Monthly Archives: January 2014

The wonder years

Think for a moment if you will, of what it would be like living in a world where you either don’t have any clue what day it is or you know what day it is but it has absolutely no bearing on your life whatsoever. It seems like a wonderful way to spend your time I think. Imagine the sense of freedom it would afford you to be untethered like that.

My youngest child falls into the first category and is blissfully unaware of what day it is. He has no fears about tomorrow and very little memory of yesterday. He lives in the right now and is so happy there one could argue it’s where we all should be living. But I suspect not much would get done in the world if we all threw toys to the wind like that.

My eldest falls into the second category. He knows what day it is but it actually has very little meaning for him. He measures the passing of time against days spent with us and days spent with school friends or grand parents. He lives in the now, but his band of now is just slightly wider than his younger brother’s. He has a memory of things passed but it doesn’t consume him. He will make the same mistakes, that he knows he shouldn’t, over and again because he enjoyed them so much the first time around. He has no emotion attached to tomorrow yet and as a result still has all the abandon of youth in everything he does.

That’s just how children live. The younger they are the less rigid their lives are. Over time, we as parents inject an agent into the solution, that is our children’s psyche, that hardens them so that they’re tough enough to survive in a world that feeds on the malleable. It’s a double-edged sword though, because we’re also slowly fossilizing the magic that is childhood and replacing it with the mass produced exoskeleton that people need to wear every day to survive out there among the English.

In the end I will do what every parent does, I will give my children the tools they need to navigate this life. But I secretly hope they fight me on it and strike a happy balance for themselves of just enough practicality and resilience combined with a lion’s share of innocence, joy, individualism and wonder.

I am not the child I was once. I remember him fondly though.


The gremlin comparison

Is there anything more unreasonable than an overtired child? If there is, I would like to know about it so that I can gain a little more perspective and insight into my toddler.

For instance, it may very well be that a Tasmanian Devil being herded into a cat box by an Elvis Impersonator, for transport from the wild in Tasmania to a zoo in Vegas, is a far more unreasonable and disagreeable character than a toddler that’s missed a nap, but I’d have to see it to believe it. Or for those old enough to remember the movie Gremlins this comparison will be an easy one to relate to. A toddler is actually very similar to a Mogwai.

It’s a wonderfully cute little creature with soulful eyes, a beautiful smile and a playful nature. For the most part it has a language all its own yet it understands everything you say. All you want to do when you see one is pepper it with hugs and kisses and tickle it to make it smile or laugh. If one happens to give you a hug, it can literally melt your heart.

But there are rules and if you break the rules, there’s a price to pay.

Mogwai don’t do water. Toddlers love it, but only on their own terms. Put up a sprinkler in the garden and your toddler will be all over it like a spoonful of peanut butter on the roof of a mouth. However try to put one in a bath at the end of an afternoon of playing under a garden sprinkler and you’ll begin to feel like you’re stuffing a feral cat, that weighs twelve kilograms, into a wet sock. Also, if you get a toddler wet, it’s almost like they’ve spontaneously multiplied into two separate entities because they wriggle and squirm so much.

Never ever feed a Mogwai after midnight as they turn into gremlins. Same sort of thing applies to toddlers. You feed them late, they stay up late and here’s the rub, the later they’re up the more disagreeable they get. It’s a vicious circle that eventually reaches a critical mass of tears and flailing arms and closed eyes and kicks and garbled cries of protest. Something akin to a possession I would think.

My two year old toddler was up pretty late earlier this week. We were out visiting friends and he stayed up to play with their children after supper. A few minutes before we left we started to prep the children for our departure and almost immediately the tears started to tumble down the little boy’s cheeks. As we gathered our things and made our way to the door, the crying escalated and he ran off and hid in a corner demanding to be allowed to stay – although by this point he was quite unintelligible and could have just as easily been ordering Chinese food. We scooped him and his older brother up, put them into the car seats and made our way home, though that was easier said than done. Car seats are notoriously difficult to fill, even more so when being filled with uncooperative children. Something akin to square peg, round hole.

The crying continued all along the short drive home, accompanied by wails and pleading to be allowed to stay with his friends and finally when we arrived home and carried the little waterfall inside, he scampered off into the kitchen and sat on the steps to continue his protest. He flatly rejected any of his triggers and comforts used for bedtime. The performance also intensified every time we approached or spoke to him.

