It’s a funny thing when a child hits you: you’re struck by the same lightening quick instinct to hit back you’d get if some fully grown jerk-ass shoved you in a bar. You tense up. Your hand balls into a fist. But as a parent and an adult, you must hone your reflexes to recognize the difference between a thirty-two pound simpleton kicking your shin and a 6’5″ overweight lush looking for a fight. I know all kids go through an aggressive phase, but it amazes me this dangerous quirk survived evolution. Seems like a caveman, whom I trust was not as patient and enlightened as modern man, would have crushed his offspring the first time she gave him a right hook.
I can handle Jillian’s pummelings, but it gets hairy when she trains her fists of fury on her brother. While Dalton was a helpless crawler, Jillian gave him a grace period, but now that he’s up on his feet, the gloves are off. If he toddles within a five-foot radius of her, he’s going to get knocked down. In the heat of the moment, when Jillian gives Dalton a good wallop and sends him sailing across the room, my first instinct is to smack her. Teaching her to not hit by hitting her, however, would open up a swirling vortex of hypocrisy I’m not ready to unleash upon her just yet. Instead I point my finger to Jillian’s room and shout at her, “Go!” My wife runs to her crying boy’s side. (Ironically, Nicole thought we would have done Jillian a great disservice by not giving her a sibling. “You say that because you never had siblings,” I told her. Turns out I was right, and Dalton will need to be quarantined from his sister until he is ten years old.)
Without her pudgy punching bag around, Jillian turns her attention to wanton, cold-blooded destruction. Anything she can get her hands on, she tears apart. Then she scatters the dissected remains throughout the house. We’re talking board games, books, consumer electronics, you name it. The more fragile the item appears, the more tantalizing she finds it. I’d like to believe this passion for destroying is her way of making a statement against commercialism, but I think she just likes breaking stuff. Her hitting people is one thing; the bruises she leaves on my arms cost nothing. An Ikea floor lamp, on the other hand, that’s like forty bucks.
Watching my house transform into a junkyard is dissolving my already dwindling calm. One night at 12:30, I wake to the sound of chaos in Jillian’s bedroom. I stomp into the room to find her dipping into her dresser and tossing all her clean clothes into the air like confetti.
“Jillian, cut it out,” I say firmly.
She responds by flailing about, her eyes rattling around in her head like ice in a martini shaker. In her spasms, she kicks and stomps on me thirty times.
“Jillian, if you don’t go to bed, I will spank you.” The words slip past my lips before my groggy brain gets a chance to okay them, but there they are. I know she heard me, because she kicks me again, this time rather close to the groin. She thinks I’m bluffing. I think I’m bluffing, but now I have put spanking on the table. If I back down now, she will forever know I am nothing but bluster and empty threats. I grab her arm and lift her to her feet.
“Okay, then,” I say directly into her wild eyes, “Are you going to bed or not?” She shakes her head like she’s trying to shake it right off her shoulders. My voice rises. “Jillian. Will. You. Go. To. Bed?!”
She spits a raspberry at me.
She blows harder, the spit sprays all over my face. My hand has already begun to swing, as if to say, “I’ll take it from here.” It gathers speed in its wide, arcing journey to Jillian’s behind. There it connects with a hearty slap!
My eyes dart to Jillian’s, which have stopped bouncing. Her head is no longer a blur. Now she looks me back in the eye. Oh my god, I think, what have I done?
Then . . . she laughs. Throws her head back, and gives a throaty laugh.
I don’t think she’s laughing at the weakness of my spank. I am a reasonably strong man capable of delivering a strong blow. She’s laughing because she is frigging nuts.
My grip on her arm goes limp. I slink back to my bedroom, leaving Jillian to fling every single book inMy hand has already begun to swing, as if to say, “I’ll take it from here.” her bookcase across the room. I slip into bed.
“What happened?” my wife asks.
“I spanked her.”
“Did you do it hard enough?”
“I think so.”
“We are really screwed, aren’t we?
The worst part is not that I went back on my promise to never spank; the worst part is that I exercised my nuclear option and it failed. Spanking is the last and fiercest weapon in a parent’s arsenal, and all it managed to do was draw a chuckle.
Lying in bed, waiting for Jilian to wear herself out, I find some solace. The temptation to spank, that urge that nags like a tickle at the back of your throat, will never be a problem again. I tried it. It didn’t work. Parenthood is not a war, where might makes right. It is a game of chess, a game of skill and patience that you can never truly master. That’s fine. I can handle the fact I need to get better, and that she’ll keep upping her game as well. For now, I’m just looking to keep out of check.