I don’t want to write about what happened. I don’t want to think about what happened. For the last few days, I’ve done everything I can to avoid reading about what happened. I just can’t bear it — as a parent, as a (usually) proud American, as a human being. I don’t want to hear the details or see the pictures or listen to eyewitness accounts. I just can’t bear it.
But I can’t ignore it either.
A few weeks ago, there was a horrific incident in Manhattan where a nanny — well, I won’t rehash the details, you know the case. I was so wrecked by that I almost wrote a post on the subject, but then I just couldn’t. That would mean thinking about what had happened some more.
I haven’t forgotten about that incident, though, and I won’t forget about this new incident either. And there will be another incident, we all know there will, where someone who desperately needed help does something horrible to someone innocent, and all we can do is hope that it won’t affect us or anyone we care about, that we’ll be able to go on living our lives and hugging our own kids and saying, “Isn’t it horrible what happened to those people?”
But every time I go on Facebook, I see friends arguing about the causes of this latest incident — I won’t dwell on the specifics. I don’t need to type them out, and you don’t need to read them. Every time I see someone else writing about it, though, all I can think is, “Good! Argue. Debate. Keep talking about this. Tweet it, pin it, tumbl it, whatever. Do everything you can to work through this for yourself and to keep the subject alive.”
So fine, here’s my post. You may not want to read anything else on this subject, and if so, I don’t blame you. Go back and look at the baby polar bear at the top of this post. You’ve earned it. I’m just going to go ahead with my little rant, though, for my own benefit. I hope you don’t mind.
First of all, debate is good, but let’s just not get bogged down in the debate over what we should be debating. Guns, mental health, media coverage? Yes, yes and yes. Let’s look at them all. Now.
Here’s my philosophy on guns: Before you let a gun into your home, picture the worst-case scenario of what might happen with that gun, on purpose or by accident. Now take whatever precautions you need to take to ensure that horrible thing doesn’t occur — locks, double locks, a hundred locks or, if necessary, not buying the gun in the first place. Unless you’re willing to take gun ownership that seriously, you’re probably not qualified to own a gun.
We need to stop indulging people who think guns are toys, that there’s something cool or fun about seeing how many people a gun could kill, how fast… just hypothetically, y’know. That it’s just awesome to have the latest, most lethal killing machine hanging on your wall as some kind of trophy. Again, consider the worst-case scenario of what that gun might be used for… because we’ve seen the worst-case scenario occur over and over.
That’s why the “arm the teachers” argument falls flat. Think about all the things that could go wrong if we put more guns in schools. Trust me, the worst-case scenario will happen, a lot. Also, I had some crazy teachers growing up. Enough said.
I don’t understand the mind of someone who would commit a mass murder, and I’m not sure anyone truly does, but we should be doing everything we can to figure it out. No one should pick up a gun and start firing randomly because we were too heartless or too lazy or too cheap to help them.
Some people think the killers are just seeking fame. I always doubted that argument myself. If I ever wanted to be famous, I would audition for America’s Got Talent (and surely find myself in a montage of people who most assuredly don’t got talent). But let’s assume there are people who would commit these kinds of acts just to get their names in the news. Let’s say that at least some of the killers want to be as notorious as, you know, that guy and the other guy and those two nutjobs from that state.
It’s certainly possible. For a while, people thought the way to get attention was to send someone powder through the mail — either anthrax or, in some cases, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Anthrax. When the media hype died down, so did those kinds of attacks. Maybe we can do the same thing with gun violence. It’s worth a shot. (No pun intended.)
So how do we keep the bad guys from gaining any level of notoriety? Well, here’s my modest proposal: Instead of blasting the perpetrator’s name everywhere, we refer to them like we do hurricanes, from a predetermined alphabetized list of antiquated, almost absurd-sounding first names.
We’ll call this guy Almonzo. The next one will be Bartleby.
You want to make a name for yourself? Go right ahead. Just be warned that name is going to be Clementine.
Sure, the person’s given name will still get out — and it probably should, to some extent, so we can study these people, interview their families and help prevent the next Dudley, Jasper or Phineas. But for the large majority of us who’d rather not make a psychotic into a celebrity, we can just call them Hubert or whatever we’re up to alphabetically at that point.
It’s a starting point. Let’s do that and see how it works out. Meanwhile, we’ll keep working on reducing unnecessarily overpowered weapons and helping the mentally ill.
I don’t want to think anymore about what happened last Friday, and you probably don’t either, so let’s make a pact that for now, we won’t shut up about it. Let’s make it a priority to do whatever we can, so won’t ever have to wonder what name comes next after Zelda.