After a time he allowed me to switch on the kitchen light, thereby tacitly agreeing that sitting in the dark wasn’t really adding any value to his cause and then a little later he caved and asked for his bottle. The tears were still falling from his red little cheeks as we led him to his cot and tucked him in but after a while he started to take deep breaths and settle down.

All in all, a very long cry. In point of fact, a contender for the crown of The longest cry. In adult terms it probably would have equated to one of those cry’s you see people have in b-movies where the tears start in winter and then the nose blowing and tear-stained faces actually carry on into spring.

And then just like that it’s all quiet again and you have the cute little Mogwai back, snoring peacefully, an angelic expression on his face, the tears and upset melted away by the comfort of the warm, safe and cozy little cot.

Sleeping like a baby.

The negotiation skills deficit

I find myself becoming more adept at negotiation as time passes. Here’s a pearl of wisdom for you, admittedly it is a small pearl; negotiation is a skill everyone likes to think they have, like driving, dancing or joke telling but actually it’s something that only a few are born with and the rest of us have to learn – with varying degrees of success. In truth, some of us will always perform this function like we’re dancing with somebody else’s two left feet and we can’t hear the music.

Ultimately it was the act of helping to bring a child into the world and then raising him with my wife that allowed me to come to the understanding that I had no natural ability at the art of negotiation whatsoever. A humbling moment to be sure since I don’t really like to admit to inadequacies, least of all to myself.

I remember I had my ‘aha moment’ one night while putting our eldest to bed, or more accurately to cot as he was only about eighteen months old at the time. We had gone through the bedtime ritual a good half hour earlier and all of his sleep triggers had been in attendance; the story, the bottle, the bear, the blankie and the dummy. At this point in the evening though he was nowhere near ready to go to sleep. In point of fact he’d emptied his cot of everything except himself and the mattress and was standing up and challenging me, sitting opposite him on the floor amid his evicted possessions, to something akin to a gunfight in the old west.

So naturally I dipped into my, as it turned out very shallow, pool of negotiation techniques, drew out my six shooter and with a booming voice I uttered something tepid along the lines of “Lie down now or I’m leaving the room!”

Yes. I said it. And I said it with the blind conviction of a father with no clue at all of what he was doing. Not surprisingly he called my bluff and so I left the room, as promised, only for him to burst into frantic tears a moment later. This forced me to have to go back into the room armed now only with the authority of a road worker waving an orange flag some two kilometers ahead of the rest of his roadwork team, which is to say very little indeed. Operation undermine Dad’s authority…check. What else you got?

It was here then that I understood the sad truth of my lot; without any props I had no inherent skills to negotiate with my child to go to sleep, other than looney threats like “If you don’t go to sleep now, I’m going to feed your stuffed bear to the cat!”

That night I could actually feel his respect for me begin to dissolve like a teething biscuit in hot water. I had nothing on him and he knew it and as such, I was going to have to spend however much time he deemed was necessary, sitting on the floor, waiting for him to settle down and go to sleep. I don’t remember how long it took before he passed out, but I know I still have some tired left over from that experience.

Since then I’ve improved enough to know that you don’t enter the arena unless you’re ready to be a gladiator and by that I mean, make sure that you, at the very least, have some skill and leverage before you enter into any negotiation with a child. Also make sure you have a backup plan in the event that your first plan doesn’t work out or you’ll find yourself very far up toddler creek without a nappy. Ever been at the mercy of the whim of a cranky toddler? Not an enviable situation.

Our eldest is now four and requires endless debate about completing even the most insignificant of tasks and his little brother is two and is challenging us on all the same issues that the big guy did at the same age. But quite often I’m an equal match for the little guy given my two years of hard won experience in toddler negotiation.

I’m still no expert mind you, but at least I know my limitations and am now like a scout living the motto ‘be prepared’ when it comes to confrontations and negotiations with the boys.

They will always be ahead of me mind you, carving out new and interesting ways to beat the system that is the authority of parenting. My wife and I will forever be playing catch up.

It’s a sobering thought. Where’s the tequila?

The medicine spoon

When all is said and done, a visit to the doctor with your child falls into one of two broad categories – the Jekyll or the Hyde.

Who you actually unpack from the car seat at the doctors rooms on a given day will depend largely on two things; whether or not your child is healthy and on the randomness of the mood of the entity that is your child. But the visit is really only the very first step of a journey you have to go on. If you make it past that first step, there’s more in store that you would do well to prepare for.

