Someone Could Get Hurt: A Memoir of Twenty-First-Century Parenthood - exclusive excerpt

I was blown away by Drew Magary's 2011 science fiction novel, The Postmortal. It's about what happens to civilization when a cure for aging is discovered. So I was eager to read his new non-fiction book, Someone Could Get Hurt: A Memoir of Twenty-First-Century Parenthood, and I was not disappointed. Magary is funny, profound, and above all, straightforward about the rewards and hassles of being a parent of young children. His candor is commendable (one long chapter is about his getting a DUI and how it affects his family life and relationship with his wife). In the excerpt below, Magary writes about how exasperating it can be at times to deal with a toddler. It's heavy stuff, and anyone who is a parent will have empathy for what happened.

FAKA

Excerpted from SOMEONE COULD GET HURT by Drew Magary.

I was on the phone with my dad and he happened to be home alone, which meant that he was more eager than usual to talk about whatever was on his mind. Window replacement was among the favored topics. We were five minutes into the conversation when my daughter started yelling at me from the stairs. Children HATE it when you talk on the phone to other people. When you’re a parent, every conversation is a half conversation. I have conversations from five years ago that still need to be picked up. My wife was out running an errand, so I was the only one around for her to badger.

“DAD!”

I ignored her and kept talking to my father. “That’s what I told her! You don’t have to replace the windows. They just need a good strip job—”

“DAD! DADDDDDDDDY!”

“Oh god dammit. Dad, can I call you back?”

“So that’s it?” my dad said. “You’re just gonna hang up on me and go do her bidding?”

It takes virtually nothing for your parents to get under your skin. My dad asked that one simple question and I could infer pages upon pages of subtext. You’re a pussy because you’re doing whatever your kids tell you to do. When I was raising you, we never gave in to you kids like that. Your generation is weak and you are an overly permissive slave to your offspring. You should hush that child up and teach her some goddamn manners. All of that was packed into the question. And the amazing thing was that I fell for it. Immediately. One question altered my entire parenting philosophy right there, on the spot. I was now torn between dealing with the girl and looking bad in front of my dad when he wasn’t even in the house.

“Sweetheart,” I told my daughter, “I’m talking to Papa on the phone. I’ll be right with you.”

“I wanna talk to you NOW!”

Then I got really stern because I knew my old man was listening. “Young lady, you sit there and you be quiet until I’m finished.”

She did neither of those things. Instead, she screamed at me. No words, just a piercing scream that blew my Eustachian tubes apart. She held out her hand like it was a claw, like she wanted to rake my face off. Then she screamed again, as if she had experienced some kind of trauma that only allowed her to communicate through primal wails. Now I was fucking livid.

“Dad, I have to deal with this,” I said. I wanted to emphasize that I was hanging up on him strictly so I could put my daughter in her place.

I stormed up to her. “WHAT? What is it that’s so important that you have to scream?”

She screamed again. The screams had successfully gotten me to direct all of my attention toward her. The fact that it was negative attention—white-hot, furious attention— didn’t matter to her. Kids don’t give a shit. They’re little trolls. If they’ve riled you up, they’ve done their job.

“Young lady, I want you to go to your room.”

“NO! You go to YOUR room!”

“I’m going to count to three.”

“Faka.”

“What?”

“Faka.” And then she laughed.

“What is faka? Are you trying to say . . . Well, I can’t say what I think you’re trying to say—”

“Faka.”

“Stop saying that. That sounds like a bad word and I don’t like you using bad words.”

“Faka.”

“Okay, that’s it. NO DESSERT.”

“I hate you!” she screamed.

“Okay, no dessert for two nights.”

“ROAR!”

“A week.”

“Faka.”

“A month.”

“Faka.”

“NO DESSERT EVER AGAIN. THAT IS THE END OF DESSERT. Kiss all the cupcakes and lollipops good-bye, missy. Because as of today, they are gone FOREVER.”

She screamed again and I snapped. I picked her up and she thrashed against me, all elbows and knees. She wasn’t light. I could feel my back acting up, and now I was pissed at her for making my back hurt even though I was the one who’d made the stupid decision to pick up a thrashing child. I bounded up the stairs with her to her room and put her on the floor. Then I walked out and locked the door from the outside (I’d switched the locks on the door specifically for this purpose, which is probably a violation of eight different fire codes). I started back down the stairs and she immediately began banging on the door, screaming her head off. Her rage seemed limitless, as if she could keep at it for days without needing sleep or food or air. Children will always have more stamina than you. I expected the door to come flying off its hinges at any moment. My son came up from the basement.

“Deddy, wud going on?” he asked.

“Stay there. Don’t go near your sister right now.”

Then my daughter somehow managed to scream even louder, as if summoning a bullhorn from down inside her esophagus. I raced up the stairs two at a time and threw open the door. I’m not sure I cared if the swinging door would hit her or not. She slipped by me and ran down the stairs. When she saw the boy, she reared back and smacked his chest with her open hand. And the look he gave her after she did it made me want to cry forever. He looked so deeply hurt. A pure hurt, as if his whole world had been shattered. He couldn’t fathom why anyone would ever want to hurt him like that, let alone his own sister, whom he adored. I could see the sense of betrayal in his eyes, and there arose in me a kind of anger that everyone possesses but that no one should ever unleash. I grabbed my daughter again as my son opened wide and howled in pain.

“WHY DID YOU HIT HIM?!”

