Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sadness, part two

I did something last night and I can’t stop thinking about it.

I hit Graham.

Slapped actually. I would like to say swatted, but in my heart of hearts I know it was more than a swat. It was a slap. A firm one.

Let me set the stage.

Graham napped little yesterday. He had his first meltdown in the car on the way home from his babysitter’s. He was still raging nearly an hour later. I offered him a drink. Some bread and peanut butter. I got his blanket. Put on his favorite music. Attempted to cuddle him and play blocks with him.

He screamed in my ear. Flailed. Threw his toys at me. Slapped me.

I spoke to him in soothing tones. I put him on the naughty step for a time out. Twice.

Eventually the whining became at least intermittent. He started to play. I sat on the floor and arranged my legs as a tunnel (his favorite) and he crawled under them. I felt a shooting pain in my thigh. He bit me. Hard.

Harder than he had ever bitten me before.

I was, I think, remarkably calm. I swiftly got down to his level, held his chin and looked directly into his eyes. “NO BITING.” I carried him firmly, but not roughly, and placed him on the step in the other room.

I walked away and zipped off my corduroy jeans. A throbbing inch-long welt was already turning nasty shades of black and purple. I wiped away a single drop of blood and applied some polysporin.

I took a few minutes. I needed them.

I collected him. He was apprehensive, but otherwise nonplussed. I showed him the welt. “You hurt mommy. No biting. Biting hurts people.”

He smiled angelically at me, unsure. Regretful? Yes, I told myself. Regretful.

I picked him up. Kissed him. Hugged him. “No biting, Graham. No more biting. It hurts mommy.”

I picked up a book and settled with him on my lap. He started to whine. “Come on, Graham. Look, it’s Elmo.”


I felt his nail rip through the skin on my cheek. I felt a dark, hot flash of anger.

And I slapped him.

I slapped him pretty hard. On his leg. He was wearing track pants, but there was no doubt he felt a sting. He blinked in surprise. Burst into tears.

I gathered him in my arms, heart racing. I rubbed his back. “No hitting. You can’t hit.” I blinked back tears. What a hypocritical thing to say. “That’s hitting Graham. Hitting hurts. You see, it hurts. That’s why we don’t do it.” Stupid, stupid rationalization.

I have always thought that parents, loving parents who are thoughtful enough to ponder these things in the first place, worry too much about defining their position with regards to spanking. I have always felt entirely comfortable with my own philosophy.

I don’t believe striking children is an acceptable way to discipline them. I don’t think it’s very effective or creative and I absolutely believe parents should avoid it. But I also always figured that Graham would likely receive a few swats throughout his childhood, due to frustration and/ or anger. I was human. He would likely push my buttons. I would likely lose my temper. And I felt okay with that.

I have heard people say that if one is going to spank a child, it should never, ever be in anger and that seems absurd to me. A calm and calculated administration of physical punishment strikes me as far more disturbing than a quick, thoughtless smack delivered out of exasperation and frustration.

I think it can be good for a child to see a normally calm and collected parent lose their temper. Not to freak out and melt down, mind you, but to throw aside their practical, parental reserve and expose some raw emotion.

I remember being about 10 years old and being in a pissy mood with my mom, who is as quiet and non-confrontational as they come. She asked me (probably for the umpteenth time) to put away some books I left around and I responded in typical fashion; bitchy, insolent, thankless. I remember her hurling those books against the wall and shrieking at me in manner I didn’t know she was capable of.

I was struck dumb. The force of her anger punctured my thick, bubble of preteen self-absorption. For the first time ever I saw, really saw, the exhaustion and frustration in her eyes. It moved me and I have never forgotten it.

But then Graham is too young for my temper to provide any kind of a teaching moment, isn’t he? He is too young to be struck by the revelation of his mother as a human being.

He is too young to be struck.

And that’s why I can’t stop thinking about what I did last night.

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b*babbler said...

Oh sweetie - I can't say I've been there (yet) but I can completely see where it came from.

I'd have to say that spanking in a moment of anger is probably better (is that the right word) that calmly contemplating it. I guess at the end of the day that children have to learn parents have emotions and responses also. While I would say that it shouldn't happen all the time, he may learn two things 1) being hit hurts. A lot. And perhaps he won't do it again and 2) that when you hit and bite someone, repeatedly, there is the possibility it will happen back (something he would likely learn eventually on a playground).

