Question. What would you do if someone held down your kid’s head in a swimming pool? Another question? What if that someone in question is another kid? Like about your kid’s age (5/6), only fatter? What would you do? Hell, what would Jesus do?
This is not a question a father should be made to mull about because it’s a crossroad of sanity. But that question was recently thrust at me, like Tybalt promised to thrust the Montague’s “virgins against the wall with his maiden sword,” in the set book Romeo and Juliet. I realise how the know-it-all Y-generation reading this must, at this moment, be sporting creased brows at that Romeo reference.
Happy New Year, Gang. Is it me or does this feel a tad strange? This is like one of those long distant relationships where someone has been gone for so long that when they finally come back there is that slight air of discomfort. Like you don’t really know them that well anymore. Like you have to learn them all over again. Or is it just me?
In my fleeting moments of reflection at the beginning of this year, I realised that my neglect of this blog pointed at my greed and overall lack loyalty to High School, all because it doesn’t pay bills. Reality is, High School was just a place I came to horse around, to let loose, and it wasn’t supposed to be where I made money. So this year, I will try and revert to that old model and blog more frequently.
And so on that note, I’m starting the New Year on a paternal footing.
When you have a four-year-old child, you realise that you go for vacations for them, not for you. And especially for the man, you job is usually to do mundane tasks that she finds exciting; like stare at monkeys. And kids see things in 3D; when all you see is a wave, they see more. They see an inquest. And you have to balance being careful not to lie or make up stuff (because they will remember that answer) but also not look too ignorant. For example the little one asked me where waves come from, and because I didn’t have an answer ready, I said what you would have expected me to say; China. She took it.
Leopard Beach Resort and Spa where we were staying is an excellent place and I’m not just saying this because they threw us a spa and dinner at their swanky Chui Grill. Outside the lush gardens where our suite was were a gang of monkeys and these are monkeys that Tamms thought were adorable. She was fascinated by them and would ask me a ton of really weird questions about them.
Her: Do monkeys have names?
Me: Yes, they are called monkeys.
Her: Nooo, names like Tamms and Jenifer and Maureen and -
Me: Yes, they do but they can’t tell us.
Me: Because it’s their secret.
Thoughtful pause from her as I hold my breath.
Her: Can a monkey swim? (Good question, by the way)
Me: Uhm, yes. I think.
Her: So how come they don’t swim in the swimming pool?
Me: Because they’re on half board.
Her: What is a board?
Me: They like to swim at night, when we have all gone to sleep.
Her: Even their mommies can swim?
Me: Yes, even their mommies can swim.
Her: And their daddies?
Me: Yes, and their daddies.
Her: What is that green thing on that monkey? (I swear I’m not making this up)
Me (Acting a clueless) What green thing?
Her: The green thing, there!
Me: I don’t see any green thing.
Her: There, you can’t see the green thing?
Me: Oh, that. That monkey has flu.
Her: It will go to a hospital?
Me: Yes. Eventually…
And it goes on and on….
So anyway, because Tamms is a girl who doesn’t have tyres around her waist (yet) she was prone to hanging a lot in the pool, I suspect to show off her new two-piece swimsuit. These kids are born already vain.
So this day, she’s in the pool. I’m lying reading a magazine a few yards away with strict instructions from the governing council to keep an eye on her. The missus and her pal are out at the beach, looking for shells but only getting subtle offers for marriage from the odd smooth beach boys (by the way, the beach strip outside Leopard Beach is perfect for long evening walks; it’s a 2km stretch adjacent to a falling sun). Anyway, the kiddie pool has a barrier separating it from the adult pool but still, you have to keep an eye; kids have a way of trying to get creative.
At some point I look up and I see this kid holding down something under water. Something thrashing about. And no, it wasn’t fish. I slowly lower the magazine as I watch some other lady swiftly walk to the pool. Sigh. Kids messing around. I go back to my magazine when I hear a cry. Hang on, it sounds like Tamms. Oh shit, it is Tamms! Two very long steps and I’m in the baby pool. She’s coughing and crying dramatically, you know that cry and cough when they want to convince you that they are surely dying. That their lives will never be the same again. That they will be scarred for life if you don’t punch someone right that moment.
Now the missus would have completely freaked out had she been there. But I wasn’t, I was cool as ice. I lie, I was slightly shaken. And I wasn’t going to get pissed off if two things hadn’t happened. One; once the other mother had pulled her baby away she started admonishing her, but only as if she was going through the motions. “ Jessy, why did you do that?” she whined. “ That’s bad. OK?”
Jessy, it occurred to me, is used to her mom’s lack of spine, so she waddled away into the pool, totally nonplussed. Better things to do than listen to mum. The mother didn’t do anything, she just watched the little criminal swim off. Then she offered me a half apologetic smile and shrug and said, “kids!” Like I was supposed to understand. Like I’m used to fat big boned kids trying to drown my child.
I know what the righteous childless people here are thinking now; Aw, come on Biko, what’s with the drama? It’s not like she sawed off Tamm’s hand. Be easy, you can’t start the New Year with such melodrama! Kids try to drown each other all the time. Get over it!