“I hate him!” she said. “He’s the worst brother in the whole world and I’m going to cut his head open!”

“You apologize to him right now.”

She walked up and wrapped her arms tightly around him. For half a second, it was a loving gesture. Then she laughed maniacally. When my daughter was born, I got a nice card from my uncle saying that my child’s laughter would be the sweetest sound I would ever hear. But that’s a lie. Children have two kinds of laughter. The first is the genuine kind, the kind my uncle was talking about. The other is the I’M-ABOUT-TO-DO-EVIL-SHIT laugh. The criminal mastermind laugh. Mwahahahahaha. I dread that laugh because it means someone is about to cry or something is about to fucking break. By the time a child is four or five, this is pretty much the only kind of laugh you hear out of them. The girl began squeezing her brother tighter and tighter. My son was now even more upset than when she first hit him.

“Will you let him go?” I demanded.

But she didn’t. She picked him up off the floor, like a pro wrestler about to execute a belly-to-back suplex. I pried her little fingers apart and wrested her away from him, pushing her into the stairs. At this point, the boy was a sobbing mess.

I screamed at her, “What is wrong with you? Leave him alone, god dammit!”

She smiled and hugged me and said, “I love you.” She didn’t mean ANY of it, which only angered me further.

“Get off of me,” I told her. “You’re being insincere and I can’t stand it.”

But she wouldn’t stop hugging me. She grabbed on tight and let her entire body sag, nearly snapping my spine. Children do this all the time. They just HANG on you, like you’re a monkey bar. I shook her off and she began hitting me in the stomach. She was five, so these were solid blows. She let out another horrible scream and filled the house with a thick, seemingly impenetrable kind of misery. I grabbed her and dragged her back up to her room and pinned her down on the carpet. She was laughing now. The angrier I got, the harder she laughed. I had to use every last ounce of willpower to restrain myself from kicking her ass because I very much wanted to. Inside me, there arose a voice—a voice so alien from my own that it seemed to belong to some other race of being. A terrifying, horrible voice. If my wife had heard that voice early in our relationship, she never would have married me. I grabbed the girl by the chin and blasted her with The Voice.

“WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?! YOU ARE NOT RESPECTFUL! YOU WILL STAY HERE ALL NIGHT OR I SWEAR TO GOD YOU’LL BE SORRY.”

I wanted her to be frightened. I wanted her to cower before The Voice. I thought about my father yelling at me when I was a kid and, oh, how I hated it. One time, I tore down a shower curtain and he yelled so loud at me that I thought my hair was gonna fall out. It scared me to death. I would have done anything as a child to not get yelled at. Even now, though I’m much older and love my father dearly, I dread it when he raises his voice. It causes me to snap right back to adolescence. I looked at my daughter and expected her to crumble, just like I did. I expected her, at long last, to give me some goddamn RESPECT. That’s what all parents desperately want, and that’s what drives them batshit crazy when they don’t get it. Surely The Voice would get me the respect I craved.

“Faka.”

And she kept on laughing. I couldn’t see her anymore. I couldn’t see the beautiful, intelligent, funny little girl that I knew she was. All I could see was this horrible animal. And all I could think was, This is the moment. This is the moment when my relationship with my child turns permanently toxic. I had always believed that you could raise your child in any number of ways and, so long as you loved them unconditionally, you could always remain on relatively good terms. Children are born good, that’s what I believed. They’re born good and if you love them enough, they stay that way. You hope that love is all that is required to keep your son out of jail and your daughter out of the pornography industry. But now the girl was laughing like a demon and I was terrified that things would get no better than this, that this was where the permanent rift between us would begin, the five previous years of love and—let’s face it—hard work that went into raising her rendered pointless. The idea that I could love her and do my best and still get it all terribly wrong was unbearable. I was scared that the fighting would never end, that she would never calm down and just be, that this would be the entirety of our relationship from now on.

And I was pissed. So fucking pissed. I tried my best to lower my voice.

“Please,” I told her, “I’m very close to hurting you right now. Please don’t make me hurt you. Why don’t we, I dunno, talk about dinner? What would you like for dinner?”

“Candy.”

“Not candy.”

“Candy!”

The Voice returned. “GOD DAMMIT, NOT CANDY!” I smacked the floor hard enough to break my hand. Still no fear in her eyes.

“Faka.”

“Fine,” I said. “You want me to spank you? Here we go.”

I jerked her up and sat down on one of the little kiddie chairs in her bedroom. I laid her across my lap as she alternated between laughing and shrieking. This was my first time performing an attempted spanking. I looked at her backside and tried to figure out a course of action. Do you pull the pants down? You don’t pull the pants down, right? That would just be weird. How hard are you supposed to spank? Is it supposed to really hurt? It’s gotta hurt, right? If it doesn’t hurt, then they don’t get the message. I gave a gentle test blow and nothing happened. Then I spanked a little bit harder and she kept on laughing.

I felt like a fucking idiot. I don’t even know how spanking became the go-to method of corporal punishment. It’s bizarre. All I could think about while spanking her was that it wasn’t working, and that the only thing spanking does is set your child up for a life of sexual deviancy. The creepiness of the whole enterprise is right there, out in the open. I took my daughter off my lap and tried to play nice.

“Please, I don’t wanna fight like this.”

She laughed in my face, practically spitting into it. “Faka.”