… and boy, do we have one kid who knows how to take advantage of that. So I wasn’t surprised when Sutton showed up at my bedside at 3:03am this morning. Who knows how long she’d been standing there, because she does this a lot, and like the possessed woman in Paranormal Activity, she just stands there perfectly still and quiet until the force of her gaze bearing down on me shudders me awake.
Despite the fact that she’s been hovering there for who knows how long, she never has much to say when I do wake up. She usually shuffles back and forth, drops her head and asks with the sweetest little face you’ve ever seen, “Daddy, will you tuck me in again?”
“NO!” I shout… sometimes.
She knows she’s not supposed to get out of bed, and she’s definitely not supposed to wake me up at 3:03am, so we have a strict no re-tuck policy, which she nonetheless tests every chance she gets. Sometimes I’m too tired for the fight, so I cave.
Like I said, though, this time is special, because we sent her to bed with a fever and a lung-busting category 5 cough. Honestly, I’m surprised she made it that late before wandering down the hall, even more surprised that this time she had a good reason for getting out of bed.
“I’m wet,” she announces, matter-of-factly. I feel her pants and sure enough, she peed through her pull-up.
I drag myself out from under the loving warmth of my winter blankets and dig out a new pair of pants and a dry pull-up for her. “There you go,” I say, and I give her a gentle pat on her tush to signify, “G’bye!”.
“No, Daddy,” she replies. “Tuck me in.”
I walk her back to the bedroom she shares with her brother. He’s sick, too, so I really don’t want to wake him up. “Climb in, and I’ll tuck you,” I whisper.
“Where’s Mrs. Bunny?” she shouts. I shush her. Miraculously, Bennett sleeps through her outburst.
“Quiet,” I remind her. “Bennett’s sleeping.” I start feeling around in the dark for her beloved bunny-headed blankie, who she can’t sleep without. It’s not easy to find her, because there are at least six dozen plush toys on her bed at any given time. I pick up Miss Piggy. Nope. Then Punaniñas, this weird pink leopard-skinned hamster-like creature who’s been her absolute favorite for about the last two days. Nope. Then Mrs. O’Bunny, the green bunny I brought her back from Ireland. Nope.
Finally, I find Mrs. B in the crack between the bed and the wall. I’m pretty sure this is how Indiana Jones felt when he placed his hands on the Holy Grail. Sigh. “Here you go. C’mon, I’ll tuck you in.”
“No, Daddy,” she says. “The sheets are wet!”
“The sheets aren’t wet, Honey. They’re –” I feel the sheets. The sheets are wet. Sigh. “Okay, I’ll get you a new blanket.”
I grab a blanket from her bedside. It’s covering up another six dozen or so plush toys who wouldn’t fit in her bed, so she’s created this odd co-sleeping arrangement for them instead. “No, Daddy,” she says. “I want Tiana!”
A minute later, I’m back, and she’s waiting patiently at her bedside, enjoying this late-night edition of “The Daddy Show” she’s quietly scripting as she goes along. She waits until I have the blanket positioned and tucked before she adds, “Daddy… The bottom sheet, too.”
She’s sick, I tell myself. The rules are different when your kid is sick. “I’ll be right back,” I say. I grab the flashlight again.
The next thing I know, I’ve stripped the entire bed, taken out the mattress in order to get the fitted sheet on, and now I’m on my hands and knees, painstakingly tucking the corners of the top sheet.
This is it, I decide. This is the last demand I give into. I don’t care if she’s sick or not. I just want to go back to sleep. That’s when I hear her voice again.
“Daddy?” she whispers.
I try to ignore her, but she says it again, more urgently this time. “Daddy!”
“You’re doing a really good job.”
That’s when I give her a big hug and a kiss and tuck her in two times, as requested. “Good night, Honey,” I whisper in her ear. “Feel better.”
I’ll admit that 90% of my parenting philosophy comes from Supernanny, because watching a reality TV show is easier than reading a book or taking a class, and you get to look at cute kids acting like animals, which is always fun. What I love about the show is that Jo Frost, the Supernanny, only has about 3 techniques, which work 100% of the time and turn even the nastiest little monsters into complete angels with only four commercial breaks in between.
Sign me up!
I’ve since learned that everything the Supernanny advocates is a tried-and-true parenting method, like Ferberizing, but she doesn’t use the real terms so it seems like she came up with them herself. Oh, those clever Brits!
