4.03.2017

Mirror Mirror


When I was about thirteen years old, I went grocery shopping with my mom. During that trip, I witnessed an exchange between a mother and child that has seared itself in my mind. The boy was no more than 3 years old. He was visibly tired and moody, crying and screaming, dragging his exhausted little feet behind his mom and her boyfriend/husband. His mom was probably close to my age now, possibly younger. She was trying to ignore him and probably just wanted to get what she needed and get out, since they didn't have a cart or basket with them. His crying was impossible to miss and hard to ignore. When he caught up to her, he stretched his arm out and began to call out, "mam-" when suddenly she spun around and pulled her arm back ready to swing full strength but faked him out. She didn't hit him, but the motion and threat of being hit made him spin and fall on his face and start crying harder. He was only a toddler, but he looked humiliated and terrified.

My heart still hurts for him, 13 years later. I'm not accusing anyone of anything. I'm not claiming to know anything about him, her or their life at home. But that flinch was learned. His fear was too, from experience. How dare he cry out of exhaustion. How dare he be moody and unable to control his emotions after 3 years of being on this earth. How dare he cause others in the store to judge her for not "controlling" her child.

I'm going to just say it.
I am not a fan of belts, paddles, spoons or even hand spanks. I am that mom.

But before your blood pressure spikes and you flex your fingers preparing for a keyboard battle, let me explain to you why I feel this way and what conclusion I've come to regarding it.

My brother and I are 4 years apart in age. We have always been polar opposites (except for about a year and a half during our teen years). I was generally quiet, obedient and tended to internalize everything. I was sensitive, gentle and more of a "thinker".
My brother, on the other hand, was hyper active, hands on and fearless. He demanded his way and let his emotions run rampant. He was angry. Always so angry.
He was also exactly like our mom.

When I was 8 years old, I did something I knew not to do, and my mom made my dad spank me with a massive wooden paddle. I wept the entire time. My dad said nothing and kept the same emotionless expression. I could tell his swings weren't the only thing being held back.
I was never spanked again. I'm not saying I never again misbehaved, but I was never punished with a paddle after that.

At the time, my brother was 4. He was still in diapers and had probably his 100th paddle by that same day. He laughed. My mom told my dad to pull his diaper down, but he didn't. It wouldn't have mattered anyway.

It wasn't long after that my parents did away with spankings altogether and "controlled" us in other ways. They learned that I just wanted their approval and to be like my dad. I was humiliated by any sort of correction. I was easily crushed. "Hyper-sensitive" I think they call it.
My brother required rewards and trophies. Instead of punishing him for doing wrong, they gave him "incentives" to do good. He still did plenty bad, like any kid, but he learned what to do to get what he really wanted. Like my mom.

I don't think a Psych 101 class is required to understand that children learn in different ways. There are endless factors that go into why we are the way we are. Some require learning hands-on, and are punished for not having the patience for reading from a book. Some retain everything read and told to them, and struggle to communicate through painting or other artsy crafty things. Some are great communicators and love performing, and still need a tutor for math and science.

I can already tell that Jax is more like me and Roran is very similar to my brother. They are only 2 years apart and are both male, but they are uniquely them. I don't want to fail them by creating this illusion that they are basically the same.

So what IS my plan?
I've said before that children, especially toddlers, are mirrors of us. They show us aspects of our personalities that we didn't even know really existed. We can sing the alphabet with them 10,000 times a day with them, but they'll remember a phrase your mother used to say when you were a kid that you HATE now. A phrase they heard maybe once that day.
I can tell Jaxon to say "thank you" and to share and be nice all day, every day, but if he doesn't see ME doing those things, he won't care to do any of them. And why should he?

Children learn by EXAMPLE. Jaxon doesn't just say please, thank you, and you're welcome. He says them just like I do. When he was first learning to talk in phrases and sentences, he said the things he heard us say the most, first. He gives me attitude in the EXACT form that I give him. He didn't start hitting me until I smacked his hand for getting into something. I'm not saying he never would have if I didn't hit him first, but it definitely triggered something new for him at that moment. I saw it in his eyes.

My oldest son will be 3 in May. I am still VERY new at this parenting thing.
But I refuse to believe that if I DON'T spank him, he'll become an ungrateful, selfish, manipulative menace to society by the time he reaches adulthood. I refuse to buy into the belief that spanking my own flesh and blood will ensure that he is respectful, obedient and trustworthy.
If respect is EARNED by others actions and examples when it comes to your adult relationships, then why do we demand it from someone who has only been around for a few short years, regardless of the amount of respect we've shown them? If we don't spank friends with a belt when they yell at us or share a secret you trusted them with because it's frowned upon and society considers that assault, then why do we cause physical harm to a younger human who has even less control of their emotions and urges? Because we think it teaches them about consequences? If that were true, then why don't we get spanked when we screw up? We get reprimanded, we get humiliated, we get fired, we get heartbroken, we get fined.

I get that adulthood is very different from childhood. Duh.
But aren't we as parents supposed to guide and prepare our children for adulthood?

Don't misunderstand me. Jaxon does things DAILY that make me want to smack the devil out of him. My mother's intensity and impulsiveness comes out in me more than I'd like to admit. There are things he does over and over and over and OVER again that I wonder if pulling his diaper down for a full handed slap wouldn't correct at least for the rest of the day. But I then remember my brother. I remember my mother's frustration and exhaustion. I remember her crying from him driving her to her wit's end. I remember her standing up and walking to her bedroom, mumbling something about him being possessed, leaving him there, continuing to slam the back of his head onto the floor, his face red as blood from screaming at the top of his lungs. I remember the tiniest irritations would throw her into a screaming frenzy herself, as we got older. My mother rarely spoke to us in a calm, "inside" level voice. Conversations with her almost always escalated quickly to hisses and growls and dramatic stare downs. If looks could kill, neither of us would have made it past 2.

So yeah, maybe I feel the need to go against my mother's extreme to an opposite one of my own.
Maybe I've read too many hippie mom articles. Maybe I'm just being my usual "hyper-sensitive" self and can't stomach my kids being in any sort of pain, especially inflicted by me.

All I know is I have SO much faith in my child. Jaxon is so smart. He is so gentle. He is so aware. He's fearless. He's sassy. He's clever. He's thoughtful. He's strong. When I cry or look sad, he asks me if I'm okay. He stops what he's doing out of nowhere to hug me. He points things out to me that I missed because everything is new to him and old to me. Things that I never expect him to see or even understand. Enough to prove to me that they are capable of SO much more than we think.

I explain everything I can to him. Everything. Even if I doubt he's listening or even able to comprehend what I'm saying. I talk to him about it anyway. He surprises me daily with his empathy and knowledge. He retains things I don't expect. So I just put it all out there and let him hold on to what he can. And he does.

I don't expect him to stop coloring on the walls because I asked him to nicely and explained to him why I don't want him to. I tried to make him clean it off and he still does it. That's because he's still a two year old. A HUMAN two year old.

I know ADULTS who still do the same annoying shit, no matter how may different ways I try to stop them. My son doesn't need to be taught how to be perfect. He needs to learn how to live with being imperfect.

If my kids grow up to be compassionate, logical, respectful, creative gentlemen, I will be ecstatic.
But first, I'M the one who needs to be compassionate, logical, respectful, creative and strong. I need to show them how it's done. Because they're going to learn from me whether I like it or not.

I want to smile when I look into my mirror.