Well, I will. After this.
So anyway, since I’m a gentleman, since you can’t expose your child to blood and gore and since in my culture you aren’t allowed to get into a shouting match with a woman (or with her bloated evil child) I had to step back and act like it wasn’t a big deal (and perhaps it wasn’t). So I went and bought Tamms an ice cream to remind her how sweet life is after that near-death experience. But also I hoped that the ice cream would bribe her into not telling her mom that while I basked like a croc, Hitler’s niece was drowning her. Turned out that the ice cream was a waste of money because she told her mom straight away. But since I had anticipated that deceptive move, I had a good lie on the ready to counter her story; I twisted the damned truth and so that it looked like it all happened too fast. Yeah, I can play rough too.
When someone tries to drown your child, it sort of becomes hard to forget them. You go to bed dreaming of ways to maim them. And of the next four days or so, I saw Jessy around the resort and it became evident to me that apart from having killer instincts, she was overally an ill-mannered child. The parents were always running after her, admonishing her: Jess, don’t push that child! Return that toy, Jess! Jess, will you please stop standing on your chair and eat your breakfast?! Jessy, don’t use that word, you can’t say “bitch” unless you are addressing female dog! (I’ve made that up). Jess, don’t address the female dog! (Hehe made that up too). Jess, return the gentleman’s wooden leg! Jess! Jess! Jess! Jess! Jess! Jess!
I would run into her waddling about like a seal, breathing heavily like she has rheumatic fever, her face constantly contorted by thoughts of mischief. Hey, allow me to get out all the venom, this is a year of letting go…after a rant. I think her dad (a decent mellow chap in his 30’s) was told of the swimming pool debacle because everytime I ran into him, he would smile politely and say wassup, or just step aside and let me get the dessert first. A cordial guy raising a beast. Tamms on the other hand avoided Jessy. Every time she would see her, she would instinctively reach for my hand. If Jessy were in the swimming pool she wouldn’t get in. Neither would I. That child put the fear of God in Tamms. Knocked her self-confidence.
I once ran into her at dinner at the salad buffet, right next to a steamed or boiled barracuda fish which had this huge hole in its gut (I honestly didn’t know that you could do barracuda salad, Mwangangi, their fatherly Executive Chef told me to try it out, but I couldn’t, that fish looked like it died pissed off and in my culture, we only eat happy things). Anyway, she- Jessy – was standing there, raptly staring at the barracuda. I remember being very tempted to tell her, in case she was wondering, that she is related to that fish. Of course I didn’t, I was too hungry and distracted.
Anyway, this actually isn’t about Jessy, this is about Jessy’s parenting, which I’m least equipped to comment on but only reason I am is because she made my baby cry. And because I’m a struggling parent.
Modern parenting is screwing up children. All that rubbish about kids having “rights” is taking a toll. Our parenting is being influenced heavily by western media where children speak back at their parents and even scream, “I hate you!” before slamming the door in their faces. We have refused to acknowledge that punishment is a form of expressing our love to our kids; you don’t express your love by shunning punishment. You punish because you love. I mean, if our parents beat us up like they did (OK, mine did) and we didn’t fracture a rib, crack a skull, have internal haemorrhage or even love them less why cant our kids take as much as a raised voice? I once raised my voice at Tamms when she was licking the plate with her tongue like an internally displaced person (no offence) and the mom said it affected her self-confidence!
[Insert a very hard stare here]
It affected her self-confidence! It affected her self-confidence!
Look, I didn’t even shout at her like you would shout at a matatu driver forcing himself on your lane. I merely said, “DAMN IT TAMMS, DON’T DO THAT!” You want to tell me because of that she might need a 2K an hour therapy to restore her confidence? Come on; what are we all raising in this age, brittle chinaware?
If you want to see the result of this clash of cultures you only have to look at Jessy and a bunch of other children in this town whose parents are convinced that their kids aren’t undisciplined, just confident. You will see them in supermarkets, causing a gigantic fit because they can’t be bought what they want. Or kids who haven’t grasped the notion of sharing, or politeness or respect of others. I saw one at Java, Upperhill who unzipped and peed on the hedge as the parents shook their heads and wore that same look I saw on Jessy’s mom; the one that says, what-can-I-do-he’s-a-handful! And we aren’t doing these kids any favours, by letting them get away with murder; we are putting them on a path of self-destruction.
The reason why we can’t discipline our kids is because we want to be the good guys. The cool modern parents who are a departure from our parents’ modus operandi. And times have changed, you say, right? Yes, but values haven’t. Respect is still now what it used to be in 1975. So does obedience. And honesty. But no, we want to be the modern parents who are all for dialogue, we want to sit our kids on the kitchen table and hear why they used foul language or stole from school. Which is great. I like dialogue. It’s great when you are your child’s pal, but only if we don’t forget when to be a parent. Most of us have.
The problem with being too much of your child’s pal is that they start imagining that it’s an equal opportunity arrangement. That everything has to pass under a vote in the house. You house isn’t a parliament.
I’m not saying spank your child. Pinch them. Or rather, let the mother do it.