By that, of course, I mean the process you go through to administer medication to your child. Some days you get Dr. Jekyll who is a rational being, that understands the need for the medication, acknowledges that it will take but a moment to administer and can then be cleansed thoroughly from the palette by scoffing just a spoon full of sugar, in true Julie Andrews fashion, or an index finger scoop of Nutella straight from the jar in Daddy fashion. Either way the process is quick, painless, tear free and is as efficient as the Japanese railway system, if not entirely as sterile.

Then there are days you find yourself trying to administer an antibiotic to a toddler after first having had to attempt to feed the child a smidgen of food to line their stomach. You can put a tablespoon of Nutella in front of their mouths as an incentive and still get a resounding veto from the security council that is the mouth of a child that refuses to cooperate. Any attempt to force the medicine in at this early stage in the process results in a drama that, if heard by a neighbour, would sound like the exorcism of a demon from a fruit bat.

There is always a lengthy negotiation phase where you try to hit on a reward of some kind that the child is willing to engage with you for. It’s different every time; it could be the brass ring that is a spoonful of Nutella or it could be a promise of a visit to a grand-parent or it could be a story book they’ve become attached to or it could even be the promise that they can spray baby powder from the container all over the parent administering the meds. If you get lucky, you hit upon the four leaf clover negotiation tool early on in this phase, if not, you’re in for the long haul. You could spend hours here. Get comfortable.

After an unspecified amount of time has been spent in negotiation purgatory, most parents will resort to some kind of forced feeding system, with the medicine somehow hidden or embedded in a yoghurt or combined with a peanut butter chaser or indeed, with Nutella. Noses will be blocked, and the delivery of the medication will become a fait accompli. Swallowing of the medication however is another story that requires its own identity and space on this blog.

I think on balance, it’s probably easier to nail cotton wool to a jelly pudding, using a cooked noodle covered in pasta sauce as a hammer.

The mine, yours and ours

Ownership is a very important concept to most children and the younger they are the more important it is. Obviously if they’re infants and spend the lion’s share of their time on their backs in baby grows staring at the ceiling, possessions aren’t that important unless you’re talking bottles, dummies, boobs and possibly a fluffy toy or two.

My boys are always testing the boundaries regarding the ownership of things. Actually though, for our eldest who’s a little older now, the mine vs. yours is not as important as it once was. Whereas he used to spend his time fighting over playing with toys with his younger brother, he now spends an equal amount of time trying to prevent his brother from playing with a toy. It would seem then that his focus has changed from “It’s mine” to “It’s not yours”, a subtle difference.

He tests us as parents when he thinks he can get away with it, tests his brother non-stop and I’m guessing that he does it at school as well, though possibly to a lesser degree since we haven’t heard any complaints. I’ve explained to him many times that he doesn’t actually own anything in the house, he’s merely the primary user of certain things under my roof and I am in fact the owner (I being the collective I of my wife…and I). If I’m honest, all of these types of discussions with him have ended in tears because he refuses to accept the reality of his situation. I have a feeling he’s going to be the type of person that people describe as being stubborn later on in life. Perhaps he’ll list that trait as one of his areas for improvement on psychometric tests and job interviews, at least then he’ll own it and let’s face it, stubborn people aren’t pushovers.

He’s a good boy, but he’s a thinker. Some things he refers to as ‘mine’, so certain toys obviously, his room, his bear, friends and so on. Other things that he’s less than interested in are ‘yours’ or someone else’s, anyone else’s for that matter, so things like toys he no longer wants to play with. Finally there are things that are ‘ours’ and this is where his genius shines through, these are new toys that his brother has that he’d like to play with They become ‘our ‘ toys and obviously anything that’s ‘ours’ must be shared because that’s a rule of the house. It’s brilliant! Imagine applying that philosophy in your adult life.

I’m going to have to keep a weather eye out for these kinds of things from our eldest at pocket money time or I may just find myself converting the lion’s share of ‘my’ salary into ‘our’ pocket money and doing it of my own volition too.

Something about being able to sell ice to eskimo’s comes to mind…

The walkey talkey standoff

Sometime back we were given a set of two way radios for our boys. Our eldest was always using surrogate radios to communicate with the ‘Fire Station’ and the youngest would use almost anything as a phone to talk to nobody in particular about very important nothings. We figured it would be a win win gift.

But as it turned out, the radios weren’t that big of a hit with either of the boys. I’m not sure why though, perhaps the toy removed some of the mystery for them and in so doing made the toy less desirable, more pointless. Perhaps they were just that little bit too young and didn’t get it. Perhaps their imagination needed less detail, not more, to function properly. Whatever the case, the radios are in a drawer, un-played, silent.

