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When rational parenting fails, try a tantrum

October 12, 2004|BY TIM ROWLAND

Editor's note: Tim Rowland is on vacation. Following is an excerpt from his upcoming novel, "Home Detention," which will be released Oct. 28:

Past painters apparently had not been believers in scraping off the old layers before adding new. They just painted over flakes, peelings and all, making for a rather interesting 3-D effect that had crusted over to the hardness of granite. I also concluded that the past painters had never heard of brushes; they simply poured the paint out of the can onto the rails and let it drip down the pickets. I tried scraping in a healthy, environmentally sound manner for about 10 minutes before heading off to Lowe's and asking them for a five-gallon bucket of the most deadly, caustic chemical they sold. Even armed with science, the job took two months.

It looked great for about a week. But being a loner all my life, I had no idea of the effect children can have on something you have just spent a summer pouring your heart and soul into. They can take your best restoration effort and turn it into an antiquity overnight. I began to notice big chunks of freshly painted railing were being gouged out at an alarming rate. At first I thought we didn't have termites, we had sharks. But soon I learned the source of the destruction was coming from within my own family. Alexa and friends were happily smashing into the rails with the porch swing, idly clubbing the pickets with sticks and Rollerblading on the deck.

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This was news to me. At that point I had not gained the understanding that children are hard-wired to instinctively destroy what you have just finished constructing. Now I have learned there is something about fresh paint that whispers seductively to a child, "Muuusst Defaaaace." Maybe they view themselves as miniature, quality control managers and it is their mission to put your handiwork to the test. I started out to correct the behavior with education.

"You know I worked really hard on this porch, right?"

Vigorous head nodding.

"And you wouldn't want to do anything to undo all that work, right?"

Vigorous head shaking.

I was very satisfied with my calm, level-headed solution to the problem. At work the next day I told my friend Laura how there wasn't anything that was really so hard about being a parent.

"You just need to show a little understanding and have the patience to teach them why something is wrong," I said. "I think a lot of parents make the mistake of just blowing up at the kids, but the real problem is that they don't know there is a logical reason why it's bad to do some of the stuff they do. Once you explain it to them, they understand. There's really nothing to it. In fact, I think a lot of the problem rests with the parents. They lose their temper when simple education and enlightenment is all that's called for."

I drove home whistling a tune and pulled up in front of the porch - only to find Alexa and her merry band smashing the swing into the rail, Rollerblading on the deck and clubbing the pickets with sticks.

I lost my temper. If education wasn't the answer, heavier artillery was called for with a full-frontal, fly-off-the-handle fit of rage. I gave it to them both barrels with everything I had. There was only a slight pause in my tantrum as all of a sudden all those clichs I heard as a child - "How many times do I have to tell you;" "Don't you understand English?" - suddenly, and maybe for the first time ever, made sense. When I was finished I was spent. And a little bewildered. When you live by yourself there isn't much cause to lose your temper, and this was the first time in just about forever when I could recall being truly angry with someone. It didn't feel especially good or satisfying, but it had to be done. And it worked, too. When I went into the house, the children, full of weepy remorse, picked up their sticks and began clubbing the pickets far more gently than they had in the past.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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