Again with that fucking word. I wished that she knew the real swearword so that we could simply get it over with. The anger bubbled up again and I could feel two shades of it. I was angry at my daughter for acting up, obviously. But the far greater anger came from my own self-loathing. I was failing as a parent. Miserably. And even though I was failing in private, it didn’t feel that way. I felt as if the whole world was watching me fuck up. That was the real source of anger—that feeling of incompetence, of such obvious, visible powerlessness.

When I was single and saw parents losing it with their kids, I used to frown at them. I’ll never be like that, I promised myself. But single people are pathetically naive. They don’t know what it’s like to spend fourteen consecutive hours with a child. They don’t understand how that massive span of time allows for every single possible human emotion to be bared: anger, fear, jealousy, love. . . all of it. More to the point, they don’t realize what little assholes kids can be. They have no idea. When I was in middle school, they brought in a lady who had traveled to the South Pole to speak to us. She told us that, at one point during the trip, she became so cold and so desperate for food that she ate an entire stick of butter. We all were disgusted. But she was like, “Yeah, well, if you had been at the South Pole, you would have had butter for dinner too.” Parenting is similar in that you end up acting in ways that your younger self would have found repellent because the circumstances overwhelm you. What I’m basically saying is that having kids is like being stuck in Antarctica.

I’m not sure any group of parents has ever been subjected to as much widespread derision as the current generation of American parents. We are told, constantly, how badly we are fucking our kids up. There are scores of books being sold every day that demonstrate how much better parents are in China, and in France, and in the Amazon River Basin. I keep waiting for a New York Times article about how leaders of the Cali drug cartel excel at teaching their children self-reliance.

And it’s not just books shitting on us. We hear it from our own parents, who go to pathological lengths to remind us that we hover too much, or that we let the kids watch too much TV, or that we’re letting our kids eat too much processed dogshit. We’re SOFT. That’s the stereotype. We’re soft parents, and our kids will grow up to be free-range terrorists because of it. We see the stereotype in movies and ads and TV shows and on the news, in study after study that says our kids are getting dumber and fatter and angrier. We’ve ruined everything. Collectively, all this empirical evidence of our shittiness is destroying our confidence, our ability to handle our kids with any measure of assuredness.

The funny thing is that I think the evidence is probably wrong. Fifty years ago, spanking and other forms of corporal punishment were far more widespread. Fathers were distant and uncommunicative. Everyone smoked in front of their kids. Seat belts were for pussies. And if parents had any kind of problem with their child, they didn’t have the Internet on hand to help find a solution, or at least a sympathetic ear. We have that now, and it makes us better. No parents I know suffer a kid’s shitty eating habits for long. They’re willing to look for help right away, and they can find it, and that matters. That counts for something. We’re not that bad, I swear. But the stereotype shrouds all of that.

We even hear the stereotype from fellow parents. We’re constantly judging and grading other parents, just to make sure that they aren’t any better than us. I’m as guilty as anyone. I see some lady hand her kid a Nintendo DS at the supermarket and I instantly downgrade that lady to Shitty Parent status. I feel pressure to live up to a parental ideal that no one probably has ever achieved. I feel pressure to raise a group of human beings that will help America kick the shit out of Finland and South Korea in the world math rankings. I feel pressure to shield my kids from the trillion pages of hentai donkey porn out there on the Internet. I feel pressure to make the insane amounts of money needed for a supposedly “middle-class” upbringing for the kids, an upbringing that includes a house and college tuition and health care and so many other expenses that you have to be a multimillionaire to afford it. PRESSURE PRESSURE PRESSURE.

And the worst part is that none of those external forces can begin to match the pressure I bring to bear on myself. The fact that I had resorted to grabbing and spanking and willfully inflicting harm on my own child made me feel like a criminal. I felt like, if someone had videotaped the whole episode, I would have been thrown in jail forever. Maybe I deserved to be there. Maybe everyone else was good at keeping their shit together and I wasn’t. I alone was the Worst Dad on Earth—the kind of dad that gets entire memoirs written about him by his kids, about living with him and his horrible demons. Maybe I was an abuser. Even telling you this story now, I feel like I’m edging off the details because I’m terrified of admitting how hard I grabbed my daughter’s arm. As a matter of fact, I smacked her once. I can’t tell you where or why because it makes me feel ugly and I don’t want you reading it and demanding that my kids be taken from me. I don’t remember my dad ever smacking me. He may have yelled a few times, but nothing that dramatic. Why was I so much worse of a parent? Why didn’t my kid respect and fear me the way I respected and feared my old man? Why did my children always require one more minute of patience than I had? And why was I losing my shit at a five-year-old for acting like a five-year-old?

The girl was still screaming and driving me to the precipice of madness, and I searched around in my mind for some kind of creative solution. I definitely wanted to punish her. I couldn’t even recall what we were fighting about, which happens a lot when you fight with a child. The fight becomes its own reason for being. I wanted to prove my dominance over the household, to regain control. I wanted to WIN, which is foolish because there’s no prize for defeating a fucking five-year-old at something.

Then I thought, a shower. A cold shower. That’s humane, right? It doesn’t hurt the child. It just offers a dose of surprise refreshment. The more I mulled it over, the more I was convinced it was a good idea, which is NOT TRUE.

“Listen to me,” I said to the girl. “I need you to calm down and I need you to promise me you’ll never hit your brother again. Or else, you’re getting a cold shower.” Secretly, I think I wanted her to make me do it. Seemed like a worthy experiment.

“Faka.”

“All right, then.”

