You can always tell when parents doing battle with a feral child are about to lose it.
That little vein in their foreheads pops up, and they’re engulfed by private tsunami winds that swirl up through some invisible vent. An electrical charge sizzles through their hair as they strain to keep nonchurch words from escaping through curled teeth. Frantically, they search for Wal-Mart-friendly threats to tame their kicking, growling, back-talking kids, whose antisocial antics are now amusing a large audience of delusional shoppers, happily pretending that their own personal monsters (presently terrorizing other departments) are better behaved.
This is not new. According to experts who run around claiming dead people said stuff, Socrates posted those immortal words on Facebook around 399 B.C., back when he had brats: “Children today are tyrants. They contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannize their teachers.” Just because Socs fathered Western philosophy doesn’t mean his kids thought he was Dr. Phil.
I admit to getting a cruel thrill out of watching these shrew-taming rituals, since I’ve had sufficient time to forget how dreadful my own kids were—until I found a letter I’d written to my folks when my youngest was at her most monstrous. It read:
“Chelsea had what can only be described as the worst tantrum of her young life last week. She’s still breathing; therefore I am a good mother. A good mother who left the house before my urge to unscrew her head to see what’s wrong in there got the best of me. That’s the best part about having three dogs. One of them always needs a walk more than a kid needs brain surgery.
“What was the tantrum about? Well, it started with waste removal. The monster put her bike helmet on, ready for a fast exit. But I pointed to the chest-deep compost pile in her room and told her that trash hauling would have to come first. ‘I’ll do it later,’ she pleaded. But she said that when the pile was only 2 feet high. No deal. Instead of the usual grumbling and hurling objects in the general direction of the closet, Chelsea hurled herself on the pile, kicking and punching, foaming at the mouth and screaming at the top of her enviable lungs. After that, she got ugly.
“Now if I had mouthed off to Mom that way, she would still be playing a drum solo on my head, with or without the helmet. But my generation is only armed with wimpy timeouts. And every time I issue one, Chelsea threatens to call her lawyers. She’s got them on speed dial.
“Since your grandchild is also hypersensitive to sugar, we suspect she got into a candy stash. A single jellybean can propel her through multiple debates with her father, whose eyes now blink independently, much like an old world chameleon’s.
“By the time he pulls up to the nightly Chelsea battle, the parrot is screeching, the dogs are howling, and I’m exploring new, higher octaves that make the house vibrate. Walking past the daily circus to the Excedrin cabinet, he always swears he didn’t have a headache when he pulled in the driveway.”
The next time I see some parents waging war with a belligerent child, I’m going to reassure them that things will eventually get better—about 29,600 Excedrin from now. When their kids leave for college, the tantrums become their roommate’s problem.
Jan A. Igoe is a writer who could offer parenting advice on the side, but why spoil the fun for the amateurs and philosophers? Share your parenting triumphs with her at HumorMe@SCLiving.coop.