The disciplin(ing) of Scarlett

8:01 pm CMT june 3rd BGKY

Scar­lett at three.

We are in the ter­ri­fy­ing threes. Not just ter­ri­ble but ter­ri­fy­ing. Where­as Mac will use all sorts of rhetor­i­cal tricks and tropes to whee­dle out of pun­ish­ments and sanc­tions, Mac will at least play by the rules that every­one has agreed to. But Scar­lett… Scar­lett is doing some­thing we are hav­ing a hard time try­ing to fig­ure out how to react to, let alone coun­ter­mand. It was like she was all sweet­ness and good dur­ing her first two years in order to get us to drop our guard, get com­pla­cent, fall asleep at the switch, and allow her to take over sig­nif­i­cant por­tions of our men­tal map before we could form an allied response.

Exam­ples: You threat­en her with a smack-bot­tom1 and she tells you go ahead, do your best. You tell her she will lose her toys, she responds she didn’t want them in the first place. You give her a direct order and she will look back with sparkling eyes and ever-widen­ing smile, stand­ing there, dar­ing you to for­get she is just three-years old and not some recidi­vist hooligan.

Recent­ly, we had an event that crys­tal­lized the dilem­ma and sig­naled that she was going on the full offen­sive. For a few months now, Scar­lett has been pee­ing in her pants again. She will stand there in the mid­dle of the room and uri­nate down her leg onto the car­pet. We’ve had to put her back in dia­pers which she did not, of course, refuse. So this past week, Jenn is watch­ing Scar­lett start to squirm again and exhorts Scar­lett to use the toi­let like a big girl and that she had bet­ter run over to the bath­room to pee and instead Scar­lett runs up to Jenn and pro­ceeds to uri­nate, form­ing a large, warm pud­dle right in front of Jenn’s chair. Jenn is aghast at her behav­ior and tells Scar­lett not to step into the pee and then it hap­pens: Scar­lett looks down at the pud­dle and then cocks her head back up and dead-eyes Jenn while she pro­ceeds to put her right foot direct­ly into the mid­dle of the pud­dle and turn her ankle in and out as if rub­bing out the butt of a cig­a­rette she has just tak­en her last drag off and flicked into the dirt, rub­bing with slow, delib­er­ate mal­ice2 with the heel of her steal-toed boot, while slow­ly expelling smoke direct­ly into Jenn’s eyes and chan­nel­ing the leather-clad Sandy and her new­ly-found moxy at the end of Grease. There was a moment of stunned silence. The rest I can’t report because this is a pub­lic post, lest to say, we know we are in trouble.


After much thought, I real­ized we are in a pick­le. Like I said with Mac, it is pret­ty sim­ple to stick to your guns and not let him con­vince you to give in, but with Scar­lett, you have no car­rot, no com­mon goal. What she is doing is negating/​denying your pre­sup­po­si­tions and remov­ing the very base on which you stand. It is a rad­i­cal skep­ti­cism that leaves noth­ing unques­tioned, noth­ing tru­ly know­able, and chal­lenges con­vic­tions at their core. Sud­den­ly you won­der if the total­i­tar­i­an­ists weren’t right after all.

Although I got­ta tell you anoth­er part me ana­lyzes the sit­u­a­tion and say: “She adapts to any sit­u­a­tion and is bone head­ed stub­born… Learned well, she has, this young padawan.”

  1. Yes, I know we are also against copo­ral pun­ished but like Neville Cham­ber­lain learned, appease­ment only works for so long. []
  2. well, as much mal­ice as a three year old can muster []

the son’s dad

March­ing 14th, 2011 9:24pm

I sup­pose like any oth­er kid­die-sports league, watch­ing what appears to be vast tracts of psy­cho­log­i­cal dam­age and trau­ma, roots of neu­roses and seeds of life­long behav­ioral dis­or­ders being ruth­less­ly ground into the tykes is going to gen­er­ate a cer­tain amount of appre­hen­sion in any par­ent who actu­al­ly cares about their kid.

Watch­ing the look of heart-felt fail­ure on the face of a dad as their lit­tle 34 yr old breaks out cry­ing because some kid just kicked the ball from them, leav­ing them rolling in the dust, unable to score a goal yet again, is with­er­ing to a father’s psy­che. I know this because I was exact­ly that dad last year1 when Mac had his first sea­son of orga­nized-sports prac­tice.2 Watch­ing the com­plex and uncon­trol­lable mael­strom of emotions—anger, con­fu­sion, out­rage, angst and despair—arise out of the lit­tle bod­ies of these boys is heart-wrench­ing and ter­ri­fy­ing, but I sense also espe­cial­ly self-immo­lat­ing to the amer­i­cana dad.3 We’ve all been through these incred­i­bly strong/​damaging emo­tions and we want to pro­tect our kids from it, yet we are told sports teach chil­dren how to func­tion in a com­pet­i­tive soci­ety; it’s a giv­en sports are healthy and good and devel­op mod­el cit­i­zens, encour­ag­ing both team-sac­ri­fice and the taste for the pur­suit for excel­lence that qua­dren­ni­al­ly cul­mi­nate as the Olympics.