I grabbed her and brought her to the bathroom and undressed her. I turned on the shower as she tried to slip out of my grasp.

“No, Daddy! NONONONONO!” she said.

“You will have to learn.”

I put her in and when the cold water smashed against her body, the tone of her screaming changed from anger to sadness. I could hear the shift. I could feel it splitting me open, leaking all the poisonous anger out of me. Her skin went taut with cold and she tried desperately to get away from the water, as if it were attacking her. The fuck am I doing? I pulled her out and she clung to me, crying her eyes out. She was heartbroken.

“Sweetheart, I just wanted you to listen.”

And she looked me dead in the eye and shouted out, “BUT I LOVE YOU!”

That was all she needed to say to leave me utterly defeated. She loved me and I had just done something that made it seem like I didn’t love her back. The regret was instant and total. I loved her. I loved her more than anything in the world and I didn’t even know how we got to this point and now that we were here I felt so dumb, so unbelievably fucking dumb. I took a towel and I wrapped it around her and I wept on her shoulder as I dried her off. “I’m sorry,” I said to her. “I’m so sorry. I love you too. I just . . . I hate fighting. I don’t wanna fight with you. Am I a bad father? I feel like I’m doing a horrible job.”

I wanted her to say, “No.” I wanted one of those little movie moments where the child turns all precocious and offers words of wisdom to a failing parent. But the girl just ignored me instead. I dried her off and sent her back to her room to get dressed, which she did quietly. I came back downstairs and lay facedown on the floor, crying and pounding the carpet in frustration. My son came out of the play- room and walked up to me, like a dog walking up to sniff a dead body.

“Deddy, are woo oat-kay?”

“I’m okay. Thank you. Thank you so much for asking. I love you guys. I just wish I knew how to figure this out.”

He ran away and I scraped myself off the floor. Every time I have a fight with my kids, I feel like I have to start from scratch. I feel like I’ve tumbled back down the mountain, as if all the good effort I’ve put in before has gone to waste and I’ve fucked everything up permanently. All I want are streaks—little runs of good parenting days. I have a vision in my head of a never-ending streak—a time when I have a perfect relationship with my children that involves mutual respect and lots of outward affection. I don’t know if that’s a real thing or just some pipe dream that only adds to the pressure. Getting up off the floor, I felt like that mythical tipping point was even further away from me now. All I wanted was to get there, and I wasn’t gonna give up. It’s so easy to turn your child into a villain and let yourself hate your life, but you can’t. You can’t let misery win out because it will destroy everything.

I composed myself and swore I would never again throw gas on the fire to escalate the conflict. All I had to do was walk away from the girl and the fight would have been over before all this horrible shit happened, but I didn’t. My wife came through the door and I shuddered to tell her everything that had happened: The Voice, the arm grab, the spanking, the shower. I didn’t want her to know any of it. But I have a big mouth. Nothing stays inside this vault for very long.

“Everything okay?” she asked.

“She hit him and I lost my shit,” I said.

“It’s all right.”

“I spanked her. I’m so fucking sorry. I spanked her and I tried giving her a cold shower to get her to stop being horrible and it was all so stupid.”

“It’s all right. It’s all right. I’ve spanked her too.”

“You have?”

“Oh, yeah,” she said. “It does nothing.”

“Why doesn’t it do anything? I want it to WORK.”

“I know! I wish it would.”

“Why don’t they listen to us? What’s wrong with them? I did whatever my dad told me to. In fact, I did what he told me to do just now. And I’m thirty-five, for shit’s sake.”

“I dunno. Just don’t spank her again. It makes everything worse.”

“I made it so much worse, you have no idea.”

“It’s all right.”

My daughter came down the stairs and there was no more screaming or evil laughter. She had been replaced with an actual girl, the one I’d kill for. She didn’t seem to have any hard feelings about our power struggle. Kids affect a kind of multiple personality disorder—they become entirely different people for a bit and then have no recollection of that identity once the storm has passed.

“Can I get you something to eat?” I asked her.

“Shells and cheese,” she said.

At last, a sincere answer. That was all I ever wanted. Plain, mature sincerity. I hugged her and told her I loved her and she pushed me away with a laugh. A nice laugh.

“Dad, ew.”

She went to go draw a picture and I began climbing the mountain all over again, hoping to string together enough good days of parenting until I got to the point where there were no more bad days, until the day when I could stand proud in front of stern newscasters and judgmental foreigners and overbearing grandparents and anyone else who thought I sucked at this and tell them that I was a good father and have them believe it.

Excerpted from SOMEONE COULD GET HURT by Drew Magary. Copyright (c) 2013 by Drew Magary. Reprinted by arrangement with Gotham Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc.

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  1. You try spanking, but it doesn’t work. It just makes things worse. Think about it. Her screaming at you is the same as you spanking her. Except that the screaming is working on you! You let it work. No matter how loud the screaming is, or how long it lasts, just ignore it. You said you feel weak/soft. That’s your weakness. As soon as you hung up that phone, the battle had already been lost. You are looking for stronger weapons, but what you really need is stronger armor.

    1. Every kid is different and every situation is different. Parents have to use their best judgment in the moment and hope they guess right. Of course, every decision made negates the possibility of an infinite number of other decisions in that moment. Many of those other decisions could also have been good or bad (depending).

      All of which is a long way of saying there is no single right answer. Whether it is corporal punishment or waiting the kid out no matter what the kid does, each has repercussions and benefits.

