The “terrible twos” arrive with a punch
Violence in the home is a difficult subject to broach. But the time to come clean is long overdue, for we are sheltering in our midst a brutal monster with no compunction about attacking his loved ones, male or female, old or young – viciously and unprovoked. It is high time to put a stop to it. But how? We can’t have him arrested, and he’s a bit difficult to reason with. You see, he’s only 21 months old.
Yes, shame upon me; the cruel monster is my own son. It pains me (quite literally) to report that over the past few months Dan has developed a palm strike to make Bruce Lee proud. Used in anger, it is a mean blow, usually directed at someone who has the impudence to deny him what he wants, offer him unwanted attentions, or sometimes just look at him in the wrong way. Frequently, it is delivered to the eyeball and doubled up in quick succession.
Ever his apologist, our ayi, bless her, takes this as a sign of affection. Unsurprisingly, she has been his preferred victim. But she is far from alone. Partly out of self-preservation, Dan’s other caregivers – his mum, laolao and myself – have tried a range of approaches to put a stop to it. These have alternated between telling him off, patiently explaining about not hurting others, punishing him by confining him to his cot to sob (well, for about 30 seconds, until my will gives way), and so forth.
Though our disciplinary efforts have not been completely successful, things have been a bit better of late. Dan’s violence came to a head, so to speak, before Christmas when we visited Seoul for my brother’s wedding to his Korean fiancé. My parents made it over, and also followed us back to Beijing afterwards, and it was a great and rare chance to play happy families. There was one minor blemish, though, as the disruption to Daniel’s routine provoked his tendency to commit acts of wanton violence on loved ones. For a few days, the mere sight of his doting English grandparents, who were no doubt desperate to see him after a six-month gap, induced in Daniel the desire to smack someone – usually them. The worst incident occurred at the wedding, when Dan whacked my brother’s new mum-in-law in the eyeball. (She had dared to invade his personal space uninvited.)
Though she was very understanding and there was, thankfully, no loss of vision, loss of face was certainly incurred.
Even before we went to Korea, I had begun to wonder whether more old-fashioned forms of punishment might be warranted, perhaps involving my palm striking his rear (gently, of course). Before you all start writing in, let’s be clear: Until now, I have been opposed to corporal punishment, and I suspect I always will be. Still, the reality of parenthood has forced me to wonder whether the argument that “You wouldn’t like it if someone did it to you” might be a little too metaphorical for a child to grasp unless someone actually does do it to him.
For the moment, to dodge the perennial “to smack or not to smack” question, I am taking solace from the thought that Dan is approaching two. All right, given the digit’s close association with the adjective “terrible,” the age strikes fear into the heart of parents. But here’s the thing: There is a notion, common among ayis, that toddlers develop more quickly in this day and age. Until recently, I had dismissed this as the Chinese equivalent of “Kids weren’t as badly behaved back in our day,” but when I heard my mum and dad ruminating along similar lines I started to wonder whether this anecdotal evidence from both ends of the Eurasian landmass might describe a broader pattern. I certainly want to believe it, as then Dan’s temper tantrums could just be the dreaded “terrible twos” come early. And, since he has been relatively mellow the last few weeks, that could mean he will be past the tantrum stage well before he even reaches two – couldn’t it?
Wishful thinking, maybe. Either way, I think we’ll leave more drastic options off the table until we’ve had a go at drumming the message “Do unto other as you would have done unto yourself” into him verbally. After all, he’s a little young to grasp moral niceties for now, and will be for a while yet. I suppose that gives me time to practice a few gentle palm strikes of my own, just in case I have a change of heart.Martin Adams
When he’s not busy raising his son, Martin Adams is a freelance writer. During his three and a half years in Beijing, he has also been a warm-weather kung fu practitioner.