One day, when I was about six years old, my dad dropped me off at kindergarten, and I wept in my little plastic seat all morning. For no other reason than because my mother always took me to school, so to my thinking there was ipso facto something wrong with the way my father took me to school. Hence: tears.
Off and on through the years I've looked for
reasons to blame my parents for everything deeper meanings beneath that desolate morning long ago. Did my father do something to make me cry? HAVE I REPRESSED THE MEMORY OF SOME FORGOTTEN BRUTALITY??
Then, this morning, Jackson asked me for a cup of apple juice. Jack poured it out for him and handed him the cup, and Jackson grew another head and yelled, "I want MOMMY to give me my juice!"
And the little 10-watt bulb that sometimes warms my brain began to glow. Oh, I realized belatedly, my father didn't do a goddamned thing wrong that day. Sometimes you just want your mom.
Sometimes, though, you need your dad. Jack and Jackson were traveling a bumpy road for a while there. Jack would say, "I love you, Jackson," and Jackson would say, "No you don't! MOMMY loves me!" and my heart would crumple up into a little crumpled up roadkill squirrel on a dark country road, and I'd say, "Why do you think Daddy doesn't love you?" and Jackson'd say, "Because he spanked me."
We're not real big on physical punishment, I gotta say. We've both swatted Jackson's biscuits a couple of times, after "Please?" and "No!" stopped working, but the difference was that I always felt really bad afterward and would say I was sorry and when Jackson calmed down I'd hug him and we'd talk about it until we understood what happened and we both felt better. Jack, on the other hand, felt like Jackson was now big enough to cope with the consequences of whatever, throwing macaroni and cheese at the television, after being told not to several times, so there wasn't a lot of hand-wringing and apologizing on his part.
Then, over the summer, I was reading a 99 cent copy of The Nanny Diaries after I saw the summary on Robin's reading list. I quite enjoyed it. And there was one part in there where the nanny's father, who'd been a school teacher, was advising her on how she might discipline a four-year-old boy. "Glinda-the-good-witch him," he said.
"In essence, you are Glinda. You are light and clarity and fun. He is an inanimate object, a toaster who happens to have a tongue hanging out. If he goes too far again--I'm talking the door-locking routine, physical violence, or anything that puts him in danger--BABOOM! Wicked Witch of the West! Two point four seconds--you swoop down in front of his face and hiss that he must never do that again--ever. It is not okay. And then, before he can bat an eyelash, back to Glinda. You let him know that he can have feelings, but that there are boundaries. And that you'll let him know when he has pushed too far. Trust me, he'll be relieved."
I wondered if maybe that was what'd been missing with Jack's discipline, Daddy Bad Cop and Daddy Good Cop all rolled into one, so I told Jack about the split-personality technique, and he said Hmmm.
One day a few weeks later Jack took Jackson to the grocery store. They were standing in line and Jackson started whining that he wanted some gum. And Jack was all, "I have a bag of Cheetos and some ice cream bars in the cart with your name on them, so you can forget about the gum. You have gum at home. Acres of gum. No." But Jackson, as three-year-olds will do when surrounded by judgmental strangers in a confined space, started to whine even louder. So Jack decided to Glinda him.
I wasn't there, so I can't say exactly what happened, but it seems that after Mr. Margaret Hamilton threw a few fireballs and sent in the flying monkeys, a sparkly and cheerful man in a long white dress* magically appeared to kiss Jackson and and tell him he still loved him. And when Jackson saw that Scary Daddy was gone and Nice Daddy was hugging him, he backed off on the gum, kissed his dad, and henceforth they were cool, from that day forward.
Really. One little paragraph in a forgettable best-seller has changed our lives.
Jackson now spontaneously tells Jack he loves him all the time. I mean, he says "I hate you, go away!" all the time, too, but now it balances out.
See what happens when you read books?
*Sorry, the metaphor is breaking down here