We follow a reward chart system to help motivate the boys to repeat good/positive behavior. So five or ten stars for doing the same thing like cleaning a room by tidying up toys, getting ready for school unassisted, sharing toys without being asked to would result in a reward of some kind. We used this system to potty train our eldest and it worked like a charm.

He filled his chart again a few days ago and we gave him a fireman jacket and hat complete with accessories like an axe, fire extinguisher, fire hose and a radio which only has one button that only does one thing and that is to play the same dreadful and monotonous Chinese elevator music tune, with absolutely no bass, at three or more volume levels above what would have been considered comfortable or bearable. And I’m being kind.

As it turned out, that toy immediately became the most popular toy in the history of all toys and as such, both boys wanted to play with the awful thing all day every day. It was actually guaranteed to cause tears, hair pulling and rugby tackles every moment that it was in the general population. So we did what any frazzled parent might do in the same situation, we gave our youngest a star on his chart for being cute and then bought him the exact same outfit. We are not above a little fudging of the facts or competition rigging in the pursuit of peace. Immediately they both started playing with their ‘radios’ together and household harmony was more or less restored. A side effect of this harmony was a cacophony of sound produced by the two radio’s that would have disturbed the dead. But at least there was no more fighting.

There is something to be said for the old fashioned makeshift radio we made as kids which used two tin cups joined together by a piece of string. It had so many plusses; easily made and repaired, needed two kids to play with it so sharing was implied, the longer the string was the further away the radio operators had to be from each other which was perfect if you were prone to fighting with your sibling and finally it got the kids out of the house and into the garden which had one major plus for parents…

It was much, much quieter inside.

The poor bad guys

What happens to bad guys after the superheroes defeat them?

Well, while driving my eldest and his friend to school this morning I overheard a lengthy discussion on the role of Spider-Man, Captain America and other superheroes in crime fighting and exactly what happens to the bad guys when the superheroes are done with them. Who did what and when to whom and how exactly the super powers were employed was discussed in as much detail as four-year olds can muster.

As an aside, the two boys were so patient and polite with each other in their discussion. Before they shared a new idea, they both seemed to ask the other first if they could say something. There was then prompt agreement from the other party and only then was the idea shared. It was really quite unusual, normally my boy floods into conversations I’m having like a river bursting its banks.

Anyway, this banter about spider webs and hammers and lightning bolts and x-ray vision, plus a helicopter and police car here and there, went on all the way to school right up to the point where they had to decide what superheroes actually did with bad guys after they’d chased them down and fought them with special powers.

The first assumption was that they simply killed the bad guys. The idea was accompanied by vigorous head-nodding and sounds of agreement from both boys. I thought the idea of dead bad guys was a little grim for four year olds so early in the morning so I floated a new idea into the ether, “Don’t all bad guys go to jail?”

Yes! This idea got support very quickly and they were soon off and running with it, weaving it into their little universe with imagination and gusto and jail cells and bars and hand cuffs. It seemed that now the superheroes tracked down the bad guys and there still had to be a fight and special powers had to be used, but eventually the superheroes would defeat the bad guys and then deliver them, alive and kicking, to the police who would lock them up in jail where they would then spend a very long time behind bars. Apparently four years was the standard sentence dished out for being a villain, no matter what the crime.

Much better, I thought. They get the idea now. Nobody has to actually die in this version of the story. The superheroes did their job and justice was served. All was right with the world. That is until one more addendum was made to the story as we pulled up to the school parking lot. The villains, after serving their long sentence in prison, still died despite my efforts to save them. The end.

Unfortunately for the bad guys, four years in prison was really only a stay of execution and if a four year old wants to do away with you in their story, there’s really nothing that can be done to save you. Least of all some human rights seed planting by a daddy.

The here and now

Often we find ourselves under pressure in life to move on, to move forward, to get to the next milestone and usually it’s us applying the pressure to ourselves. We always seem to have our eye on the next stage of life with focus on a goal we’d like to achieve. But in so doing, we often miss the simple truth that is this; if you only look forward, you’ll miss most of what happens to you along the way. This is never more true than for your children.

