“No Gavin,” Monica says firmly, “you know you’re not supposed to touch that.”
“That” would be Monica’s laptop, which is sitting on the coffee table next to the couch, well within our son’s reach. We made a decision many months ago not to worry about keeping everything out of Gavin’s reach, unless it was dangerous. Instead, we decided that it would be better to teach Gavin what was his and what wasn’t. So far, it’s not going too well.
“Gavin,” she warns again, “Mommy said no.” Gavin is dismissively spanking the front end of her laptop with the palm of his hand. She proceeds to patiently warn him a third time.
I’m sitting on the futon with my own laptop in front of me. Gavin waddles over to my side, looks me in the eye, and slowly reaches toward the edge of my screen. I say nothing, but instead, stare straight back at him and wait to see what he’s going to do.
We also decided months ago that we weren’t going to use any physical discipline, such as spanking or spatting his hands or legs, at least not at this young age. Instead, we would instruct him verbally, be patient with him, and allow him to make his own choices.
Gavin’s hand surrounds the contour edge of my screen, but stops just short of touching it. Then he draws back and disappears to someplace behind my computer where I can’t see him. I feel a bit proud of my son, and a bit proud of myself, that he was able to make a good decision without having to be told. Just then, in one amazingly non-chalante feat of defiance, Gavin peeks around the opposite side of my computer with an enormous grin on his face, and with his other hand reaches up and firmly takes hold of my screen.
“Gavin, no” I say calmly. He begins to pull the screen toward him. I remove his fingers from the screen. He tries to take hold of it again, still smiling as if I’m not even there, as if I’m merely the table this machine is sitting on.
I remember my mom telling me what a booger I could be when I was a baby. Once, in a fit of redeeming laughter, she told my wife that a baby boy’s main function is to destroy everything you own, and that all you can do is sit and watch this amazing force of destruction make his way into every corner of your material world, and dissect it into bits and pieces. I think she gets a kick out of watching her baby boy fall victim to a baby boy of his own.
Then an idea occurs to me; a way to discipline Gavin beyond just using words, that wouldn’t hurt him, but would send a message to him that he couldn’t ignore, a message that Daddy wasn’t playing. I tell Monica, but I don’t tell her what my idea is. Instead, I tell her to watch, using a tone that implies that she is about to be utterly amazed by my cleverness and wisdom.
After a couple of minutes, Gavin waddles back over to Monica’s computer, cooing and squealing the whole way, speaking a language altogether his own. He looks at his mom, smiles, then begins to spank her laptop fervently.
My moment of glory has arrived. My plan is to hold Gavin’s hands so that he can’t do anything or go anywhere, to capture his attention and make him understand that his Daddy means “no”, then to hold his hands for a bit longer, preventing him from doing anything that he wants to do. This, I think to myself, should work especially well on my son, because he doesn’t like people to take hold of his hands, and he won’t want his Daddy to do this again. Painless but effective discipline.
I stand up, walk over to Gavin, and grab both of his hands gently but firmly in my own. I look him in the eye and say, “No, Gavin. That’s not what these hands are for.”
Would you care to guess my son’s response? Does he scream or shout? Does he try to pull away? Perhaps he cries? On the contrary; this son of mine smiles from ear to ear, squeals with glee, and begins to dance. My son thinks that I want to dance with him.
I must say that Monica was very supportive even in this moment. She could’ve laughed at my folly, but instead she placed her hand over her mouth and held it in.
“This isn’t really what I had in mind, Son” I say placidly.
Who can discipline a kid when he’s this happy?