Sunday, May 17, 2009

'Swats only teach me to hit other people,' she said

It's been months since the conversation occurred, so I may not get it just right. But a quote I heard on the radio scooted it back onto my mental front burner after many moons of simmering.

Brielle was reprimanding me for my use of corporal punishment.

"You hit me!" she accused.

"No, I did not 'hit' you. I swatted you."

This is the term Rachelle and I settled on years ago for when we...uh...when we hit our children. The distinction is important, mind you, for several reasons.

1. Our swats are always open-handed. Hits, not necessarily.

2. Swats are dealt in cold blood, strategically. Hits tend to be crimes of passion.

3. While both are intended to manipulate behavior, the girls' hitting usually seeks selfish gain while ideally, we parents swat with disinterested, didactic motives. (I said "ideally.")

If that last one was the hardest for you to swallow, you've got five-year-old company. Brielle didn't buy it either.

I told her, "Hitting is when you want to hurt your sister because you're mad at her. Swatting is when I want to teach you because I love you."

"No, swats don't teach me ANYTHING! They only teach me to hit other people and be mean to them."

I don't recall how the rest of the dialog went. I only remember wondering if she'd been reading some anti-spanking parenting books--and wondering at what a point she had. When I swat, am I helping the child extinguish an antisocial behavior, or does she merely internalize my example of violence for dealing with others?

I don't know.

Pacifist though I am, I have not yet sworn off swats. I gave one to each of the twins just before kissing them goodnight in the wake of this lovely exchange between them:

"You're stupid."

"You're stupid."

"You aren't my friend."

"You aren't my friend."

"You aren't my stister."

"You aren't my stister." (sic)

I swatted and lectured both of them on what a special, precious gift they had in each other and how out of a hundred babies only one gets to have a twin and how they would be friends and sisters forever and how it was NOT okay to say such mean things. They cried pitiably for three minutes, their smarting skin either competing with my speech for their attention or underlining its urgency.

Then they buried me--and shortly thereafter each other--in hugs and kisses.

It was just the way a good spanking should go.

Little as I enjoy dishing it out, I think physical punishment is underrated. It has a primal zing that can shake us out of our false self to realize that moral failures actually cause pain, that ethical lapses lead to suffering. There is an immediacy, a relevance to a swat that talks and time-outs can't touch.

That said, the quote I heard came from an NPR source's commentary on the "enhanced interrogation techniques" used on detainees in Guantánamo, and how they've been around for hundreds of years. One interviewee was convinced that the torture-like techniques have survived through time because they are so effective. A dissenter said this:

"These techniques have survived because it's easier to hit a person than outsmart them."


Underrated and inevitable though corporal punishment may be, and even though I swat, not hit, I'm here confessing that in disciplining my angel combatants, I've been caving too often to what is easy to do. The rod is as old as time and as natural as sneezing, and to a degree it works.

But thanks to this interview, I'm going to work harder than ever on doing less swatting--and more outsmarting.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

'I wonder how God puts the baby inside,' she said

Thursday I talked Brielle into snagging a Del Taco strawberry shake to share. (This delicacy beats anything Starbucks sells and for well under three bucks.)

It didn't take excessive persuasion. But healthy girl that she is, she was helping me justify the purchase as we pulled out of the drive-through.

"Daddy, this strawberry shake is good for you--a little bit good for you."

"Well, yeah, it does have some good things in it, like protein, and calcium, and a little bit of vitamin C and fiber from the strawberries." (OK, so it is a VERY little bit of these latter--but part of the beauty of this shake truly is how many real frozen strawberries they blend in. You really must try one.)

"I know," she said.

She does, too. We often talk nutrients--and lack thereof.

"But it also has a lot of---"

"Sugar," Brielle finished my hackneyed critique for me. "Yeah." A wistful sigh.

"It has a lot of fat too," said I.

"A lot of people like to be skinny," mused Brielle.

A brief fear that our nutritional conversations had begun warping her body image poked its nose into my chest. "Yeah, they do, Brielle." I clung to matter-of-fact-ness.

She took the topic elsewhere, mercifully. "Pregnant ladies are fat and skinny."

"Verdad, niñita."

"They're skinny on top and they're fat in the middle. Because they have a baby inside their tummy."

I breathed a couple gentle laughs.

"I wonder how God puts the baby inside their tummy." (So much for merciful topic changes.)

"You wonder what?" I asked, feeling suddenly desperate.

"I know God puts the baby in their tummy, but I wonder how He does that."

I considered going there, but decided quickly that I lacked the time and preparation to do so competently. (OK, and I lacked the guts too. But honestly, if holding a cell phone to one's ear is illegal while driving, shouldn't having "the talk" with a 5-year-old be too?)

"That's pretty crazy, huh? We'll have to go to the library and get a book about that."


So...any great book ideas, dear friends? Seriously.