated both you and the power of love.

  11. Wow Aaron I have to second Stacy! I am totally impressed with you. You're so willing to learn, read, consider, observe, etc and that's admirable. The last time we spoke, I mentioned that I have an enormous respect for men like you that embrace the responsibility of being a dad even if that came as part of a package. I am reminded of that respect again today
    With the whole "spanking" issue, after having two of my own children and experiencing depths of emotion that were, until then, unknown to me, I have to agree with your "grey" areas. Children are as varied in temperament as the individuals that bear them and what works with one is lost on another. I don't even think you can take spanking as an isolated parenting act and make any judgements on the quality of said parenting. I really think it has much more to do with all the pieces of the puzzle, all the little actions you take as a parent and the overall love, affection, discipline, time, attention and respect you give your children. Of course in mentioning spanking I am in no way referring to beating, bruising, shaking or the like, nor is it a regular, frequent activity.
    Either way, I will reitirate, Dylan is lucky to have you in his life. May the merlot be with you...