Saturday, July 17, 2010


Why would he do that? It is a question Cutter, almost 10, asks me while we are debriefing about the previous night spent with friends. There was much fun and laughter, swimming and ice cream, and there were also some difficult interactions among the kids. In particular, Cutter and our young friend, age 5, were having struggles. I imagine the younger boy was trying to figure out how to play with the older kids and not quite getting it right. So instead of that, he threw plastic cups and spit at Cutter. I discovered the tension as I rounded the corner of the house and found Cutter throwing a plastic cup back as he burst into tears. There were no innocents in the cup throwing department. I made sure they were both physically okay and then I apologized to Cutter.

I apologized because part of my role as a parent is to act as a buffer when necessary, as protection, as a guide in social situations that can so easily spiral out of control. I apologized because two kids were clearly very upset and on the verge of physically hurting one another and I did not make it clear that I was available, I did not make myself available enough. There is surely a line of thought, of parenting, that goes something like: "Parents don't always have to be with their children, kids need these difficult interactions; they're a "normal" part of childhood." In response, I'm reminded of the words I read recently while writing a speech about play, "The ego is implicitly nurtured by the absence of failure." It's very powerful, this idea of being nurtured by the absence of failure. I don't believe Cutter is learning anything about healthy relationships when I leave him to hash it out on his own, to throw cups and get spit upon; I don't believe a joyful adulthood arrives through such interactions. And so I apologized. And the next day, we debriefed. I asked why he didn't come to let me know they were having problems, as he usually does. He shared that his young friend, while spitting and throwing, had said, "Don't tell my dad. He hits us."

And then Cutter very seriously asked the question I cannot fully answer, for which there is no simple answer, "Why would he do that?" It is the second time in two weeks that someone we love has been revealed as someone who also hits and/or spanks his children. The first revelation came as friends were filling out paperwork for foster care certification and the dad lamented the "no spanking" rule. His example: If my child runs into the road, I'm not going to let them get hurt. I'm going to give them a good spanking so they don't do it again.

I try to explain the logic, or rather lack of logic, of this to Cutter. That parents are afraid their children will get hurt and so they hurt them believing this is the only way to keep them safe. I try, but I cannot truly explain. Explain how we come with deep hurts that we choose to heal or not; how those who hit, don't hit with their love and their strength and their wisdom, but with their past and their anger and their weakness; how embarrassment from buying into society that judges a parent based on the age-appropriate activities of a child can keep us from showing love and kindness, keep us from conversation; how I believe that the unexamined life can be easier and more damaging; how I learned, through our life with Isaiah, that I cannot prevent harm nor "create" a perfect dream child, but can merely question my own reasons for living, for acting, heal my own pain and in doing so, help Cutter find his own path, ask his own questions; how I'm so sorry that he lives in a world where it's okay to hit kids, to poison the ocean, to imprison the weak. How I love him, in his anger and his tears, his joy and his pain, just as I love our friends in their strength and their weakness. How I'm always trying to learn how to forgive, how to grow, how to question, how to love.

No, I cannot fully explain everything, and so we turn to play, to DragonQuest IX, battling next to each other on the couch, and I try to live the questions, because I know I don't have all the answers.