It turns out I am raising That Kid. The one who decks his friends at school. Your kid comes home talking about That Kid, and you think to yourself, “That Kid’s mother needs to do something about That Kid.”
That Kid is my 4-year-old, and last week he punched his “friend” in the stomach. Some friend. He later slapped the same friend in the face. His teacher tells me the friend was pretty good natured about it and didn’t even cry. Friend sounds pretty hardy.
“I don’t think he hit him that hard,” she said, and no, she reassured me, he is not the class bully.
So there’s that.
But OH MY GOSH. My sweet-natured Mark, so adorable and lovable and charming (I’m not biased AT ALL)…and also a hooligan.
“Mark, why in the world would you hit your friend?” I asked, desperate to understand the how, why, where did I fail you as a mother I HAVE TO KNOW?
And the answer, so matter of fact–“He wouldn’t move.”
“And then you slapped him? WHY???”
“He wouldn’t stop saying ‘soopwise.'” (Translation: surprise.)
Oh, OK. Well now it all makes PERFECT SENSE.
So I punished him by sending him to his room after school and then wondered what the heck to do next. I called my husband at work, but he was no help. “I trust your judgment on this,” he said. Whatever. He didn’t know what to do, either.
Mark spent two hours in his room. That’s a long time if you’re 4. I hoped he would fall asleep, but of course he didn’t. In fact, he kept coming out.
“I need to go to the baff-room.”
“I need some water.”
“Is a cheetah faster than a motorcycle?”
I had to bust out the Mean Mom voice. “Get back in that room, you are in BIG TROUBLE, MISTER,” all the while wondering what “BIG TROUBLE” means, exactly. I finally decided it meant staying in your room until I finished my book, around 4 p.m. And also, no iPad for the whole weekend. The child wept.
“I never get to play Angwy Birds Go,” he wailed.
“You played it yesterday. For like an hour.”
“But you didn’t buy me a new Telepod!”
Sigh. I shut the door to muffle the sobbing, as mothers do when they are coldhearted and care nothing for their hoodlum child’s grief at not getting a new Telepod, whatever that is.
Later in the weekend, we worked on a handmade apology card for his friend. Armed with stamps and stickers, Mark expressed his remorse through crafting. He covered the paper with horse stamps, a “You’re #1!” stamp, and a stamp that said “Friend.”
“So he’ll know we’re fwends,” Mark explained.
“Good idea,” I affirmed, because punching one’s friend in the stomach might raise questions about the friendship. Then again, they’re 4, and when you’re 4 you sometimes punch your friend in the stomach because, hey, we’re friends, let’s punch! I don’t know why little boys do this.
Mark was excited the next school day to offer the handmade apology card, with its heartfelt message of, “I’m sorry Mark.” Here’s hoping his friend doesn’t think Mark is apologizing to himself. It must have done some good, because Mark told me they sat by each other at lunch. Also, Jesus had people who followed him around everywhere, and did you know fire hydrants are filled with water? This is how it is, having a conversation with a preschooler.
“Mama, do you fink next time I’m punished, I can make fings again wiv the stamps?” he asked.
“Uh, you don’t need to be punished to make things with stamps.”
“Oh. Good, ’cause I don’t like to be punished. But I like stamps.”
The day Mark hit his friend, everybody in the class got a stamp, he told me. “Evwy-body EXCEPT ME,” he sniffed, wounded at the injustice.
“Maybe because you hit your friend?”
“I wonder if I will ever get a stamp again. I hope I do…some day.”
Me, too, Mark. And I hope it’s not because we’re stamping another craft of contrition. But even if we are, I promise to visit you one day in the penitentiary.
(Betsy Swenson can be reached at email@example.com.)