Saturday, September 15, 2012

The World's Strongest Neck

An empty playground is a strangely lonely place.

With all the kids back in school - including my own daughter - going to the playground is a completely different experience. I take my son to one every morning. Truth be told I've now realized that I took my kids to the playground before now with my daughter primarily in mind. As in a thought process of where he was an important afterthought, but still the fact was the process went, "she really would enjoy it and so would my son." But now we're on our own I take him entirely for him. Which is something I didn't ever really get to do for my daughter - so it feels like something just me and him have. But they are all deserted. There's no-one there for my kids to play with in that way that kids do - instantly making an agreement to ignore character evaluations or judgements and just play around for the 30 minutes they'll be at the playground. And my son has always played with someone else. Learning from them either by copying, or being told what to do (either helpfully or because they just wanted him to do it their way) or playing around the spaces occupied by bigger, older kids. But now he's on his own and it's a totally different method of playing. He used to be as frantic and manic as his sister on a playground. He'd run around eager to cram in as much play as possible - rocketing down slides at a weirdly fast speed. Now he just ambles about - making time to really investigate stuff. He'll spend three or four minutes trying to climb on something that he just didn't have the luxury of time to do before. It's really reminded me of how different he and his sister are. She's a demented whirlwind - thrashing around with tenuously controlled energy. Able to spasm violently into a completely different mood instantly. He's a steady, mild breeze - for more temperate and easy going. But tends to drift into moods more slowly and therefore finds it more difficult to calm down once gripped by the weird emotions two year old's wrestle with. He even tackles a slide with a much more labored and slow mentality when left to his own devices. No need to rush and nothing to hurry him along.

My daughter told a "French joke" yesterday. Here's the entire joke.

Daughter: Hey Owen, you know french fries?
Son: ......yeah....?
Daughter: Just so you know they don't have French people in them.
Son: Cheese!!

I shouldn't judge her at all though. Because I'm the one at fault for that. Because my son suddenly finds any word-related joke funny I've been indulging in that sort of highbrow, witty hilarity for a few weeks now. And although I know it's actually as creative as people who always say, "Tony BLiar" whenever they sneeringly mention the former Prime Minister, I still can't resist. It's not as if I can start ranting through one of my hilarious rants about wanting to push Piers Morgan off a lighthouse. So I cater to my audience. A prime example being whilst making a roast beef and Swiss cheese sandwich for them. When they're hungry they'll giddily watch me make whatever they are about to eat and giggle and whoop like old women at a Take That concert (this being another hilarious Daily Mail sneer-athon at people who clearly aren't Daily Mail readers in their view. As I'm now automatically primed for this sort of hilarity an amusing joke came to mind. So I turned to one side with mock-earnestness and told my son, "Now Oboe - just because this is called a sandwich it doesn't means it's filled with sand or witches...." Obviously I understand what level of funny that is. It's slightly above the not-funny-at-all boringness of According To Jim (although much, much cleverer) or the completely pointless, brain-deadeningly awful wank that is Only Fools and Horses (oh my God he fell through the bar!!!!). And yet my son will literally lie down on the floor and shake around like the funny has given him epilepsy. My daughter will then forcible scream-laugh like a demented hyena. So it really should come as no surprise that my own daughter has taken that winning method and applied it to any other thing that has two words in it's name.

Speaking of hilarious my contractor gushed about his own child yesterday in that way that is so unnecessarily over the top that it can only render any of her real achievements as a letdown. He's in the unenviable situation have having fathered a child with a one-night stand in a completely different state. But commendably he has a full relationship (albeit from a few hundred miles) with his child. However any mention of their development comes across as weirdly combative and boastful. It's usually prompted by my son doing something odd or ordinary. For example my son through one of those office toys that you smack and it makes a pithy one-liner joke/noise at me yesterday. He got me right in the chest. Then I tossed it back at him and he chucked it at me one more time - again hitting me right in the chest. He's very accurate but I'm not deliberate showcasing this in front of other parents to show how amazing my son is compared to their ugly, useless kids. But my contractor watched that and felt the need to interject with a puffed-out chest with, "my daughter was standing at three months old." I politely smiled at him and gave a brief pause to allow him some sort of chance to add a reason as to why he's bringing that up. But he just nodded with an odd confidence and said, "yeah.....she takes after her father..." and then walked with an arrogant skip outside to have a cigarette.