When my boys were still nursing and having to be burped after each feed and only sleeping for forty minutes at a time, it was always a very slippery slope down hill to wishing they were just that little bit older, you know, just old enough to burp themselves or sleep through the night or tell us what was wrong when they cried or even just old enough to do something as simple as learn how to blow their nose into a tissue. The problem with this thinking is that before you know it, you’re no longer living in the moment, you’re living in the future and your life begins to fall past you on all sides like you’re running in the rain. You still get wet mind you, but not completely and while you’re running you’re missing out on the single most obvious fact; the whole point is to get wet. To stand in the rain, arms stretched out to your sides and look up at the wonder of it and then splash in the big puddles that form around you.

I’m trying to live more in the moment with my children. The temptation to start running is always there because our society has been engineered in such a way that if you’re not running, you fall behind. But I am trying.

In the mornings, I make sure I kiss the tops of their heads while they have their breakfasts and I ruffle my fingers through their hair. Is it curlier, or lighter or darker or standing on end? I try to focus on their chatter while they gobble down the cornflakes and porridge. I make sure I kiss them goodbye before we go our separate ways for the day and let them zuburt me on the cheek if they want to.

I make sure I pick each of my boys up and give them a good long bear hug and kiss when I get home from work. I drink in the details like how heavy they are, is there a happy expression on their face, what are they saying to me? I ask them questions about their day and listen to the answers as closely as I can. It all matters, it’s all important because it’s so fleeting.

I don’t want to miss anything. Every day I’m going to stand still in the rain.

The big deck of cards

How much of your life can you actually remember? Certainly the first few years must be a bit of a smudge where you only recall a few stand-out moments, flashes mostly. Whatever the memories, you won’t have many of them. As you get older, they begin to coalesce a little, become more dense, richer until you have chunks you can recall with much more detail, images in sharper contrast with sound and smells and echoes that are textured with emotion.

But as I think back in my life so far and try to step through the years, I find that even those years that I should remember well like my last few in primary school or indeed even my first few in high school, I can’t really remember that much, I only have selected moments.

It’s as if my memories from each year of my life are a deck of cards that have all been laid out on a dealers table in front of me in a sweeping arc from left to right, oldest to youngest. On the far left, the cards are all densely packed together and hardly anything is recognisable except for a few individual cards that stand askew. I have a memory of sitting in front of a fireplace in a nappy, don’t know if I was alone or not. A memory of a sunny day in winter in nursery school where I was trying to do a cartwheel, can’t remember if I got it right or not. A memory of my first day of primary school, in a safari suit uniform, scampering around the classroom looking for the best seat in the house. A vivid memory of the day it snowed where my family and I made snowmen in the garden and watched our two small dogs bound in and out of view in the white, still afternoon.

These are the individual moments from my earliest childhood that have survived the passage of time, at least that is, as far as I can tell, they may actually be corruptions of the truth because memory is fluid.

Then as the years progress to the right, the spacing of the cards gets a little wider and it’s easier to identify a run of cards of the same suit here and there, sometimes they’re even in sequence. These are memories of a period of time that I remember a little more clearly because they were important or special and I was old enough for them to stick. I remember a long holiday in Cape Town with many days on the beach rounded off with refreshing swims in a crystal clear swimming pool. A cable car ride and lots and lots of mango’s bought every day on the side of the road on the way back from the beach. Watching reel to reel movies with my family on an old projector against the dining room wall complete with the clickety-clack background noise, the odd break in the film that had to be fixed with tape and the reel changeover half way through.

But mostly, in these earlier years the cards are all still merged together so much so that I can’t really recall any detail about them other than that they’re cards and that they’re red or black. Sometimes the suite is visible, but sometimes it’s not. The card number itself is rarely in plain sight and can’t easily be differentiated from the rest and it’s a poorly shuffled deck making the order of the memories a little difficult to comprehend as well.

The closer to the right I get the better things are arranged. Large runs of cards in suit and numbers much more clear but obviously there are still plenty of jumbled cards where nothing important enough happened on that day to make it stand out from any other. Even a few years of my working career are quite vague as if I were living a somewhat lackluster life at the time. But I remember in complete detail my matric dance. A holiday where I bungee-jumped and river-rafted and came within a breath or two of drowning. The day I got my first new car and subsequently my first few traffic fines. The very first time I kissed my wife, before she was my wife. The day I proposed to her, a warm, somewhat cloudy day in a huge green garden. My wedding day in mid-summer with family and friends all around. The days that my children were born, respectively storming and windswept and sunny and clear.