    2. Except that’s not how we remember it working as a kid. We remember abject terror at a mere threat of whippings or, god forbid, the switch (that you’d have to go find yourself and heaven help you if what you brought back wasn’t good enough.)

      It’s also a case of you just wanting the little monster to behave, but you’re afraid you might cross a line and hurt them so trying ot find a middle ground all while the snot’s kicking and screaming and making you feel about three inches tall.

      1. Strange. I remember every so often getting a single sharp smack on the ass that caught my attention. No whippings or switches.

        It’s almost as if corporal punishment and sadism can be separated.

      2. And did that abject terror work?  Not on me, it just made me afraid of my dad, which is fucked up.  All that yelling?  Just made me tune out my dad, which is fucked up.  He probably said some pretty useful things to me between the yellings, but it all blurred together like Charlie Brown’s adults.

  2. Forget an atrium, pantry, and two-car garage. Houses for families need a padded, well-lit, insulated toddler time-out room. Brightly lit and full of plush toys.

  3. All of this armchair parenting seems to miss the point of the excerpt: it’s easy to judge a parent, but it’s hard to be one.

  4. God.  I feel like I’m looking down the barrel of a hopeless situation regarding me being a parent.

    1. I actually took this passage – despite its horror – to have lot of hope for the future. It’s the part that reads “I feel pressure to live up to a parental ideal that no one probably has ever achieved.” – this is perfect evidence that nobody has ever lived up to the parental ideal you compare yourself to. None of the people who criticise you – or whom you worry will or might – have themselves managed it.

      It’s only hopeless if your aspiration is to never be in this situation. A much better approach would be finding a way to avoid feeling like an asshole when it happens. That’s the second message of hope – when his wife comes home and says “It’s alright, I understand”.

      It reminds me of that story from the West Wing about the guy who’s stuck in a hole. When you’re down there together, things get a lot easier.

    2. It’s not hopeless, it just feels like it in the moment.  And then the moment eventually passes and that little person is calm again.  And you eventually work your way around to getting more calm little person and a greater understanding of why there is an angry littler person (too tired, too hungry, upset about the television, whatever) and what you can do to prevent it (earlier bedtime, breakfast first thing, less television and more board games, whatever).

      Being a better parent quite simply involves understanding this little stranger in your house a little better than you used to, and you’re only a better parent in comparison to yourself..  It’s not a contest, there’s no awards, nobody is going to give you a monetary prize.  You’re going to get judged for it by total strangers, so just don’t care about what they think in the first place.

  5. As a judging parent let me say that, while OBVIOUSLY there is no magical 100% correct response to all situations, it seems that Drew lost it when he lost it, so to speak. 

    Kids freak out about little things, not getting their way, minor hurts, irrational fears, etc…  They freak out and they escalate the response because they’re kids and, frankly, don’t have a lot of self-control.  But as a parent, or even as an adult who is not a parent, the onus is on you to keep your shit together, to NOT freak out.  When someone is hollering into your ear that can be a challenge, sure enough.  But consistent calm reactions do help teach the kid that freaking out is not really acceptable (ie not what you would do) and also reduces the escalation factor.

  6. “So that’s it?” my dad said. “You’re just gonna hang up on me and go do her bidding?”

    Nope, I’m putting her on the phone with you. I shall observe your parenting genius.

  7. I don’t want to be that asshole who has no sympathy for difficult kids or difficult times… but my kids have never done this. None of my five kids. We do the hard thing, which is to be 100% consistent. When he said ‘no dessert ever again’ he taught her that his threats are just angry words that will not be carried out. When she screamed louder and he blew up he taught her that she needs to continue escalating her tantrum until she gets his full attention. Every time you lose your shit or make threats you don’t carry out you have just undone MONTHS of consistent parenting. Its incredibly hard to keep your head when you are competing with an intelligent little being who is devoting all of his or her efforts at making you lose your head. But that is their job at that time in their lives – to test their boundaries (and yours), manipulate their environment and find out what the real rules of life are. Start when they are born. The later you start, the harder it is, and if you haven’t taught them to control themselves by the time they are pre-teens you have lost and will never have control of them – which is a tragedy because they are about to enter a phase of life where they can get into real trouble.

      1. It strikes me as a concise guide to good parenting.  They’re not Barbie dolls.  If you fuck up the first couple, you can’t just throw them away and start over.

    1. Your kids have never thrown a tantrum?  I really, really, really do not believe that.  If they haven’t, then you certainly are a prefect parent, and they are prefect kids, which is not possible in any way.

      It’s possible you have good, quiet kids that generally behave.  Even if you have a lot of kids.  But not all kids are the same, and you seem to think your kids are angels all of the time.  I call bullshit.

      1. To clarify: I was being a bit “troll-y” and of course my kids have had tantrums. But what they don’t do is escalate ad absurdum until they get their way. They know from experience that when their demands escalate into tantrum territory they get put in a quiet room and can scream their heads off until they cool off and after they have cried it out they can come out. After the first few hundred times they stopped doing it because it doesn’t work. ever. By the time they were six or seven they just don’t have ‘tantrum’ in their repertoire any more.

        1. Ah, still a pompous ass making assumptions about a parent based on one story in a book about parenting. I’m not even a parent and I know it’s not as easy and simple as you make it out to be.

          1. It’s not as easy and simple as doing “the hard thing” where it’s “incredibly hard to keep your head?”

          2. I’m not sure what you’re trying to say,  but parenting is a mess of contradictions. So is being human.

          3. “not as easy and simple as you make it out to be” — easy & simple is the exact opposite of what he makes it out to be. It’s a gross mischaracterization, not some sublime contradiction.

