Max again. Father’s Day. First one. A day all about me and I don’t even have to get older. Score.
I like to lead. Be the boss. Decider. Arrange outcomes. Captain of the ship. Big baller. Shot caller. In control. Knowing where I’ve been, where I’m going, and how I’m going to get there. Don’t misinterpret comfort for egotism – I ain’t saying I’m good at it, it’s just where I like to play. The safety in understanding what happened, why it happened, and what’s going to happen next is a calm warm blanket.
If everything is a lever, my life has a very clear fulcrum marked the morning of December 27, 2007. It was the moment the doctor said “Mam, you are definitely pregnant. In fact, I see three embryos.” Nothing would ever be the same. Ever. It’s actually pretty simple, like a lever. My short biography has two chapters, pre-fulcrum and post-fulcrum. This blog entry represents the choreography between my natural desire for control and the circumstantial requirement of its release.
One day this week, I was playing with a new iPhone application while I was supposed to be watching the kids and I heard Josie cry out. My eyes jumped to her face and I saw Marcus pulling her hair. Pulling hard. Big boy grip. She started big crying and fast-stepped a crawl over to me to protect her. Marcus sat up with a shrugging quizzical look that spoke “Pop, no big deal, it was only a couple of follicles, no hair in my hand, and she isn’t even bleeding.” In retrospect, I probably gave him a “I hear ya – It’s hard having whiny sisters” glance back.
As Josie lay there crying, head on my lap, strange bald spot, I had a thought. Visual images of all moments post-fulcrum ran through my head. It’s been 18 months but everything seemed to take its time in my memory while real world time slowed. Seconds in history felt like days. I snapped out of the trance a different person, and I had reached a perspective on a long standing pre- and post-fulcrum dilemma. Not only am I not in control, but nobody is. I guess we’re all active participants, but there is no captain on this ship.
No matter my intent or involvement, I can’t and never will be able to control my children. Nobody can. Again, don’t misinterpret – I would like to. If I could make their decisions, they would thank me later. It’s the whole “if I knew then what I know now” idea, and that’s bigger than betting on the Giants in the 2008 Super Bowl. So, if we can’t control them, what is a parent’s role? I probably need more time under my belt for this one, but I have some preliminaries.
I guess number one is to always provide unconditional love in actions and language. Make sure they have shelter. Make sure they are fed. Make sure they have environmental enrichment like toys, games, sports, videos, activities so that they can learn and grow. Provide guidance, advice, and encouragement. And provide discipline.
So immediately after the playroom epiphany, I realized I should probably respond to the hair pulling attack. I had no idea what to do. I had a mental sweep of all forms of punishment that I’ve witnessed either in real life or on TV. Spanking. Say “you’re grounded”. Time out. Drawn and quartered. Wash mouth out with soap. Put him in a wooden box. Iron maiden. Say “that’s one”, whatever that means. Since I don’t have any perspective on appropriate punishments by age group and crime (note to self – read a book), I had to improvise.
I said in my plain adult voice, “Jocelyn, I acknowledge that getting your hair pulled can be painful. You have three options relative to how you manage these types of events. First, you can avoid people who will pull your hair. This is difficult to implement because Marcus is your brother. And you know what, I’m a grown ass man and I still get my hair pulled all the time. Second, you can put the smack down on somebody who pulls your hair. Preferably, do it for lots of people to see to set a precedent so that people will fear you. If he’s bigger than you, bring a knife. Third, try to educate the counterpart that uninvoked infliction of pain will actually cause long term negative consequences for the assailant, such as limiting their ability to make and keep friends, socialize, or serve as a productive member of a team or community. Since the first option is pretty unrealistic and the second will put you in jail, my recommendation would be the third.”
I’m not sure it all clicked with her – I’m still working on how best to communicate to an 11 month old. Then, I turned to Marcus, but by this point he had moved on to another activity and it was so cute that I just figured I’d get him next time. He was playing the paper clip game. He puts paper clips in electrical outlets and laughs as the fireworks come out. Silly boy.
So that’s my conclusion for now – parents are active participants but cannot control their children. So next time you are out at dinner and your child is loudly banging the salt shaker on the table and a neighboring table gives you a scowl that says “Control your child!”, calmly say with your adult voice, “There is no captain”.