He's done that a good fifteen times now. He has an air of smugness on the oddest occasions when relaying weird one-off parenting triumphs like that. Or especially when he says, "I'll let you in on a little secret" before then telling me something very non-secretive. A good example being telling me to wash my dog in tomato juice after it was sprayed with a skunk. He gave that revelation a little bit of build up too because he knew with absolute confidence that only the cleverest people know that sort of thing and they are few and far between. So when I quickly said, "you're going to say tomato juice aren't you?" he genuinely recoiled with surprise and asked "who told you that?" like I somehow knew a secret masonic handshake. But when I breezily pointed out that it's actually more an old-wives tale that doesn't really work, and that my wife washed the dog in a hydrogen peroxide solution he openly gave me that look that said that I was a total mug and he couldn't quite believe how stupid some people were. He just smiled and nodded repeating, "Okay..." in that way some people do when you tell them that you don't believe the President was born oversees, and they can't believe how naive liberals are. On the one hand he's just being friendly and chatting. But then it's usually about how insipid he finds gays, minorities and foremen (an awful lot of his stories involve him being fired or walking off a carpentry job because the foremen "was an asshole.") Which is just his way of being conversational and polite. On the other hand it comes across as oddly competitive when I'm sat on the floor with my son building a train track and then the contractor loudly boasts across the room, " daughter has the strongest neck of any child I know of. I guarantee it."

The only parenting-specific subject he's brought up just to bounce off me as another parent was spanking. He introduced it by saying, "let me ask you - you're not one of those people that thinks that spanking a kid is wrong and does that Time Out shit are you?" And before I had any kind of a chance to answer he launched into a defense of why he thought it was not just okay but entirely necessary to spank an unruly child. Oddly he only briefly mentioned getting battered by his own parents once - but that was in a story about how he left home at fifteen because nobody tells him what to do. Firstly I considered talking about how I didn't think that spanking worked, and that it seemed odd to try and teach a child about behavior, control and all that stuff only to then start hitting them. I usually throw in the little Louis CK point that it's bizarre how you can't morally/legally hit anyone except your own child in secret - and that everything about spanking a kid is demented if you exchange them for an adult in the same situation. As in you catch your employee at work on their damn phone again not working, but instead of talking to them about conduct you pull their underwear down and start slapping their arse. And then really hammering that point home by deliberately getting them to mention that you don't put people in Time Out at work either (although that would be fucking wonderful if someone did that) so that you can say that it must be perfectly okay to hit your wife if she's acting up using that logic.

In no situation is hitting someone to get them to do something allowable, and yet oddly child discipline is. To me that clearly reveals that the inherent factor behind spanking is that the superior physical strength and complete inability of a child to prevent or stop what's happening is the point. So it's not about teaching your child about cause and effect, or about thinking through their choices. And it's not done so with knowledge in mind that kids of certain ages cannot rationalize right and wrong or understand altruism in any way. It just means "I will hit you if you make me unhappy." For my sins I sometimes raise my voice. My wife had to clarify it to me years ago by pointing out that a large (relative to a 2 year old) agitated man aggressively yelling has a similar effect as it just bluntly confirms physical superiority and size over a child. So I took that on board - and while I still do have moments where I will raise my voice I have eradicated that almost entirely. One thing I did was make a rule with my kids that I'm not allowed to yell. So that if I break that rule that it's clear that it wasn't okay for me to do that. Because even though my daughter is only five - and therefore her understanding of right and wrong is somewhat fuzzy at times - she is capable of understanding the nuances behind rules. Meaning that it's not that you must never, ever break rules. But that you should try your best not to and when you do that you acknowledge the fact that you did and strive to do better. So personal responsibility, accountability and all that stuff. Which is pretty hard to learn when the outcome for a child who does something wrong is that they get hit by their parents.

But I didn't need to say anything odd like that because my contractor started to tell me about how he does believe that spanking works. And that he doesn't do it often but if it's needed he will give it. Which would be a difference of opinion only in my mind but it completely addressed my now unsaid point when he made it clear that he was talking about spanking his girlfriend of 5 months six year old daughter. To me that suddenly launches across the line and perfectly illustrates how bizarre spanking is. Especially when he paired it with the "hey it works" argument about how the kid won't dick around like that again. And just to tie a nice bow around the whole thing he added - with his grinning expression that people who don't agree or clearly morons - the line, "if you push too many buttons than it's time for a tune up!"

Grin, chuckle, waddle out for a cigarette.

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