    2.  Inconsistent works better than fine too; a little explaining what logic happens to have come by at the moment and the setpiece is there, the overheard conversation larded with valence, humor, and judgment and tens of curious substitutions cracked up for every draconian measure. To wit: we never got our creamer; we found a cannoli.

  8. The hard part when dealing with an ornery, stubborn, or particular screechy child is that there’s this persistent (and wrong) idea that as the adult you must at all times have control of the situation, otherwise your kids will somehow become drug addicts and/or lazy dropouts.

    Most of the screaming episodes we had were when the kid was hungry, angry, or tired or a combination. So you feed them, get them to nap, whatever. Sometimes I just let my daughter scream it out in her room (this presents its own problems because then you think “what if the neighbors hear and call the cops or something?”)

    But it’s all a phase. My kids grew out of the inconsolable screechy phase years ago.

  9. Yelling threats and hitting people doesn’t work to change their behavior?  Who would have guessed THAT?

    Someone who has never managed to set appropriate limits with his parents hasn’t managed to set appropriate limits with his children?  Shocking!

    This scenario is lacking an adult.  Children sometimes act like rabid chimps.  Mirroring their behavior isn’t an effective strategy for dealing with it.

    1. Yelling threats and hitting people doesn’t work to change their behavior?

      It does eventually. Probably not in the desired way though.

  10. Wow, that was exhausting and painful, but so so true.  Everybody has had a day (or many) when their resources weren’t up to the challenges, and it always leads to a lot of self-flagellation later (and/or during).  Parents are human too.

  11.  

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    Dear
    Mark Frauenfelder:

    I’m
    with simonbarsinister. Drew Magary doesn’t need
    to write a book. He needs to get help. But,
    first of all, I must address you describing the little girl as a
    toddler. She’s five, and, if she began being the boss of him when
    she was a toddler, at 18 months or so, she now has three plus years
    experience successfully pushing him and the wife
    around, and abusing them and the brother.

    Are
    you seriously recommending people read the whole book? Is
    it all like the excerpt? After the first part where the little girl
    (henceforth “she”or “her”) bullied the father (henceforth
    “he” or “him”) in front of his father, I had to force myself
    to continue reading.

    Mr.
    Frauenfelder, you describe this book as “funny, profound, and above
    all, straightforward about the rewards and hassles of being a parent
    of young children” and “anyone who is a parent will have empathy
    for what happened.”

    So
    I have to propose:

    You
    are in a supermarket aisle. This family comes around the corner. She
    grabs several packages of cookies. He says no. Shouting, screaming,
    and hitting ensues. Is this funny to you? Profound? Got Empathy?
    Or, hmmm….maybe you move quickly to another aisle?

    Now
    let’s shift the scene to a restaurant. You had a tough day with your
    own problems at work. You’re very hungry. They come in and a similar
    scene ensues. Funny? Profound? Empathy?

    Church.
    Memorial service for a beloved friend. Funny? Profound? Empathy?

    School,
    Neither you or the parent is there, but your child is, and your child
    is hit in lieu of the brother. Funny? Profound? Empathy?

    This
    is not a funny book at all. The lock on the door and the shower
    scene are disturbing. This man does not need enthusiastic reviews
    that encourage and enable him to continue to allow this child to be
    badly behaved. He needs to get help. Or someone should call CPS.

    I
    went back to teaching elementary level after raising two kids, and if
    this guy doesn’t get help, it will take many teachers, principals,
    and school counselors years of work before that little girl will be
    able to function normally in a school environment. Obviously, her
    teachers will have to do the tough work, no help from him. From his
    accounting of his conversation with the wife, she’ll be no help
    either.

    The
    library & Amazon has books on this topic. Discipline for Home
    and School By Edward E. Ford. Love and Logic by Jim Fay
    and Foster W. Cline, M.D. has both books and classes. I have used
    both these systems in class and can personally recommend them, but
    there are many good ones out there.

    Sincerely,

    Leila

    In
    case anyone wants to know, we spanked our kids. Our reasoning is
    that there are lots of worse things that can happen if the child does
    not obey (going up to strange dogs, picking up a gun laying out
    somewhere, running out into traffic, etc.) Spank or no spank, the
    child needs to know that you are the parent. Did you anti-spank
    people know that after a while, when the child can grasp the concept
    of later time, you can substitute loss of privileges at a later time
    for misbehavior in the moment?

  12. 1) the little girl is hitting her brother because she CAN’T HIT YOU!!!
    2) this scene is not funny at all (per Leila), it is straight up sad and abusive.
    3) if you have a day like this and you can’t disengage yourself even for a minute to get in control, you should not have put yourself in this situation.
    4) I am a parent and I can agree that you can’t live up to the idea of an “ideal parent.” So get some f*cking counseling and deal with your issues please. You and your children will be happier.

  13. I think I need to read this book, if only because it make feel a whole lot better about my infertility issues.

  14.  

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    Dear
    Mark Frauenfelder:

    I
    just “edited” my response, and then it disappeared. I’m older
    and don’t know all the fine points of posting. Thank you Melissa Lee.

    Anyway
    I’m with simonbarsinister. Drew Magary
    doesn’t need to write a book He needs to get help. But, first of
    all, I must address you describing the little girl as a toddler.
    She’s five, and, if she began being the boss of him when she was a
    toddler, at 18 months or so, she now has three plus years experience
    successfully pushing him and the wife around, and abusing them and
    the brother.

