Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Unshakeables

Me: Wait! So you want to hurt my feelings but with good reason? This is great news!

Some people shouldn't have kids. That's a given. When you learn of someone being downright horrible to their kids it usually triggers that feeling. Genuine evil or stupidity is the usual cause. Evil is so prevalent that I tend to overlook that one and focus my own ire on stupidity. When you see or hear a parent do something dumb it reminds me that when the revolution comes that I should definitely install some sort of qualification for parenting. Obviously I'll outlaw people saying things like "aww did you get a boo-boo?" People who keep that up will be put to the sword. And in my zero-tolerance utopia anyone who so much as thinks of saying to a child, "do you need to go potty?" when the words toilet or bathroom (a deliberately vague geographical term used to at least place a sense of mystery over what abominable atrocity will be committed on the toilet) are perfectly valid that there's no need for a cutesy word at all. And for pure unfiltered stupidity there won't even be a test. Those people come running headlong towards the rest of us eager to display their idiocy.


But as I say - evil and callousness is ignored because dealing with that sort of thing is painful. Add it demands that society as a whole instill a sliding scale of what is absolutely not allowed. In such a place spanking, intimidation, yelling and punishments like locking a kid in a room would be outlawed for being similar to much worse transgressions. But it would also spill over to create a creepy judgment-based analysis of all parenthood. So things that are normal or banal would be viewed through a lens of determining how nefarious something is - so that everything therefore is somewhat nefarious. Which is a bit like how I felt yesterday. Because my daughter screamed like a wailing banshee for an hour after school. For one random part of it she insisted on doing it while I went out to check the mail. So brought her tantrum out onto the front doorstep and her collateral damage splashed out onto an older couple walking their dog down the road. But after I told her to go back inside I got the glance from this couple that surely I must have done something awful to have made this little girl behave this way. And if it wasn't immediate then it has to be that I'm just a shit dad. But no - my daughter was just "on one".

On the scale of things that isn't actually all that odd. There are umpteen moments in her life so far when she exposes her own Jekyll and Hyde multiple-personality disorder and spews forth the ranting, growling nutcase within seemingly without any provocation at all. What was odd about it was - after we'd got home and she'd selected another random moment to shriek about - she threatened me with, "YOU AREN'T ALLOWED TO PUT ME TO BED ANYMORE - EVEN THOUGH I WANT YOU TO!!" Because it was actually so odd to hear her use that level of negotiation tactic I was actually quite pleased. Therefore I couldn't help but smile at her achievement and say, "okay!" in a cheery way in response. Which made her even more demented, causing her to perform a complete reversal and state emphatically that I would be putting her to bed every single night whether I wanted to or not.

Of course I still wanted to talk about how she had stumbled into cause and effect, bargaining and all that stuff. But mostly - spite. That's a pretty high-level emotion right there. To exhibit something like spite takes control and planning. It's feeling the powerful swell of other emotions - certainly more than one - and tempering them into a plan. Not necessarily a good plan. But it still harnesses the power of one set of emotions into a focused direction to get something. If that can be channeled effectively then all kinds of wonderful/diabolical things can happen.

Which raises the specter of The Unshakeable Principles. In a young child's life there are a few things in life that are unshakeable scientific principles. They are as absolute and binding as fundamentalists believe the Laws of Moses or Sharia are. They are the Pillars of Life. Now I'm not saying that because I've identified some of these pillars that I am some sort of God (that is for other people to say...). But what I am saying is that there are some things in a child's life that are so definite and fundamental to existence that - unlike the religions based around the Laws of Moses and Sharia - that they are completely unquestionable.

The first is the unshakeable principles is Truth. No matter what my kids have done or are thinking they are completely unable to actually lie about it. The power of the Truth will always spill out. It's an amazing thing to witness my daughter attempting to do conceal doing something only to then just flatly ask her what she's up to and see the complete lack of ability she has to hold the truth in and lie about it. It's like an unstoppable waterfall. Which doesn't adequately describe it because there is absolutely no resistance at all. Once asked my daughter doesn't even know that you can lie or conceal the truth - but instead knows emphatically that the obvious, given next-step is to explain in detail the truth of what is going on. Which is exactly why you can't tell her a secret or have her help buy a Christmas for someone without expecting her revealing it almost immediately upon seeing the person it refers to.

The second unshakeable principle are Rules. There are just some things that must follow a certain set of principles or order that to alter them would bring the sky tumbling down. I'm not referring to gravity or the speed of light here either. In simple language it's just how things have been done since my kids can remember - so messing with that causes emotional anguish and may destroy the world as we know. Being kids my children aren't able to understand that most of these things are social constructs at the very low level. Therefore they are as sacrosanct as knowing the Sun comes up during the day - and if it doesn't then something is deeply wrong. A prime example of the lowest level would be giving them Cheerios for breakfast. There's an order (cereal, milk and then honey) that cannot be messed with. The primal terror that is caused when they're mother refuses to adhere to this simple set or rules and order is phenomenal. Slightly higher than that are things like using my computer when I'm out of the room or standing on the stone hearth at Grandma's house. You just don't do that.

But the third unshakeable principle is to Like something. It's often extremely difficult to stop my kids doing something purely based on the simple fact that they like doing it. They know the rules (and they know it isn't one of the really important ones too because they don't not-remember that rule), and they claim to understand the consequences. And yet they cannot shake the allure of doing whatever it is due to the fact that they know they'll like it. And afterwards I'll try and determine what possible excuse they have for doing whatever it was and my daughter will introduce the fact that she liked it as if that were a legitimate reason to excuse her behavior somewhat.

But deliberately doing something she won't like just to be spiteful? That's a cause for celebration! Spite is the twisted cousin of altruism, sacrifice and selflessness. But on it's own spite is a stunningly complex and powerful thing to purposefully use. And here she was telling me that even though she loves nothing more than me putting her to bed (it must have been every night for nearly a month now) she was going to take it away from me on the off chance that I feel even one-tenth as happy about it as she does. Once she's mastered that she can reverse the whole thing and dabble with being unscrupulous, cleverly dishonest and all those other Machiavellian things.

So I asked her about the whole thing. Which obviously made her incensed as now she was trapped between the power of spite and the rule of liking something. Which made her double-down even more adamantly and to actually declare "even when I'm married you will put me to bed Daddy."

I'm sure that won't freak her husband or wife out at all. Actually let me rephrase that - it better bloody freak them out.

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