Thursday, March 3, 2011

Slippery Slide

After a long hiatus..I am back!

                You have a cranky, tired toddler after an afternoon of swimming strapped in the backseat of car. Your decision is bleak. Do you overload the system and do a quick spot of grocery shopping, or do you haul yourself out to shops in the dead of night when all you want to do is sleep yourself?
Well this was the decision before me last Saturday afternoon. My almost three year old was tired and cranky, and he’d finished the last drop of milk in the house before we’d set out for swimming. I clearly didn’t want to shop before swimming only to leave the milk to go sour in a hot car.

So, I convinced myself, against my own better judgment, to do a surgical strike. It’d be precision incursion into the supermarket. The target was milk. I even had the right change in for a rapid tactical retreat!

Only someone had hidden a Wiggles DVD in the dairy case! WTF!

Of course my son wanted the DVD. And he wanted it now. Never mind the fact that we already had two copies of that particular DVD. And thus began an almighty temper tantrum that made John MacEnroe’s little theatrical displays on centre court seem mild in comparison.

We had everything – the ear piercing screams, the flailing arms, the stiff legs, biting and scratching. All in front of the milk fridge at my local supermarket!

‘All that boy needs is a good slap!’ a helpful elderly man pointed out.
Granted my son and I were in his way – so I manhandled my little boy around the corner and ignored him. At which point, my son kicked me in the stomach. Hard. I reeled and blinked rapidly to stem the tears.

 ‘Hit that boy! Show him who’s the boss!’ my annoying drill instructor from the sidelines ordered.

I was too focused on calming my son to pay the geriatric general any notice, so after a few more comments on spoiling the child by sparing the rod, permissive parenting etc etc, he left. My son eventually calmed down and we left with the milk.

Only I was ambushed again at my car by my ancient stalker.

‘It’s parents like you who are ruining children of today! Children need discipline. Don’t listen to the media and these ‘experts’. I hit my children and they turned out fine!’

I just ignored him and drove off. After all, it was my fault entirely. I should have known better than to take a tired child shopping.

Mind you, I wanted to give him a piece of my mind. I wanted to tell him that my stand on anti-smacking was not in deference to media pundits or to new fangled parenting techniques; that my decision to never smack a child of mine was made over thirty years when I myself was only a child of five.

Trigger warning – the rest of this blog contains explicit information about childhood abuse. Read at your own discretion.           
                My best friend when I was a little girl growing up in Singapore was another little girl named Rani (not her real name). Rani was about nine months older than me and lived in an apartment on the floor above.
               Rani was a lovely little girl who was always full of smiles, slightly dreamy yet full of spunk. But her mother always complained that Rani was lazy, unhelpful and messy. She also said that Rani was naughty and prone to back chat.

                And Rani’s mother was not the sort to spare the rod to spoil the child either. Supple bamboo canes, or rottans as they were called in Malay, were hung strategically around the tiny apartment – so naughty behaviour could be caned out within moments.

She even convinced my mother to follow a similar austere regime of discipline. My mother brought home four or five canes and hung them around the apartment. But I was lucky; I had what Rani did not have; I had an older, much smarter brother. He took one look at the canes and hatched a plan. 

The plan was that one of us (me) would create a diversion while the other (him – because he had the height and could reach) would throw the canes out the apartment windows while mum was sorting out the diversion. 

On behalf of my brother and me, I now offer a profound apology to those passers-by who were donked on the head by falling canes thirty years ago in Singapore.

 Mum gave up the whole cane business after about the third mass extinction of canes. Besides, she found it difficult to hit my brother and I at the same time cause one of us would bite her while she smacked the other. She soon found that the smacking form of discipline only resulted in all of us being covered in bruises.

Anyway, one day my mum dropped me off at Rani’s for a play date so that she could go shopping. Rani’s mother was pregnant and expected us, two five year old girls, to make her spiced tea in bead. 

I was a bit nervous by the request as I was not allowed near the hot stove at this stage. But Rani expertly lit the gas stove and set the water and milk to boil. And we then did what any two normal five year old girls would d;, we started playing with dolls and completely forgot about the tea.

The stench of the burning milk alerted Rani’s mum and she came ambling up. Her rage at the burnt milk still scares me today. She screamed at us both. She wanted to know who was responsible only we were both rendered mute with fear. She started smacking us both with anything she could grab only my mother knocked at the door. My mother quickly grabbed me and dragged me away, but I did hear Rani’s screams of terror as her mother scalded her with the boiling water through the reinforced concrete walls of the apartment.

I can still hear her pleading for mercy as her mother rubbed ground red chillies into her lips for not confessing for being responsible for the burning the milk. 

And that was the day I promised myself that I would never hit a child of mine. It was degrading for both the mother and child. And it served no purpose other than relieving the anger of the mother.

Though that incident was just the tip of the iceberg. Rani was regularly belted, burnt and had her knickers dusted with red chilli flakes if she wet the bed at night. 

I know there’s an ocean of difference between a tiny smack to remonstrate a child and the child abuse Rani endured. But I prefer not to step down that slippery slide. When does one smack give way to two? And what happens if the child turns around and smacks you? What have you taught your child?

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