August 14, 2002 - Wednesday
For the last three nights, Harry has been disturbingly agitated in the evenings. I suppose in the big picture it's nothing more than a two-year old boy doing his thing, but these times he has left us shaking our heads at the apparent randomness of his uncharacteristic outbursts. Of course, objectively, there's probably nothing random about it. He is not only adjusting to no longer being on vacation and with his parents full time, but also getting into a brand new daily routine at his new preschool. It's easy to imagine that with all the excitement of the new activities, new toys, and new potential friends of the new environment comes a high apprehension of being out of his element and comfort zone with no retreat to the familiar for seven full hours. Indeed, each of the three days he's been there we've been told of short (and thankfully decreasing) periods of sadness, generally before nap time. And, Harry has now mixes his excitement for going to school with hints of anxiety and declarations that he doesn't want to go.
So, perhaps that explains the cause, but what then. Harry's been completely over the top with rudeness, being loud, talking back, and even hitting. Nothing there is a first, save the aggressiveness of it all. Monday and Tuesday it was from dinner almost through bedtime, although I suppose dinner and bedtime would be more accurate. But, each of those two days his de facto tantrums have left his mother and I to independently have serious talks with him at his bedside rather than songs or the usual "talking words." Tonight, Harry did much better at dinner and I kind of thought maybe we'd passed this adjustment period. But, then came bath time.
The bathroom is, of course, no place for fooling around and he certainly does get a rise out of his mother if he does. And, where that was likely the goal, he succeeded handsomely. She had put Jeremy to sleep just before Harry's bath, as is the usual goal assuming Jeremy obliges, and that meant encouraging Harry to be quiet. Harry was not. He was very much not and, thus, neither was his mother. I eventually went into the bathroom, too, to try to help restore order, but I didn't stay long because Jeremy indeed woke up. However, while I was there looking for some way to gain Harry's attention and let him know his mother and I were serious I gave Harry a spanking on his bottom. I've come close to doing that before, but it's always ended as more of a push to get him moving in the right direction. I have held and squeezed his hand on occasion hard enough so he notices I'm not fooling and I have, when he's been over the edge with whining, put my hand over his mouth for a second or two. But, this was really Harry's first spanking. It doesn't really matter I suppose what the exact circumstances were, what Harry did or didn't do, what he said as backtalk to his mother, the point is that it got so we needed to find a fast, short term attitude adjustment. I guess that's usual cause for any parent to spank and I suppose in isolation I don't really have any great moral dilemma against such physical discipline. However, it's always seemed to me to be a very slippery slope; an unsavory habit into which a parent can easily fall and one that can easily grow as a child's will and resources for aggravation do.
On the other hand, it did get Harry's attention. His turnaround was not immediate, but some time before I left him in his bed for the night it seemed he had processed what had happened and felt remorse. At first, right after I spanked him, he looked at me with surprise and said a couple of phrases that he's been testing out a fair amount lately. "I don't like that" and "that hurt." Those, I'm sure, are things we've said to him as explanation of why he shouldn't do things and he has been trying them back at us to assert himself and his own feelings. (In the big picture that's really rather positive.) My response on this occasion was something like "I don't like it either when you fool around in the bathroom and hit your mother like that."
Before much more I went to get Jeremy and, after Harry bath, went with him back to the bathroom with Jeremy, who was still out of sorts for being woken up. Harry tried another couple of phrases he's been working on lately: "I sorry, Jeremy," then "I sorry," to me or his mother, and "I'll try to be good." Those are just words and phrases, but he said them with appropriate contriteness and for that he deserved credit. Bedtime was not quite back to normal and at first I told him how upset it made me to have to be mad at him. But as I watched his young mind at work and struggled myself once more with the weight of parenting, I had no choice but to sing him a couple tender songs, to tell him that I loved him very much, and that I'd see him in the morning.