Tuesday, May 09, 2006

I hit my son

On Monday, May 1, I got up at seven AM after four hours of sleepless discomfort due to constipation. My legs were cramping and trembling as I lay in bed trying to relax. You might ask why I didn't get up at some point during those four hours and sit on the toilet. I plead experience. I've had many battles with constipation, and I knew how tired and cold I was. There is a big disappointment in thinking you are going to grunt it out this time, and winding up yet again yawning and trembling on the cold toilet for so long that you eventually have to give up. I had been simmering this one for a full four days, taking Citrucel almost every day and mineral oil every day, drinking tons of water. I had used a suppository the prior day, but the resultant turd was tiny. My strategy used to be to go after it aggressively with laxatives starting on the second night. But that led to many episodes of severe abdominal pain, as I writhed and moaned on the floor in agony. My new strategy since quitting the Namenda whose side-effect is constipation, is to do the Citrucel, mineral oil and probiotic every single day, adding at least a liter of clear water beyond my normal daily consumption. Don't take oral laxatives and don't try to force it out, even with enemas. Just drink lots of water. This will result in discomfort, but nothing like the torture I've been through previously.

My athletic wife got home from her morning jog at 7 AM and stepped into the shower, and I went downstairs. It's sad that she must run so early, but mothering is a very demanding job -- "I have needs too" just does not compute for kids.

While she showered, I laboriously put on my thickest jacket, and my shoes. My legs were trembling so much that I had great difficulty getting safely across the thick carpet without falling and down the concrete stairs to the toilet under the house. You might think I'm trying to build up a store of sympathy in the reader for later exculpation, but really I'm just trying to make you work. Three feet shy of the toilet my legs went into such spasms that I had to concentrate solely on maintaining position, not falling. Then the discomfort seizure passed and I sat on the toilet. I listened to the water run in the shower upstairs.

It was uncomfortable, but the decisive moment came within five minutes. I have a new rating system for bowel movements, which I track on my wall calendar. I rate them on a scale of five, by perceived mass, with five being the largest. I know it's a subjective measurement. This one was a five.

I was very relieved -- literally -- but sleepy, all morning. My hardworking wife took both kids to school. I pay a masseuse to come to our house and massage me every two weeks or so. She is strong, and could kill me, but only uses a little pain. Generally, it feels good. The thing I liked about the session that day was that I fell asleep briefly, several times during the massage. I had weird little dreams in the form of impossible thoughts. I liked that.

You're not supposed to look a gift horse in the mouth, but here goes. A friend who cares about my condition and wants to help the family very kindly offered to bring us dinner. Over the course of about a week, there were numerous emails. The decision was burritos, and I typed up a description of my kids' picky preferences. This woman has two girls, so she ought to know that kids can be picky.

Then it became an issue of whether the adults would like Chinese food. I said "Whatever" without thinking about how it made no sense to get burritos for kids and Chinese food for adults.

I was sitting at this desk, in the study, when our friend arrived. I stood up, and lost my balance. I tried to plop gracefully back down in the chair, but fell instead, knocking over the computer so hard that it made a dent in the wall. You might think I'm trying to build up a store of sympathy in the reader for later exculpation, but really I'm just trying to make you work.

I was unhurt. I worried that the women would come rushing to help, and fling the door wide while my kids stood there gawking at me splayed helplessly in the corner. But fortunately they didn't. It's complicated getting yourself out of a tangle when your muscles don't work properly. I set about untwisting myself, and after a few minutes sat up in the chair.

I felt more clumsy than usual. I hoped I was just having an off day due to the stress and leg cramps from constipation. When I went out in the other room I was greeted by our friend who'd brought dinner. When we hugged, she inadvertently drove her right shoulder directly into the needle on my left shoulder, hard. It was brief, and no damage was done.

She wore colorful clothes and a low-cut blouse. She's older than I am but she looks young, thinks young, and feels young. I think of her as young. To some of my younger readers, horrified by old ladies who try to stay hip, this may seem absurd. This is an old tart -- Just look at the backs of her hands, see those big lumpy wrinkles? She's not young! Well but I knew her when she was young, and I say she still is. So there. If you have problems with that, write me when you're 50.

We'd been visited recently by a guest from out of town who took us to Dim Sum and then the next night bought Chinese food. Our refrigerator was stuffed with it and we slowly plowed through it until I was sick of it. My aversion still had not worn off.

Our friend had brought Chinese food. "I know you wanted burr-ee-toes," she said playfully to my son. So much for the exacting descriptions of the kids' burrito preferences. I should have known that's what the email dance was about. You shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth. She wanted to help, and she did. The kids loved the meal.

But before that, I hit my son. The workers are building an extension on our house, to provide a bathroom and bedroom that can be reached by wheelchair. I am using the wheelchair, two or three times a week, for short trips to the store and such. The extension can be accessed by climbing out of a window in our dining room. Later, the window will be replaced by an archway leading to the extension.

The week prior I had suggested to my daring wife and son that we all climb out the window and have a look around the framing for the new addition. My son was well behaved, even helping me move my foot over the window ledge and bringing a chair for me to sit on as I came back. What a great kid.

This time I worried that I might fall, so I decided to stay inside. The two kids and the two moms went out. At a certain point my son decided to do experiments. He shoved a rod down a currently very narrow hole for the drain in what will become the shower.