    Are
    you seriously recommending people read the whole book? Is it all like
    the excerpt? After the first part where the little girl (henceforth
    “she”or “her”) bullied the father (henceforth “he” or
    “him”) in front of his father, I had to force myself to continue
    reading.

    Mr.
    Frauenfelder, you describe this book as “funny, profound, and above
    all, straightforward about the rewards and hassles of being a parent
    of young children” and “anyone who is a parent will have empathy
    for what happened.”

    So
    I have to propose:

    You
    are in a supermarket aisle. This family comes around the corner. She
    grabs several packages of cookies. He says no. Shouting, screaming,
    and hitting ensues. Is this funny to you? Profound? Got Empathy?
    Or, hmmm….maybe you move quickly to another aisle?

    Now
    let’s shift the scene to a restaurant. You had a tough day with your
    own problems at work. You’re very hungry. They come in and a similar
    scene ensues. Funny? Profound? Empathy?

    Church.
    Memorial service for a beloved friend. Funny? Profound? Empathy?

    School.
    Neither you or the parent is there, but your child is, and your child
    is hit in lieu of the brother. Funny? Profound? Empathy?

    This
    is not a funny book at all. The lock on the door and the shower
    scene are disturbing. This man does not need enthusiastic reviews
    that encourage and enable him to continue to allow this child to be
    badly behaved. He needs to get help. Or someone should call CPS.

    The
    library & Amazon have books on this topic. Discipline for Home
    and School By Edward E. Ford. Love and Logic by Jim Fay
    and Foster W. Cline, M.D. has both books and classes. I have used
    both these systems in class and can personally recommend them, but
    there are many good ones out there.

    I
    went back to teaching elementary level after raising two kids, and if
    this guy doesn’t get help, it will take many teachers, principals,
    and school counselors years of work before that little girl will be
    able to function normally in a school environment. Obviously, her
    teachers will have to do the tough work, no help from him. From his
    accounting of his conversation with the wife, she’ll be no help
    either.

    Sincerely,

    Leila

    In
    case anyone wants to know, we spanked our kids. Our reasoning is
    that there are lots of worse things that can happen if the child does
    not obey (going up to strange dogs, picking up a gun laying out
    somewhere, running out into traffic, etc.) Spank or no spank, the
    child needs to know that you are the parent. Did you anti-spank
    people know that after a while, when the child can grasp the concept
    of later time, you can substitute loss of privileges at a later time
    for misbehavior in the moment?

  15. Oh, fine, now it looks like I’m criticizing Melissa Lee, when she agreed with me.  Thanks Melissa Lee! .  Could you folks at Boing Boing post some detailed instructions on posting? Y’know, unless that violates some “thing” about you helping people.

    Leila

  16. I think you’re over analyzing this. Children, especially girls use mind games to get power over you. Just think like a benevolent dictator (without the torture centers and you’ll be fine). Sometimes its not instant respect with “the voice” or grounding. Its loss of respect that she needs to experience. Physical punishment accelerates the process but at the risk of abusing your kid and destroying the relationship. Its a battle of wills and she will play the “daddy I wuv you” when she thinks she’s losing

  17. Dear Mark Frauenfelder:

    OK well this is the third time I have tried to post this.  I would like it if Boing Boing had instructions for older posters.  Well. Guess you have some sort of rule about that.

    I just “edited” my response, and then it disappeared. I’m older and don’t know all the fine points of posting. Thank you Melissa Lee.

    Anyway I’m with simonbarsinister. Drew Magary doesn’t need to write a book He needs to get help. But, first of all, I must address you describing the little girl as a toddler. She’s five, and, if she began being the boss of him when she was a toddler, at 18 months or so, she now has three plus years experience successfully pushing him and the wife around, and abusing them and the brother.

    Are you seriously recommending people read the whole book? Is it all like the excerpt? After the first part where the little girl (henceforth “she”or “her”) bullied the father (henceforth “he” or “him”) in front of his father, I had to force myself to continue reading.

    Mr. Frauenfelder, you describe this book as “funny, profound, and above all, straightforward about the rewards and hassles of being a parent of young children” and “anyone who is a parent will have empathy for what happened.”

    So I have to propose:

    You are in a supermarket aisle. This family comes around the corner. She grabs several packages of cookies. He says no. Shouting, screaming, and hitting ensues. Is this funny to you? Profound? Got Empathy? Or, hmmm….maybe you move quickly to another aisle?

    Now let’s shift the scene to a restaurant. You had a tough day with your own problems at work. You’re very hungry. They come in and a similar scene ensues. Funny? Profound? Empathy?

    Church. Memorial service for a beloved friend. Funny? Profound? Empathy?

    School, Neither you or the parent is there, but your child is, and your child is hit in lieu of the brother. Funny? Profound? Empathy?

    This is not a funny book at all. The lock on the door and the shower scene are disturbing. This man does not need enthusiastic reviews that encourage and enable him to continue to allow this child to be badly behaved. He needs to get help. Or someone should call CPS.

    The library & Amazon has books on this topic. Discipline for Home and School By Edward E. Ford. Love and Logic by Jim Fay and Foster W. Cline, M.D. has both books and classes. I have used both these systems in class and can personally recommend them, but there are many good ones out there.