Try not to beat yourself up too much. I'm sure that it has happened to many many other people, and as long as you recognize it and it isn't systemic, than I doubt there is too much to worry about (although I'm sure there are some out there who would castigate me for that opinion).

Gabriella said...

I've been in your shoes; the guilt doesn't go away for awhile but it happened exactly for reasons you say; exhasperation, tiredness, frustration. Happens to the best of parents.

naomicatgirl said...

Oh! I feel for you. I've not quite been in your shoes, but I did manage quite the fierce push the other day when my older son dove on top of my younger son and nearly smothered him. I got all protective of the baby at the expense of the older one.

You're human. You have a right to react. And you know you'll be better next time. It is a learning process, and it happens to all of us.

Christina.B said...

We've been there.
Well, I've been there.
Guilt annoyed he heck out of me.

I think the most important thing to do when we react in a unpleasant way, (out of anger or in general)is to make sure the child knows that you BOTH were wrong.

We can explain our utter frustrations but should not try to justify what isnt just.

Ps... this approach will result in what I currently have... a 5yr old that corrects you even before your conscience gets a chance.

Eg. "Isaiah go pick up those toys!!"
"Ok Mummy, but i think you are forgetting your inside voice"

He knows that we both make mistakes, and I am not a fake, he knows we are both human.( he just makes more mistakes than

BTW I live in Don Mills too!

Laura said...

Hugs to you ---- we have all been there ---- and we all feel badly about doing it...but it is a natural reaction. You are a great mom and you certainly adore your babe. Hang in there.

S said...

I've been there too. You're not alone. It was only one of my children, and it only happened once, but once is enough. The guilt has never gone away.


MBA Mommy said...

My husband and I committed to a no-spank household when we had children. He came from that type of home. I came from the old-school, a good spank now and again doesn't hurt anyone variety of parents. Not that it was excessive, and I certainly was a handful, but I know I did get a few good smacks on the derriere.

That worked fine for child #1 who at 7 has never and I'm sure will never feel my anger. However, my temper has flared with child #2 on at least two occassions. Enough that I smacked him on the rear. And like you I felt such guilt. And a sense of disgust with myself that as a grown, well-educated adult, I didn't have the common sense to step away, take a deep breath and realize, this is a child.

Then my dad told me that he was so proud of the fact that we were disciplining our children without spanking. His own guilt is still there too.

I think like the loss of a loved one, the guilt may become a shadowy presence in your mind, but I'm not sure it ever truly goes away.

Amanda said...

The question you have to ask yourself is this, did you do it out of love? Really think about it. Did you want your little angel walking around biting everyone he started to play with? I am sure the answer is no. Read your post again, you did everything possible to end this nasty attitude and behaviour. Did it shock him, you bet. Sometimes it takes a little shock to help your child remember that Mommy means it, no biting or hitting. Please don't beat yourself up. The swat on his bum or leg isn't going to scar him for the rest of his life. I don't know you but by reading this post I can tell that you are a caring mother who was at her last straw. Keep up the good work and remember that spanking is not the best way to discipline but a tool when or if needed.

OHmommy said...

Huggs. That must have been hard. Your feelings... I have had them. Great post!

Megan said...

thanks for stopping in! my children are on the cusp of waking up so i didn't have as much time to read as i would have liked, but i wanted to say i did love the portions i was able to read! what a gift you have for writing! also, that gift is rarely going to do a lot of good if a writer isn't willing to be vulnerable- and you are so honest in the few things i've read that i'm certain many, many people are blessed and changed by what you share with the world!


Sass said...

I read once that noone does go from 1-60mph in terms of anger. The truth is it's been bubbling up for a while. The challenge is to recognise it and deal with it before it bursts out in an uncontrollable and regrettable way.

Quite a challenge when you feel physically put upon. When Peaches gets into hitting me, I move away from her straight away and tell her I'm hurt and upset and I'm not going to play with her right now. I make a bit of a show of looking after myself and she comes over to kiss me better. The idea is to make sure she gets told off and then gets NO attention for a while. If she ever goes for another child, she gets told off and then I lavish attention on the injured child.

Only time will tell if this strategy works out.