Before my daughter was born and we didn’t know her gender, we used to refer to her as “it”. After she was born, the pronoun stuck and we began calling her “it” when we wanted to imply that she was acting like a beastly creature.
When she was down for a nap in her room, my husband would stick the baby monitor in my face and say, “It’s awake”.
When she would pee on me: “It hates you”.
When she would throw a tantrum: “It’s losing its shit”.
So one day two years ago, my husband and I were sitting on the couch when he leaned into me and whispered, “It keeps staring at us. It’s scary”.
This was the epic time-out session of 2015. The spawn had hit the “terrible twos” a bit earlier than projected and had sustained constant douche-baggery for a few weeks. Up until that point we had never given her a timeout because we felt like children needed to be more intellectually developed before you started whooping their ass (metaphorically speaking), so that it wasn’t wasted on a brainless imbecile.
So that day, the spouse sick and tired of the constant tantrums, took our screaming, splayed-face-down-on-the-floor spawn and stuck her in a corner next to the TV table to give her some much needed “thinking time”. And then we waited. For her to calm down and come to us and ask for our forgiveness. To give us a hug and promise through tears that she’ll never do it again. To be heartbroken at the thought of her parents being upset with her. For us to be able to give her the stern, “Don’t do that again or no more nutrition for you” talk.
Instead, she just stood there. At first wailing her eyes out. Then staring us down with fiery, angry eyes. 5 minutes. 10 minutes. 15 minutes. 20 minutes. We asked her to come and say sorry. Nothing. Cold, hard, unflinching stare. Haughty derision. Disgust and disappointment in who we were as human beings.
Then the spouse whispered, “What do we do?”
“I don’t know.”
“Should we apologize?”
“What? No! Of course not. We are the frigging parents. Grow a pair!”
“But how long will she stand there? What if she never comes to us and says sorry?!”
“May be we should go to her.”
“Isn’t that what they tell you not to do? Isn’t that like…accepting defeat?”
“Hmph.” I say. “Timeouts are suppose to be for like 3 min. They never tell you how they are supposed to end.”
“’It looks really mad.”
“It sure does.”
At 30 minutes, we decided to call my sister-in-law whose son is six months older than the spawn and who is a certified child-whisperer, AKA teacher.
She told us to start playing with the spawn’s favorite toy or do her favorite activity and when she gets distracted and curious, she’ll walk over herself. Once things have been neutralized then we can give her the “You do that again and we’ll replace you with another kid” talk.
So we started doing her favorite activity: eating fruits. She walked over hesitantly, still eyeing us with the distaste that someone would have for a dead raccoon on their driveway.
Finally, she tentatively picked up a strawberry and sat down a few inches away from us. The spouse and I breathed a sigh of relief mainly because it was starting to feel like we were in a time-out, one we didn’t know how to get out of. And also because it would be really hard to explain to visitors in a couple of months, why there was a statue with an uncanny likeness to the spawn planted next to the TV table.
Once we had securely roped her in with food, we gave her the “You throw a tantrum again and we’ll strangle your pet fish” talk with all the phony bravado we could muster.
After this episode, we realized that standard disciplining practices do not apply to the spawn. The thing is that the spawn is an incredibly bright kid. She’s three years old and throws around words like “exasperated”. She has a high emotional IQ and understands people and situations with the astute awareness of a sage old woman. And in combination with that brain, she’s got the strength and sensitivity of a PMS-ing gorilla. Hell hath no fury like the spawn scorned.
With a personality like that, threats, timeouts and intimidation doesn’t go very far. It just turns into a war of the wills. Who can stare the longest without blinking.
We also realized that apparently ego is not directly proportional to your physical size.
I recall an episode from my own childhood when I was five or six. My mom, tired of my brother and I fighting with each other constantly, locked us up in a room. That is either crappy parenting or really effective arbitration because either your kids will work their shit out, or one will kill the other in which case you have a lot less headache to deal with.
Anyhow, my brother was bored of being locked up after thirteen seconds, and being the easygoing simpleton he was, treaded over to the door, yelled an apology to my mom and was promptly let out. I on the other sat there fuming for what seemed like hours at my mother’s audacity of locking me up in a room like an animal. After a while my mother walked in, casually averting her eyes from my death stare and told me it was dinnertime.
So apparently, karma is a bitch.
Nine of out ten times, the spawn is a super easygoing kid. She’s sweet like a summer strawberry. Her ability to comprehend situations beyond her years means that disciplining her is as easy as explaining her the causal effects of an action. “If you jump off the chair, you’ll fall on your face and get a butt chin.”
She will understand, get off the chair and likely not do it again. She’s generally well mannered and because she’s got ego the size of New York, the smallest reprimand in public usually simmers her down because she doesn’t want to be embarrassed in front of people.
But it’s those days we fear. The dark ones. The days she didn’t sleep well or is in a generally distasteful mood. Those days her fury rains from a thunderous sky. Every small action is a battle. Every interaction is a combat. However, instead of threats and intimidation, we use distraction, melt-down-situation-avoidance and counting down to three as our tools of crisis management. By the end of those days, the spouse and I are splayed out on the couch. I am cursing my ovaries under my breath and he is staring into space looking like a wounded soldier.
The spawn has a level of self-confidence and strength that I respect, envy and dread simultaneously. In moments of defiance, she looks every bit like the thirteen year old she’s going to be in ten years. In the mean time, we just have to make sure we channel her intelligence and strength in a productive manner.
Or “it” is going to be She-Hulking all around town.