It has taken a few weeks to think rationally on the events of that evening, two weeks ago. The consequences of which are still unknown.
It wasn’t my finest hour. But when I look back in the cold light of day, having put some distance between then and now, I would do exactly the same thing.
Being a parent can often feel like a lonely struggle. Questioning your own parenting techniques is a regular occurrence. Did I make the right decision? Could I have handled it differently? Have I gone too far etc. Some of the harsher punishments handed out by parents are rarely talked about with others for fear of judgement. Those that confide in others often find that they are not alone in their actions.
We have tried many different ways to reason with our kids when they get out of hand.
There are only so many times you can say “go to you room”. Only so many times you can plead with them to stop.
Picture the scene. It is 7pm. Your child is running around the house, screaming his or her little socks off. Clothes are being swung around the head and they are teasing their sibling every time they run past. It is late in the day, you have just returned from work, the lunches still need to be made, dinner to be cleaned up, showers taken, books read and lights out. The whole exercise is a few hours and you just want to get it done. You are tired and you have had enough.
The screaming lunatic running around your home has other ideas. You can tell they are in one of their moods.You feel your stress levels rising.
Tonight you tell yourself you are going to be calm. There will be no shouting. You think of the mindfulness apps you have downloaded. You take yourself to your happy place and zone out for a few seconds. Refocused you come back to the moment and calmly tell the child to stop running around and to step into the shower.
You receive no acknowledgement except the sound of a manic laugh. His partner in crime is now also jumping up and down on the couch.
You think of watermelon smoothies in Thailand and massages on the beach. And you repeat yourself. This time more forcefully.
There is still no response. So you target the sensible one.
After several exhausting attempts you have separated them. One is on their way to the shower while the other is still acting like the devil. You see clothes strewn on the floor.
These are the clothes you just cleaned, folded and put back in their cupboard.
Anger levels spike. You picture Bill Bixby sitting back against his car at night, panting hard, the rain lashing down on him. You are holding back your inner hulk. With every fibre of your being you hold that green monster back. You try again.
“If you don’t stop running around the house I am going to put you outside”
“Ok” comes the reply. You hope he means it but you hold little hope. You smile and say “thank you”.
The little fu@*er then starts doing the same thing again.
You snap. He is taking the piss. He is laughing at your incompetence. Your weakness. Running around in total defiance. You’ve had it. You want to shove your mindfulness app up Apple’s arse. You are mindful this child is going to spend the night outside.
You make a bee line straight for him. Arms outstretched for the grab. But he dodges you and heads round the other side of the kitchen island bench. It’s all a game to him now.
The manic laugh continues. You go one way. He goes the other.
The other child, now out the shower, gets involved. He tries to block one of the sides.
“I’m sorry I’m sorry” half laughs the naughty one but his fate is sealed.
You catch him and drag him to the front door.
“no, no, no” he pleads
“You were given plenty of chances” you pant, making a mental note that you really should do some exercise.
His little fingertips clutch onto the door frame as he tries in vain to remain inside. His cries fall on deaf ears as you close the door on him.
Outside a naked boy screams to be let back in.
You are not a monster so you throw out his pyjamas and a little pair of ugg boots.
He is yelling and crying outside. It is 7.30pm and you get back to the tasks you were doing previously. Albeit slightly unnerved and put out by the whole situation.
You try and ignore the incessant wailing and screaming from outside but it is now disturbing the child that wants to sleep. So after 15 minutes you issue a warning through the bedroom window.
“You are going to wake up the neighbours. They might call the police on you. I suggest you stop screaming and go and sit by the front door.”
“Let me in” the screaming continues.
After another 5 minutes you have no choice. It is unfair to the neighbours. The other child needs to sleep. You open the door.
A red-faced, topless, sobbing 7 year old stands before you. The pyjama top and uggs are still lying outside the front door.
“Are you going to behave?” you ask calmly
“Yu….yu….yes” come the sobs
“Are you going to do what I ask you?”
“Y…..y…yes” he stutters
“If you are not prepared to follow the rules of the house then you go back outside. Do you understand?”
A head nods.
“And you will now go straight to bed, no story, no light on.
He comes back inside puts his pyjama trousers on, jumps into bed and lies there sobbing and feeling very sorry for himself.
