When Newborn was brought home from the hospital, the biggest threat to his health and safety was the inquisitive and intrusive fingers of his older brother Tercero. Aged nearly two, Tercero seems destined for a life of crime. He will walk up to any child of any size, push his face in front of theirs and do his best Taxi Driver impersonation.
Tercero took his usurpation very, very badly. A declaration of war against The Little Pretender was issued, reprisals were swift and strategic. A no-fly zone had to be established around the baby and the older siblings were enlisted as body guards with the following strict instructions: if Tercero was seen approaching Newborn, Secundo had to run for backup whilst Prima stood her ground, gently covering Newborn with her own body until reinforcements arrived. Newborn is obviously never left alone with Tercero, unless Newborn is in his high security baby pen (the John Lewis version of a shark cage).
Five months after Newborn’s arrival, Tercero seems to have relaxed and accepted his new sibling (more). He has stopped saying “Get it away” (his third sentence) whenever he sees Newborn, he no longer takes every opportunity to smack him, and he now enjoys hugging the baby (sometimes a little harder than necessary). However, from time to time, Tercero will poke poor little Newborn right in the eye. It doesn’t happen often, but it is dangerous. Tercero is fast and whilst I can generally anticipate and prevent an attack, my dilemma is how do I reprimand Tercero appropriately and effectively.
I have tried the Supernanny Jo Frost approach: kneeling down, bringing my face to his level, dropping the pitch of my voice, making eye contact and saying “No Tercero, no poking, it hurts him, that’s wrong, that’s not kind.” I then ask Tercero to say sorry, to which he responds with his first sentence, “No, no, no, no.” and his second sentence, in case there was any doubt, “No way.” Unrepentant, he storms off.
Which brings me to the title of this post: an eye for an eye. No, I am not intending to poke Tercero in the eye in retaliation, what kind of a mother do you think I am? But, should I smack Tercero back? The irony of smacking a child to stop them from smacking is not lost on me. I just don’t know what else to do. For my parents’ generation of Sri Lankans, smacking is completely acceptable if not advocated as a necessary Weapon of Maternal Discipline. My mother routinely fed us with a spoon in one hand and a foot ruler in the other. Whilst it hasn’t affected our relationship with our mother, my brother and I feel very uncomfortable around rulers and other kinds of stationery.
Sri Lankans are firm believers that if you spare the rod you will spoil the child. So seriously is this taken by Sri Lankans, that I am sure it must have come straight out of the Bhagavad Gita. I can see it now, Lord Krishna on the battlefield five thousand years ago, delivering the essence of Hinduism to the warrior Arjuna:
“Oh Arjuna, do your duty, detach yourself from the fruits of your actions, your true nature is divine, only this is real and permanent, and don’t be afraid to smack your children.”
It is really only my generation of Sri Lankans that balk at physical violence. We’ve obviously been pansied down by living in the West. It doesn’t help that whenever I want to hit Tercero (and trust me, I do want to hit him), Secundo (who has been learning anger management techniques at his ultra progressive nursery) comes running up to me and says “Deep breaths Mummy, turn your red thoughts into green thoughts.” Prima pipes up with “Control your anger young Jedi”. I am then distracted by the fact that I haven’t been promoted to Jedi Master yet and Tercero uses the opportunity to make a run for it.
I don’t know about smacking, but as long as you are not from Child Services, I will admit I do it occasionally, it may or may not work and I always feel terrible afterwards. In such situations, I end up employing a random but well-meaning mix of all strategies:
I kneel down to Tercero’s level and look him in the eye, I take a deep breath and try to control my anger, I creatively visualise myself bathed in a theoretically soothing green light (which makes me feel like Yoda) and I speak to him about why hitting is wrong. Then I give that pudgy, sweet-smelling hand a rap, whilst the little thug is yelling “No way, get it away, no no no no.”