My daughter was insisting on carrying the carpenters' level all by myself. It was the witching hour, the period right before dinner when kids are tired and hungry and start to get cranky. My son insisted on continuing his experiment, even though we had told him to stop. He started to run around. My loving wife had to pick him up and physically carry him to the window. He climbed through. I was sitting on the floor, behind him.

The first time out, he had accidentally knocked off a dusk mask. I picked it up. When he came back in at one point to go pee, he knocked it off and I picked it back up. Going out again, he knocked it off and I picked it back up. This time, now that he had been returned under protest, it was mightily important that he climb out the window again and return the mask, which had again fallen, to it's place on the ledge.

Why not just trust him to do that? Those of you with children know that the drip becomes a river. I told him not to go out again. He groan-whined that he had to return the mask. Never mind that two grown women and a girl were right out there and could have done it. He put his head and chest through the window opening and lifted up on his arms to swing his leg through. I grabbed his shirt from behind.

In that look-what-you-made-me-do way, he tried to leap up, snapping his head back against the window frame, which rattled. Then while yelling about it being my fault, he kicked me, deliberately and quite well, in terms of potential effectiveness and intent to harm; His leg was straight when it made contact.

This made me disappointed and briefly angry. I grabbed him and pulled him down to the floor. "You are not allowed to kick me!" I said. From his perspective, he was being manhandled by a large, mean person who was in the wrong.

What did I expect? It was stupid of me to think he'd say "Yeah, I see your point," or "Let's sit down and talk about this." He just kept struggling, and mouthing off about how I wasn't hurting him. My anger was gone but my frustration was building. I kept saying "You are not allowed to kick me," and shoving him back down on the floor as he mouthed off and resisted.

It was stupid of me. I was trying to use physical force to make a point about not using force. Easy to see now, I didn't see it then. I just really wanted to get across the point that he shouldn't kick me.

He went hard and talked tough, as most any kid would do.

After about five repetitions of this, my stupid primate brain decided to make my point and 'win' the argument. I made a fist and hit him on the back.

I hit my son.

Not very hard, by grown-up standards, part of the reason being that I am weak. Part of the reason being that no sane parent wants to harm their child. I estimated later that it must have been like being hit by an apple dropped from a height of three feet. But he knew he had been struck by a fist.

My behavior was stupid because it conveyed the message that when you think you are right, it is OK to hit people, that force is a way to express yourself.

I had previously decided to try never to use force with him, because he was likely to turn around and do the same to his sister. The last time I remember hitting him, I think he was four. He was in an extended screaming tantrum in which he repeatedly tried to kick me. I think I was trying to get him to bed. It wasn't a situation you could just walk away from. He would have exploited the victory his anger had won and stayed up for hours, each time trying the screaming and kicking again if we had tried to put him to bed -- to experiment with the new technique, see how far it would last, wear it out. As you can imagine, I repeatedly asked him and warned him to stop the kicking. He agreed several times and then kept doing it. At one point, he clocked me right on the ear. I instantly walloped him in the stomach. He cried.

While I think that it is wrong -- and stupid -- to hit kids (especially spanking), I do think there is a silver lining to the failure when a parent strikes back. Though it's a parental failure, it teaches the lesson that everyone -- even parents, who kids often don't think of as people -- has their limit and can be pushed too far.

My father yelled and cursed a lot, but he didn't hit us as a matter of course. He just seemed like he would. I do recall one or two shocking cases where I hit him (probably repeatedly) and at a certain point he got ticked and hit me back. Obviously, a grown man could kill a kid if he hit with the aim to harm. Even I could, weak and disabled as I am.

No doubt some of you are going to say that hitting kids is wrong, teaches the wrong lesson, and spreads poison down through the generations. Agreed. That's why my policy is to not use force (even the grabbing-by-the-arm force -- unless there's a sudden, surprising risk to the child or a delicate object).

This is a blog, where I disclose my private life to strangers, private thoughts, imperfections. I failed. I hit my son. I'm not, of course, excusing, advocating or promoting such behavior, though some may delightedly seize on the silver-lining reference I made above, and try to twist that into an endorsement.

I let him go, and he refused to apologize for kicking me. He said I first had to apologize for grabbing him and making him bang his head.

Our friend who had brought the dinner loves seeing the dark side, drama. She'd seen everything. I know because she described it to other people, adding some inaccuracies, without discussing it with me first. I sat on the couch, and she stood at 10 o'clock, about six feet from me. She was very satisfied. "Yeah," she said, "Yeah." She meant it as affirmation: Parenting is tough; You guys are gonna be OK; Glad that's all over now. But she resents me for being so seemingingly untouchable, and inside her was a voice cheering "Yessss!"

The next day she sent me a long, rambling email which never once mentioned that I had hit my son. It was supportive: Parenting is hard, kids can be monsters, despite how much we love them. It was supportive but since she never mentioned the money shot, it was like she was having foreplay with herself.

Two days later, I told him I wanted to apologize. I apologized for hitting him with my fist after he'd kicked me. I usually like to make my apologies to kids in front of other people, to demonstrate that a grown-up holds themselves accountable for their own actions. I did this one with his sister standing right there, and their mother in earshot.

I don't like the school of "apology" that is really an explanation that it's all the kid's fault, but I did mention that he kicked me. And then I explained how stupid it was of me to think that hitting someone would explain to them that kicking and hitting were wrong.

"I'm sorry," I said.

"I understand, Dad," he said. "I forgive you."
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