I often wonder how much my boys are going to remember from this time in their lives. If my past is anything to go by, they won’t remember much at all really. I think about this quite often; is there is anything I can do to spread their cards out a little more at this age so they have a better shot at remembering some of the most special days that my wife and I have spent with them? The first swim in the ocean, the first ice-cream, the first airplane ride. Bedtime stories read out loud from a new book. Lying outside on a trampoline covered in coloured plastic balls, giggling at the bouncing, rolling palette of fun. The very first Christmas morning. The list is endless.

The sad thing is, I can’t guarantee any of their memories. I can’t say with any certainty which of them will survive the journey through time. Perhaps then I should just try to fill each of their days with laughter, but not just smiles and giggles, which are important too, but also those uncontrollable, all encompassing belly laughs that seem to last forever and twist them up like pretzels so much so that they literally roll on the floor laughing, something we as adults of the twitter age talk about all the time but never do. This with the hope that when my boys look back on their childhoods, the blur of memories they see is one big jumble of smiles and laughter. In short, a happy childhood.

Yes, I think that’s the way to do it.

The wisdom of Solomon

Disciplining your child is a minefield. Every child is different, so one size does not at all fit all. Actually it goes even further than that, a punishment you apply today that you find effective could easily become completely ineffective tomorrow. Case in point, if you use the punishment ‘Listen now or no school tomorrow.’ when the child is a teenager, it would most certainly not be a very effective punishment. So you find yourself having to conjure up new and more appropriate punishments all the time to keep up.

You’d think that after four years of parenting under the belt, two of those years with two children, one would be an expert at how to dispense attitude and behavior adjustment measures but the truth is that it’s really just a trial an error process. There are three basic scenarios where discipline may be required:

Scenario One
In some cases your child may be going into a situation where the temptation to break a rule is heightened. This is a tricky situation for both parent and child since, at this point, the child hasn’t actually done anything wrong and yet you’re admonishing them about what will happen if they do something wrong. The subtle distinction here is lost completely on a toddler. When I have these types of discussions with my boys, I can actually see their level of interest about what I’m saying falling like a snowflake onto toys in the hot sun. The trick here then is to be brief. Something along the lines of “If you touch the wedding cake before you are given a piece, we’ll sell your teddy bear into slavery.” I find that the scarier the punishment sounds, the more chance there is I’ll never have to implement it.

Scenario Two
In some cases, you may spot a pattern of behavior that indicates a rule is about to be broken or the child is on the cusp of transgression as it were. For example, you’re in a park and there’s a river and a road bordering it. Your child has wondered nearby one of the taboo locations. Immediately your instinct is to protect your child, even if that means protecting them from you punishing them later on. So you call out their name, if they have a second name you will probably use both of them. Typically you’ll get one of two responses at this point, the first being no response whatsoever. This is the most popular choice for children, it seems to be the universally accepted default setting for a child to pretend they didn’t hear you when you called because it allows for plausible deniability, “I didn’t hear you Dad.” The second response is an acknowledgement by way of a glance backwards over the shoulder to check if they have enough time to do what they wanted to do before you catch up with them. This then is the second most popular choice. Next your volume level is increased and the shout-out is repeated. If there’s still no response or they increase their speed to reach their goal, you leap into action and barrel your way towards your child, repeating the instruction in a somewhat panicky voice. More often than not you’ll arrive seconds too late to stop them from doing what they intended. If you used a warning before you arrived about what would happen if…then you have to implement it, or at the very least implement a watered-down version of it. If there was no warning, you can get creative with the punishment, usually segregation does the trick for me but it’s a fluid situation.

Scenario Three
Finally there’s a situation where a rule was broken and you weren’t around to prevent it from happening or see it happening. Something like a vampire bite of another child at school or two sets of tears erupting suddenly from a different room in the house leaving you with no way of knowing what really happened. This is arguably the most difficult situation to address. The reality is that sometimes you’re going to get it wrong. If the issue was between your own children – punish them both. It’s the safest and statistically the fairest way to go although there is room for corruption here.

I recently threatened to leave my kid in a car all afternoon by himself if he didn’t start behaving. We had just arrived at a wine farm out in the boondocks and he was acting up about the fact that there wasn’t a slide or jungle gym or trampoline available (there was a huge open field with lush grass and big trees for shade). Not my best moment as a parent I’ll admit but desperate times call for desperate measures. As it turned out though, I didn’t have to make good on my threat because the possibility of becoming a dog locked in a hot car statistic was enough to put the brakes on any more antisocial behavior.

Not sure what I would have done had he actually called my bluff. Don’t think Solomon’s justice would have gone over very well with child services.