You carry on with the usual things to do around the house and move on. Peace at last.
Three minutes later the intercom buzzer catches you off guard.
Who can that be? It’s too late for a random pop in.
No it can’t be….surely not.
You pick up….
“It’s the Police. Open the door now.”
I open the door and see two female police officers standing there.
“We have reports of a naked child screaming outside this house” says the tall one
“yes” I say confidently, “that will be my son.”
“I see. Can we come in?”
They look serious and as I let them in I call for Zak.
He comes out his room, his cheeks rosy from the crying, tears running down his face. His chest heaving. No top on.
“Why is he so distressed?” The accusatory tone ruffled my feathers. Her implication was obvious and I now felt like the naughty one.
“eh, because he has just come in from being outside, following a punishment.” I felt like adding, “isn’t it obvious?”
“Do you think it is appropriate that you put your child outside, naked in this weather?”
“excuse me?” I say in disbelief
“don’t you have a naughty spot you could put him in? He is obviously very distressed.”
Again with this word ‘distressed’ .
I want to tell them that he is ‘distressed’ because he did not get his own way, he missed out on his milo, his bedtime story and he has no reading time. But I am shaken. I don’t want the police in my house.
So I say, “Are you serious? Do you have children?”
“A 6 month old” comes the reply. We will call her Good Cop.
The other officer, let’s call her Bad Cop, takes Zak over to the couch and sits down.
I go over the whole incident with the police.
Good Cop understands the situation and can clearly see that there is no danger to the children. Infact she reminds Zak that he should listen more, not use bad language and do what his parents tell him.
“What a result” I think to myself. You couldn’t buy that.
That should have been the end of it. It wasn’t.
Bad Cop continues to give me the evil eye. I can see she does not want to let this go. She tells me she has no choice but to report this to the Department of Child Services. I can’t believe what I am hearing.
“You will be called for an interview as will Zak” she glowers
“We can also have someone come and give you advice on parenting strategies” she continues. “But you need to give us permission. Do you?”
Thankfully she cannot hear my inner monologue or I would be writing this from a cell. So I say, “no….thanks.”
I understand why the police were called. I understand why they must check it out. I appreciate the importance of that. And I do not underestimate the seriousness of this from their side. But surely following their assessment of us and their conversation with my boys they realise there is no danger. Why they must call the Department of Child Services? That action alone is a source of great fear and uncertainty to Zak and his brother.
I fell asleep in Zak’s bed that night. His words to me as he lay in bed after they left will always stay with me:
“Are they going to take me away Dad?”
We have not received the call yet. I am sure it will come.
My wife and I felt terrible for days after. We questioned everything. Do we spend our time dishing out punishments? Do we take things too far? Are we focused on discipline rather than having fun? What must the neighbours think of us? Are we bad parents? Maybe I need to take a good hard look at myself and consider if what I am doing is the right way to do it.
Then I think about the reality of it. And perhaps a bit too arrogantly I think; “ No. You know what. We are doing a fu@ing great job, thanks very much. We are doing it alone with no family support and we are doing it the best we know how.
Who knows what the right and wrong way is? Our boys know exactly where they stand. They know how much we love them and how proud we are of them. We tell them every day. We encourage them to grow and to try new things. We ferry them to a ridiculous number of sporting activities and play dates. We spend quality time with them at the park playing sports, at home playing games, reading stories and working on projects together.
But they know they are going to get an absolute bollocking if they cross the line, swear or are disrespectful. They are going to get put outside the house if they don’t follow the rules.
If they start punching each other’s lights out they will be sent to their rooms. If they give me the shits for no good reason and I am stressed or tired then they will no doubt get a bollocking for that as well. If we are all tired, if we are all having a bad day then there will be a shit storm in the house and we will all be screaming at each other. “
But in the morning we will have a cuddle and a new day will start.
Our boys are great. They are brilliant kids. Their behaviour is really no different to anyone else of that age. 99% of the time all is well. It just so happens that the other 1% either gets blogged about or gets heard by our neighbours.
We spoke to our neighbours on the other side and found out that the fire brigade had been called to their house one time when they made a small fire in their backyard as part of a family camp out.
It was the same person that called the police on us.
It seems like we may have our very own Mrs Mangle next door.