This might sound rough, so we should establish a few things. 1. I love our eldest daughter. I don’t cheer when she's kicked in the face. 2. Violence is bad, mmkay? 3. Our girls are really quite lovely and exchange far more hugs and kisses than grievous blows to the head.
But sometimes the shocking methods they use to turn on each other leave me awestruck and I can’t help but laugh at the sheer effrontery of it all. I’m gobsmacked – figuratively - that a social outrage is being committed in our comfortable middle-class loungeroom, not some leafy, riot-torn corner of London. And all with the barest provocation. Funny, I don’t even like the Three Stooges.
I was in the kitchen and didn’t see this one. But I hear Lani, six, and Evie, four, were lying on the sofa watching a DVD. Suddenly amidst the sweetness and light of the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse there came a kick to the face.
Turns out young Evie had Lani’s new necklace, Lani took it back, Evie wasn’t happy with this and so, after pondering ways to illustrate her frustration, she decided the best one was a kick in the face. No doubt it was delivered with a squeaky “Heee-yah!” for extra effect, like a female mouse serving at Wimbledon.
Lani came and told me and the rest is parenting history. I realise a proper tiger mother or father would have responded differently – perhaps a punishment schedule of 10 kicks to the face per day until the age of 18 and don’t you dare stop playing that violin. But instead I laughed an incredulous laugh. At least I looked away to do it.
My mother friends, one of them being my wife, are appalled at such behavior, not just the kids’ but my own. I understand the inappropriateness of all three of us. Well, two of us. What's funny to me is the absurdity - the absence of balance, reason and restraint. "You’re taking back your necklace; I kick you in the FACE."
I wouldn’t laugh if this was repeated behavior, not just part of the bumps and bruises of early childhood which will be ironed out in time. I might be troubled if it was already unnervingly clear that Evie would grow up to be one of those women who goes around kicking people in the face.
And I wouldn’t have laughed if Lani was hurt. It was one of those flare-ups that blew over in seconds. Evie got punished with a time-out and was made to apologise. They always have to say what they’re apologising for, so that hopefully the lesson will stick. It’s usually: “Sorry, Daddy, for screaming,” or “Sorry Evie for eating your lunch.” And then there’s: “Sorry, Lani, for kicking you in the face.” Even the apology made me laugh.
The childhood jungle can be rich in inordinate, slapstick retribution - like TV wrestling with better props.
I remember my brother once settling a disagreement with another kid by belting him over the head with a garden rake – not the sort with the long flexible fingers but short steel ones.
That brother was the victim when, in a backyard cricket match, our eldest brother threw a stump at him. If you don’t know, a stump is a thick, pointy, 70cm-long stick which acts as a target for the bowler or, when flung through the air at your brother, as a sort of sawn-off spear. This little bit of hi-jinks happened 40 years ago. We still talk about it now with raised eyebrows. You just can’t do that sort of thing, can you?
Of course we try to stamp on this, while accepting it as part of learning the rules of living. My wife believes if little ones weren’t called “toddlers” we’d instead have to call them “sociopaths”. Maybe what makes me laugh is a subconscious imagining of how our society would be, what a Dante’s Inferno we would live in, if we all behaved like our children with their extreme emotional states.
At the market: “I’m sorry, sir, but you’re asking too much for this spinach, so here’s a headbutt in the face.” Smack!
On the street: “Madam, if you don’t move your car I shall have no other option than to bite you on the arm.”
There’d be an upside. If my co-worker shared some of his chips with me you might see me jumping up and down clapping and shouting “Yaaaay!” and then giving him a hug and kiss.