You’d be a fool, these days, to advocate for physical violence. There’s too damn much of it already, despite the enduring taboo. But, could it be that to renounce all violence, no matter what, is just as dumb as any rigid vow?
The year was 1981. My toddler daughter, Rosie, and her hippy mother, Jan, were living in a whitewashed cottage out in Oracle, while I lived in a small brown tent, next door. Rosie was Janet’s first kid, but not mine.
Child-rearing often calls forth great uncertainty, anent which, Jan honestly said: “When I just don’t know what to do, I ask myself, “What would a dog or cat do in this situation?”
It was spring. Jan suggested a hike down the wash to what some locals called “The Waterfall,” a place not really worthy of the name (although, in fact, when water ran it did seep down the hill between the rocks.) It was a lovely morning: warm and sunny with a breeze. We took our time, meandering, since Rosie had to stop each foot or two to gather pebbles, twigs, and other treasures till her tiny pockets bulged. Once there, we played a game of hide-and-seek, then shared a can of tuna fish and tootsie pops with iced hibiscus tea. Oh man, gourmet!
Her parents thought they’d like to take a nap, but Rosie wasn’t buying that. She was “terrible two” – the age when children learn the joy of testing limits, saying “No!” and wanting things their way. She began getting antsy and wanted to play. A rest? A nap? No way, Jose!
She scooped up a handful of coarse, gritty sand, and threw it in her mother’s eyes. You could tell as she did it she knew it was wrong, but also like a scientist, objective, without moral qualms, she was anxious to see what we’d do.
I scolded Rosie briefly, wondering what her mom would do. Dear Jan was patient to a fault and hated being harsh. She sometimes tolerated crap which I thought should be punished or opposed. Jan wanted to be certain that her child really understood why throwing sand was bad. One of the goofy things “good” parents do is to explain in great detail what their smart kids already know. At such times they are being fools, as their kids clearly know.
The lecture was over and Jan, eyes repaired, sat back down. Without preamble or ado, the scientist bent down and flung more sand in Mommy’s eyes. Boy, Jan was pissed. She stood up, turned around and strode away without a word. That left Rosie and me. I reprimanded Rosie with a burst of hippy-speak: “Goddamit, man, you know that isn’t cool!” She studied me appraisingly, without repentance or alarm, still looking like the scientist engrossed in her research, then knelt again to fill her hand with sand. As she drew back her fist to throw the sand – this time, at me – the god of cats and dogs came to my aid. With no idea of doing so, I grabbed some sand and flung it in her face. It was, instinctively, the perfect way to end the game. Without a word, the basic point was made, although some decent part of me was shocked at what I’d done.
Rosie emitted a howl of both outrage and pain. She had learned: Hot sand burned! She showed no further need to be perverse, and grew into an adult both compassionate and wise, who hardly ever, these days, throws hot sand in others’ eyes.
See? It worked!