I think the worst part is watch­ing the con­fu­sion on the boy’s face as their sup­posed team-mate, the one they have been prac­tic­ing with for last 45 min­utes is placed on the oppos­ing-side for scrim­mage and what was all prac­tice and team­work and fun is now very much a 15-minute encap­su­la­tion of The Lord of the Flies: the soc­cer ball, the conch. Then he, the lost one, will stop run­ning and stand there alone, cry­ing in the body-wrack­ing way lit­tle kids will cry, inno­cence lost and all that cal. The fathers will run up, at first smil­ing and calm­ly cajol­ing, while the inevitably large set of rel­a­tives watch from the side­lines hav­ing shown up to see lit­tle junior play, and so the cajol­ing will quick­ly turn into qui­et plead­ing and even­tu­al­ly out­right order­ing or so help me… Soon frus­tra­tion sets in as the lit­tle boy con­tin­ues to stand in the mid­dle of field shame­less­ly cry­ing, while the rest of the kids run back and forth, com­plete­ly ignor­ing the poor kid, no more an object in their aware­ness than a tuft of grass to be stepped on, while dad is bent over, arms out­stretched on either side of the boy, ges­tic­u­lat­ing wild­ly, try­ing to push the boy toward the field of play with­out actu­al­ly touch­ing him. Any sort of phys­i­cal con­tact now would be an admis­sion of com­plete and absolute fail­ure. Inevitably, you will see—it will hap­pen to every dad out there at one point4—you will see fail­ure wash­ing over the dad’s face like the tears wash­ing their son’s.

The mom’s get this. I’m not sure what all they know as they patient­ly calm their son that dad has made incon­solable. I do not know all that Jenn or the rest of the moms’ know but at least I know they already know that these are their lit­tle boys and not men, not ready for the testos­terone-fueled com­pet­i­tive­ness that is preva­lent for much of man’s life. Scar­lett of course, has been blow­ing any and every belief or myth or gen­er­al sense of knowl­edge about girls, espe­cial­ly lit­tle girls, not only out of the water but vapor­iz­ing pre-con­cep­tions a pri­ori. Scar­lett at this stage in the game, could lit­er­al­ly run cir­cles around the boys on the field, leav­ing them chok­ing on her dust.5


This year, it turns out that your kid actu­al­ly does OK.6 No jags of cry­ing that lock them up. This year it’s not you out there but anoth­er dad going through the same feel­ings of failed father­hood, but now you know that being able feel this already dis­proves7 the fear. You want to go up to them and say my son did exact­ly same thing and that almost exact­ly one year ago8 on this same spot, I felt exact­ly what you are feel­ing right now, think­ing it’s only your kid who stands apart from every­one else, tears stream­ing, over­whelmed with ter­ror that roots them the ground, unable to think, act or walk, let alone kick a ball in any mean­ing­ful man­ner. You want to pat them on the back and say, “It’s OK. we’ve all been through exact­ly what you feel­ing and it will get bet­ter. And you’ll learn not to take the entire clan to watch lit­tle john­ny play and score the win­ning goal. Next time it will be just you and him, one on one and it will be a whole lot better.”

  1. And to some extent this year. []
  2. we are in our 2nd year now. []
  3. those toss-the-foot­ball and play-catch myths are them­selves demon­strat­ed to be myths when I dri­ve around the neigh­bor­hood and see what the oth­er dads are doing with their kids. []
  4. each every kid hav­ing their own unique break­ing point []
  5. And it’s a very wet soc­cer field. []
  6. Mac up until very recent­ly had been doing a very sub­tle par­o­dy of Char­lie Sheen. Mac has only one speed: SLOW! even when he has the ball and every­one is beg­ging him to run, nay walk just a bit faster, he obsti­nate­ly plods along. He has great ball-han­dling skills but molasses pass­es him. So this year, he actu­al­ly has start­ed run­ning! This is a much big­ger accom­plish­ment to see than I can describe on paper. []
  7. I hope []
  8. Jenn reminds its only been 6 months []

Soccer meeting

We had our first offi­cial soc­cer meet­ing for Mac. They orga­niz­ers had invit­ed the par­ents to bring out the kids but since the meet­ing was being held at 7pm, most of the kids were already a bit loopy from stay­ing up past their bed­times and were glassy-eyed when they first arrived at the fields.

While a dense core of seri­ous­ly-mind­ed look­ing par­ents were close­ly pay­ing atten­tion to the orga­niz­ers, a fair per­cent­age of par­ents were in the periph­ery mind­ing the kids as they (the kids) slow­ly got the idea they could kick their soc­cer balls as hard as they want­ed to with­out any adult real­ly pay­ing any neg­a­tive atten­tion to them, and so they just took off, run­ning and for the most part kick­ing the ball in front of them and even­tu­al­ly into the goals.

Mac ini­tial­ly arrived at the fields say­ing he did­n’t know how to or could­n’t kick a soc­cer ball, but he soon saw the oth­er kids play­ing and with­in a few min­utes had abscond­ed with some oth­er’s kid ball and ran the length of the field, actu­al­ly kick­ing the ball in a deter­mi­nate fash­ion and final­ly get­ting to the goal and punt­ing it in. It was quite neat to see him do what we had been prac­tic­ing in the back yard for the past year: Our lit­tle bit of dad-toss­ing-the-ball-with-son schtick.1 Need­less to say, Scar­lett also was kick­ing the ball around. We are not exact­ly sure how we are going to keep her off the field dur­ing an actu­al match; she’s too young to be signed up.

I soon picked up on the fact that these kid­die games would be as much as an excuse for the par­ents to get out and social­ize as it would for the kids. Of course we would enjoy watch­ing our kids at play, but we would also get the enjoy the com­pa­ny of oth­er adults which is extreme­ly lim­it­ed when smalls kids take up every wak­ing2 hour avail­able. Yes I know I am stat­ing the obvi­ous, but it’s new to me.

  1. Yeah I know I mix­ing metaphors []
  2. and non-wak­ing []