    I went back to teaching elementary level after raising two kids, and if this guy doesn’t get help, it will take many teachers, principals, and school counselors years of work before that little girl will be able to function normally in a school environment. Obviously, her teachers will have to do the tough work, no help from him. From his accounting of his conversation with the wife, she’ll be no help either.

    Sincerely,

    Leila

    In case anyone wants to know, we spanked our kids. Our reasoning is that there are lots of worse things that can happen if the child does not obey (going up to strange dogs, picking up a gun laying out somewhere, running out into traffic, etc.) Spank or no spank, the child needs to know that you are the parent. Did you anti-spank people know that after a while, when the child can grasp the concept of later time, you can substitute loss of privileges at a later time for misbehavior in the moment?

    1. Your comments aren’t sticking because they have so many formatting artifacts, like extra line breaks and formatting information, that they look like spam.

      As to spanking children, the argument is no more valid than the argument that men should be able to beat their wives.  For most of recorded history, women have been regarded as intellectually inferior to men, incapable of rational decision making, relegated to the status of chattel property and needing to be beaten to encourage proper behavior.

      We hit children because they’re smaller than us, because they’ve been indoctrinated to accept abuse and because they have historically had minimal legal recourse.  It’s evil.

  18. I feel like an asshole for saying that neither myself or my husband ever loses our shit with our kid to this extent. And our kid has ADHD and has been INSANE at times. 

    I don’t want to brag because it could happen with this baby once he’s four or whatever. Maybe he’ll be EVEN WORSE than this other kid and we’ll get physical. 

    But it’s never happened once. I have a horror of physical violence with my kid–my parents were physically violent with me. Just tell yourself: NEVER. Not ONCE. NEVER. I never forgot a single beating. 

    I agree with the people who say he needs some help. I’m not saying he’s a terrible person or a terrible father just the whole ‘it’s normal, we all do it’ meme is simply not true. And for the stuff the kid did in particular. 

    The adult was clearly in a mood. The kid was doing the shit kids do. In his mood, he couldn’t handle it. He needs to look at himself. 

  19. Really, it seems like a better solution is to not have kids.

    (I know I sure as fuck don’t have the patience for it (got my dad’s patience for kids (that is, none) with part of my mom’s lack of mental stability), so I’m never going to have kids.)

    1.  

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      Dear
      Moderator:

      I
      have always felt that spanking was something done when children did
      not really understand words so well. My husband and I observed, when
      our two sons were, in succession,at two years old or so, that,when
      one of us would point at something and say,“Don’t go there!” the
      son would Immediately begin to toddle over that place (big
      dog,canal,road,whatever.) We concluded that what we were saying was
      being understood as,“Hey! Look at THAT!”

      If a
      child can cut their own switch, it is way past time to time to begin
      substituting a punishment of grounding, loss of electronic
      privileges, etc. So, I guess I have to point out that when we have a
      disagreement with our sons,now 24 and 27,they are not told to “go
      cut your own switch”and bring it. I don’t see the connection to
      women, either.

      When
      my first son was two,I visited a college roommate who had a son a
      little older than my son. At one point, when my son misbehaved,I
      spanked him. She gave me The Lecture on Spanking. I visited her again
      about two years later and she admitted to me how shocked she was that
      her son misbehaved in preschool JUST AS OFTEN as the SPANKED kids.
      She evidently expected that her son would somehow (?) know how she
      had to grit her teeth and NOT SPANK him and he would somehow be
      grateful, and reward her by being so much BETTER BEHAVED than those
      SPANKED kids. Ha, Ha.

      On
      the other hand, it’s possible to horribly punish your children
      without spanking them. I read an account of this by a psychiatrist.
      It seems he had a case where a husband told his wife, “We’re not
      going to spank our child!” But the husband worked, and the wife was
      home with the little girl all day. The wife came up with a very
      satisfactory way to fulfill the letter of her husband’s law. If the
      husband left at 8:00 and, at 8:15, the little girl transgressed, the
      mom would cut her off and leave her in cold isolation (in prison,
      this is “the hole”) with no talking, no eye contact, no touching,
      nothing, all day, until the husband came in at night. Lunch was set
      out silently. The psychiatrist said this was the worst case of child
      abuse he had ever seen, including beaten children.

      But I
      know I’m not going to convince anyone at Boing-Boing. You think Mr.
      Magary
      is funny, profound, and elicits empathy. On the other hand I am
      evil. I do get it. Published Sci-Fi Writer: funny, but not just
      regular funny: candidly funny. Unpublished Hoi Polloi: lacking that
      sparkling wit like
      this:

      “WHAT
      IS WRONG WITH YOU?! YOU ARE NOT RESPECTFUL! YOU WILL STAY HERE ALL
      NIGHT OR I SWEAR TO GOD YOU’LL BE SORRY.”

      It’s…it’s
      like the New Algonquin Round table…Benchley, or Thurber…
      amiright?

      I
      wrote that this excerpt was not funny and I need to amend that. I did
      not include dark or ironic humor. This book could be amazingly useful
      in a divorce proceeding, or if the family just turned up…missing.
      This is not to mention how this self-confession would be a greased
      pig sliding through a CPS hearing. So, yeah, I could see it being
      very funny.

      Thank
      you for your suggestions on posting. I have tried to eliminate spaces
      as much as I can, although I don’t know how to eliminate spaces
      between paragraphs. I hope this will post nicely.

      What
      can I say? Interesting book review. I love Boing Boing.

      Leila

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