I’m not one for judging other peoples parenting skills. Well, how can I when as toddlers my boys could turn any public space into a thrash metal moshpit of despair at the drop of a hat … or glove … or raisin.
I’ll always remember one such occasion in a supermarket when a lovely old lady walked over, looked down at Sonny spreadeagled beneath the magazines, then back up at me and said,
“They can be little shits can’t they!”
Words I never would have imagined coming out of her mouth, less still,
“You know, most angelic toddlers turn into teenage pricks. Trust me, it’s so much better that they get their tantrums out of their system early.”
She then crouched over Sonny,
“Right young man, are you going to put that comic back and help your dad with the shopping, or shall we leave you here for the bogeyman?”
Whoa, back up a minute old lady. Bogeyman? I was saving that terror for when he was older. Like he wasn’t already going to have nightmares of a strange old lady towering over him?
But it was what she said next that has stuck with me.
“You might think others are judging you. They’re not. You’re doing a great job and you’re a great dad, don’t ever think otherwise.”
And with that she gave me an uncomfortable hug and wandered off, leaving behind a well behaved if slightly traumatised Sonny and the distinctive smell of cheap port. Oh, did I not mention she may have been a little drunk?
Anyway, the reason I say this is that from that day on I’ve always offered a smile of recognition to any parent struggling with a toddler in meltdown. If it feels appropriate I might offer a word of support, but if not I’ll at least try and ensure it doesn’t look like I’m judging them. Parenting is hard, discipline harder still.
But there is one aspect of parenting I can’t turn a blind eye to. A form of discipline that fascinates me to such an extent that I’m likely to pull up a chair, sit back and watch it unfold. A guilty pleasure that’s superseded football as my spectator sport of choice.
And that’s a public five count.
Maybe it’s because my boys laugh in the face of a five count. They’ve stared zero in the eye with little or no consequence. They know all too well what comes after a five count, and it’s normally another slightly slower five count.
So when I see one played out in public I’m not judging in a judgemental kind of way, I’m judging in much the same way I do when watching The Voice. On performance and stage presence. On holding your nerve and a big finish. From the perspective of a failed five count protagonist in the hope that I just might learn something.
And this week I saw my favourite public five count yet. More gripping than a Scandanavian drama, more tense than a, well, Scandanavian drama.
It began with a loud, almost gladiatorial,
Now here spoke a woman with authority. Five fingers raised aloft with the confidence of someone who’d never gone beyond three. In her other hand, a packet of chocolate buttons. Ah, the classic carrot and stick technique. This should be good. I pulled up a chair.
Her son was high up on a climbing frame. He dismissed her five and climbed still higher.
The lady sitting next to me saw what was happening too and gave her husband a nudge, knocking a chicken nugget from his hand. No eating in the auditorium, apparently.
“THREE!” she boomed, with not even the slightest quiver in her voice. Surely she was regretting making this so public, he was still climbing!
Whoa, that was quick. Isn’t the move from three to two where you slow it down a bit? Buy yourself some time? What the hell was she thinking, he was still on the up.
By now I was getting nervous; for both of them. The audience had grown still further, young and old alike, all with a vested interest in the outcome.
This was no longer a stand-off between mother and child, this had ramifications for parents and children the park over.
Undaunted, she took a bold step forward, and in her loudest and most self-assured voice yet, shouted,
He wasn’t coming down! Granted he wasn’t going up either, but even with a sudden change of heart there was no way he was making it back on a one count.
She’d blown it. There could be no winners from this point on. As every parent knows, there’s no place for over confidence in a public show of discipline. So I sat back and awaited the inevitable extra time and fractions.
There were no fractions. Far from being finished, she upped her game still further. Picking up his teddy from the pram, she hung it over a bin. Smart move. I’d never seen a child move so fast, and I’ve seen my boys feet barely touch the ground when I’ve suggested their brother might be about to eat their sweets.
Eh, what? Zero? Is there a zero? If there is I don’t think I’ve ever heard it uttered in public before. By the look on the other kids faces, neither had they.
He was only yards away. He couldn’t run any faster. You could sense the crowd willing him on and I desperately wanted to jump from my seat and yell ‘run boy, run!’
But it was to no avail. With the teddy still perched perilously over the bin, she slowly tilted her head back and poured the entire bag of chocolate buttons into her mouth in one go.
“That’s what happens at zero”, I heard the lady next to me whisper to her shell shocked daughter.
And that’s how you do a five count properly, I thought. Carrot, stick and consequences. All this time I’d been missing the consequences bit. Always going with empty threats when it should have been empty packets of chocolate.
Like someone who’d just missed their last train home, the young lad let out a resigned sigh, slouched into his buggy and off they all went. Clearly this wasn’t the first time it’d happened. Clearly he knew what the consequences would be. Imagine that?
My only disappoint was that Sonny and Luca had missed it all, which was ironic given I’d shouted them numerous times to come and get their drinks. If only I’d used a five count. You know, one of those proper ones. With consequences. And authority.
* And just for the record, I don’t really watch The Voice. No, honestly I don’t. The last
four six weeks are just an anomaly.