One thing Jo does in every single episode is give Time Outs. She puts an adorably British twist on it, sending kids to “the naughty ____” [chair/step/Barcolounger]. But it’s a time out. The kid does a bad thing, you make them sit still for a bit, then you all move on with your lives.
That’s what happens to grown-ups, after all. You do a bad thing and we punish you by making you go away for a while. First-degree murder gets you 20 to life. Raiding the cookie jar gets you one minute for every year old you are. Sounds fair to me.
Or so I thought. It turns out there’s a whole anti-Time Out movement that wants me to feel guilty for being so barbaric and heartless.
Well, fine. I’ll do what I do any time someone criticizes my parenting skills. I’ll listen closely to their arguments, ponder them calmly and rationally, then shoot them down one by one.
It’s time to play Ultimate Parenting Smackdown! Hit me with your best shots, anti-Time Out people. I’m ready for you!
ARGUMENT: The child is only acting out because his needs aren’t being met.
Which need are we talking about here? The need to beat the shit out of his sister? (For the record, my kids rarely hit each other, so I must be doing something right.)
Most of the arguments in my house happen when one kid wants the other kid’s toy. I calmly give them a list of options — ask for a turn, find another toy, come up with a way to play together — and once in a while, one of those methods actually works. More often, they just grab the toy and run. That’s when they get a time out.
I think some people confuse needs with wants. Most kids want everything, all the time. Any rational parent is going to push back. What if I got mugged by a junkie? Would you tell me not to call the police? Or would that fail to address the criminal’s need for crack?
You want to talk about needs? Let’s talk about my need for peace and quiet. When my kid’s need to yank the cat keyboard from her brother’s hands infringes on that, then my need trumps hers.
ARGUMENT: You’re treating the symptom, not the underlying cause.
When I have a cold, I take cough medicine. It doesn’t make the cold go away, but it eases my discomfort for a bit, and that’s all I expect it to do.
Putting a kid in a time out may not teach them never to misbehave again, but it keeps them quiet for a few minutes, and sometimes, that’s good enough.
Kids do bad things — always have, always will. It’s natural, it’s healthy. They’re testing their boundaries — and my patience. You have a method that makes a toddler never want to take a toy away from another kid, ever? Great, I’d love to hear it. Until then, I’ll take the 3 minutes of silence as the next best thing.
ARGUMENT: Kids can’t understand consequences until they’re 4 or 5 years old.
Most kids can’t read until they’re 4 or 5 either, so should I not allow my children access to books? Should I not teach them how to spell their name or that “J” says “juh”? Trust me, if I put them in enough time outs, they’ll start to make the correlation way ahead of whenever a psychologist thinks they’re able. And won’t I be proud!
Nobody ever says of a violin prodigy, “Man, their parents must be so cruel, shoving that instrument into their hands at such a young age and forcing them to practice.” You just enjoy the music and the cuteness, right?
Well, I’m creating discipline prodigies, so sit back and enjoy the fruits of my labor, world. You’re welcome.
ARGUMENT: Redirecting is a more effective method of curtailing bad behavior.
Some people say that the best way to handle bad behavior is to remove the child from the activity and get them interested in something else. It’s certainly quicker than forcing everyone through the several-minute ordeal (those of you without kids, trust me: every minute feels like an eternity) of a time out.
Really? Ignoring the problem is your solution? Forget “redirecting”. This is avoidance. And since when is that a psychologically healthy way of dealing with a problem?
What’s wrong with telling a kid he did something bad? What message is he going to get if I redirect him instead? “Hey, I saw you hit your sister. Wanna come over here and play with my iPad?”
ARGUMENT: You’re withholding love from your child in order to teach them a lesson.
Damn right I am. They’re screaming their heads off and driving me nuts. What’s the appropriate amount of love to show them at that moment? Once they’ve calmed down and done their time on the chair, I always tell them that I love them and I think they’re good kids, but that [x] behavior was unacceptable.
Don’t worry. My kids get plenty of love from me, and they’re smart enough to realize (or they will be eventually) that it’s love that makes me sentence them to time outs.
I’m not claiming that time outs are perfect or even perfectly effective, but as a parent, I need to do something to keep my kids off the path to hoodlumhood. So until someone comes up with a cure for childhood misbehavior, I’m sticking with them.
I always encourage my kids to share, so don’t think you’re off the hook either. If you liked this post, I hope you’ll use those buttons below to post it to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Digg or whatever other service you use. And if you haven’t yet, please show your support for the blog by liking me on Facebook, following me on Twitter or subscribing in the little box on the top of the right column of this page. Then, in the future, you can skip these little post-asterisk messages. Okay, time out’s over. You know I love you, right?