Monday, September 10, 2012

The Joy of Slapping Small Children.

For some reason, I don't remember my parents yelling at me when I was a kid. Maybe I've blocked it out. I remember being lectured to death in my teens, for offenses like staying out all night or hiding the bloody crucifix that hung in the living room. Spankings dated further back, usually in response to torturing my younger brother, one of my favorite pastimes. My mother's long, delicate fingers seemed to morph into hardened hickory, her thin wedding band suddenly bulging into a tree knot. I would attempt my own mutation, trying to inhale my buttocks into the small of my back as she swatted my behind.

I knew my son for about six months when I first hit him. A year earlier, I had exiled myself to the Spanish island of Mallorca, to find my internal writing muse. Since my muse refused to pay the rent, I landed a job picking olives. In the shade of an ancient olive grove, while ruining my L4 lumbar disc, I met a beautiful Spanish señora.  She was the whole paella: untamed, flowing dark hair, hourglass curves, soft broken English uttered through full, red lips--all combined with a simple, earthy intelligence. Guapisima. She dressed simply, never wore makeup, and always spoke her mind. There was no artifice about her whatsoever; a million light years from the botoxed women I'd left behind in LA. There was one small, red warning tag attached to this beautiful package: the most hyperactive two-year-old boy I'd ever seen. We're talking evil incarnate, a three-foot cyclone, a savage, screaming, Chuckie-like entity, with no fears, boundaries or discernible decibel limits. He was a tiny black hole unto himself, a ceaseless core of energy that destroyed everything in its path. He would've made an interesting study for Stephen Hawking, until being knocked off his wheelchair.

Every night, when sleep settled upon this child, the ensuing peace flowed back into the universe. Supernovas ceased exploding, mercenaries and axe murderers gently laid their weapons down 'til the morrow, compulsive eaters stopped chewing. I hadn't bargained on a devil-child, but I was hopelessly in love with his mother. As I wooed my new sweetheart, I naively thought my abundant love vibrations would soothe the obstreperous little monster, rendering him harmless. A scant five months later, I married my Spanish belle. Ask not for whom the belle tolls...

By this time, olive picking season was over. My bride was cleaning houses during the day; I was washing dishes in a restaurant at night. Her three-year-old refused to get a job, no matter what I said. I couldn't discuss politics with him over tapas and a cold beer; he couldn't drive our Fiat through the mountains when I was drunk. What good was he?

dervish playground
I used to blissfully relax on this beach. Now? Forget it.
As an initial parenting exercise, my doting spouse suggested I take him to our local beach. I considered and dismissed all the potential dangers: there were no waves, no tides, no broken glass, no sharks or killer whales, no lethal jelly fish or floating radioactive waste. He would play and I would get a tan. I generously assented.

There was, however, a busy road right behind the beach. After splashing annoyed French tourists for an hour or so, he made a dash for the street. Leaping to my feet, I wrangled him under my arm before he hit the asphalt, hauling him back to our blanket while he tried to kick me. He couldn't crap in a toilet yet, but knew an amusing game when he saw one. He instantly made another beeline for the road, giggling his chubby little head off the whole time. I fetched him once again. Things were not going according to plan.

"NO. No road. Beach. Playa." My language skills were a shining testament to my immersion in local culture. I plaintively pointed around us. "Water. Agua. Aqui."

Four more sprints to the road and a punch to the scrotum chipped away at my patience. My voice was starting to rise. I bent down on one knee for a serious face to face. "No mas," I stated sternly.

He looked me squarely in the eye, measuring me carefully. Then he spit in my face.

Before the spittle settled on my cheek, before the clock struck high noon, before a pistol's hammer propels a bullet--I swear to God, faster than fucking light travels-- the chi energy of the universe channeled down my left arm.

I slapped the little bastard squarely across the face.

For a second we both stared at each other, equally stunned at what had just occurred. I watched in fascination as his little eyes squeezed tight; he took a small breath, and started bawling. My heart melted, but I held my ground. Fortunately, my hand had no superpower morphing ability; I had barely struck him. In less than a minute he stopped crying and was playing happily, shoveling sand down another child's bathing suit.

I told my lovely bride about it back at our sparse apartment; she was cooking one of her fabulous clay pot stews, over the blare of flamenco music. She simply smiled and kissed me dismissively; she would've been angrier if I tasted her food before it was ready. For better or worse, hitting a child in Spain does not instantly unleash the wrath of municipal agencies, child psychologists or daytime talk show hosts. Whenever my in-laws witnessed his out of control behavior, they unfailingly remarked, "You need to correct that child. Give him a little tock-tock on the coolie, he'll learn." So I tried it. For about a month, I spanked the hell out of that boy. It seemed to bother me a lot more than him. As soon as he stopped crying, he forgot all about it. I would feel horrible for hours, anguishing over the possibilities of psychological scarring and the basic fairness of hitting a child one tenth my weight. When I decided to stop spanking him, it wasn't because of a moral quandary, guilt or because my hand was friggin' sore. The spankings simply didn't work. They did absolutely nothing to alter his behavior; there was no Pavlovian association, negative reinforcement, no retention, nothing.

I tried other child-rearing nostrums, to equal non-avail: timeouts, reward systems, all kinds of reverse, inverse and neutral psychology. In the end, the best way to prevent him from destroying our home and sanity was to put him in a big open space and let him tire himself out. As fall passed and winter settled in, passersby of the local park stared at a small boy swinging from monkey bars in the dark, immune to the wind and cold.

My son is sixteen now, and no longer hyperactive. We have our disagreements from time to time, ranging from mild to pending nuclear holocaust. I can't spank him and the monkey bars no longer interest him. Although not technically a morphing power, I have discovered what can bend him to my will: the promise of a $20 bill for the weekend. God bless the almighty dollar--the real Captain America.

1 comment:

  1. Great story, especially the opening paragraphs. As a parent of a thirteen year old who's been known to flip passing cops the bird I can relate to an occasional lapse in patience. Sorry to hear about the L4 lumbar but it sounds like 14 years into the adventure she was worth it. Kudos!

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