Two words have not been uttered that have had a more profound effect on my life since the Missus and I uttered, "I do." That's right, little Poohbutt, on Saturday, April 11, 2009, at 1:27pm, uttered "Oh, shit," in her grandmother's bedroom just seven days shy of her 18-month birthday. My wife had dropped something, and said, "Oh, no." Poohbutt responded, "Oh, shit."
Now, if you haven't guessed, I'm a pretty profane motherfather. Ever since I was seven, when the older Deebee boys moved into our building, cursing up a storm, I've been exhaling profanity like it was CO2. The prudes would always say, "Profanity is the sign of a limited vocabulary." Your young rebel would reply, "Oh yeah, what's antidisestablishmentarianism?" When answered with the customary blank stare, I'd then smugly add, "That's what I thought. Now, go fuck yourself."
However, I don't want Pooh growing up with a potty mouth. So, I've been working on cleaning up my own palette for about two years now. I've made fairly decent progress, but "Oh, shit" shows me that I need to seriously step up my game.
Now, I know a lot of parents out there don't care to curb their tongues around their children. Hell, some folks take delight in cursing out their little ones. But that ain't me. My parents didn't curse around me. I don't want to curse around my own children.
See, it's all wrapped up in my Bill Campbell's Bullshit Theories on Parenting, or "B-ToPs," as it's known in the industry. Like jokes, I've got tons of 'em. I should write a book. But this post specifically addresses my B-ToP on Boundaries.
I'm not a total naif. I know children are going to push boundaries. It's an integral part of a child's development. They push them to test their parents' love and as a mode of self-definition. So, yes, Poohbutt, as adorable as she can be, will be pushing my boundaries and my buttons. Hell, she's already started. So, in the future, I know that my baby girl will curse, try smoking and drinking, may experiment with drugs, and--Oh God, say it ain't so--have sex.
My B-ToP on Boundaries dictates that my job, as a parent, is to accept this inevitability, but I ain't supposed to make it easy for the girl. Because the more I readily accept her misconduct, the more outrageous her future actions will be in order to get a reaction out of me (LoR=LoL, or Lack of Reaction=Lack of Love, see).
So, Pops here has a two-pronged approach to the Boundaries issue. As I said, I can't make it easy for the kid. Boundaries must be respected. Attacks must be repulsed. So, punishment is key.
I got the switch once, and I know that ain't gonna happen to Pooh. I mean, it's an effective weapon, but the switch is a weapon. I understand why my grandmother used it on my behind. She came up in a time and place where a black child's insubordination could realistically result in death. I don't think Pooh needs to really worry about that. So, the switch is definitely part of the Campbell Clan's past.
While I'm not necessarily against corporal punishment, I'm not necessarily for it, either. I can't really see myself whippin' a kid's ass, but you never know. The last time I got the belt was when I was 12. I ran off and fell asleep in a neighboring town's arcade (I had Pacman Fever bad). I woke up to find po-po shaking their heads ruefully at me. They drove me home, where I was greeted with the entire neighborhood's searching the night for poor, little, old me. Seriously, every street and wooded area was strobing with flashlights, as frantic parents hoped to and dreaded to find me. Oh yeah, my ass got lit up that night. Some of you may think a child never deserves to get whipped, but I definitely think I did that night. Hell, I'm sure there were a lot of parents who would've lined up to do the honors.
However, I think I'm more into severe grounding. For example, when I was 14, at the beginning of summer vacation, I was supposed to spend the night over a friend's house. While we were out playing tennis, some of my "cool"er friends strolled by with some girlies, asking me to join them. I deferred, but, later that night, I feigned illness, and told my friend I was just going to walk home. You all know where I went. Hell, girlies were involved.
After the folks found out, I wasn't allowed out of the house the entire month of June! One helluva summer vacation, eh? But, you know what? I don't think I've sold a friend out since.
So, Part I of B-ToP on Boundaries does include a little shock and awe. It accepts insubordination but it don't put up with that mess. It believes that children must learn the consequences of their actions. This may be a race thing, I admit. While my grandmother's day is long gone, black children are still treated more harshly than whites by the authorities. Therefore, our children must learn to respect our authority. When they get a bit older, we can then pump them full of "Fuck the Man." But let's get them out of puberty first.
Part II of B-ToP on Boundaries does admittedly have a class bias to it. In acknowledging boundary pushing, we must limit our children's exposure to as many of the wide varieties available to them. In the Mayberry suburbs of Pittsburgh where I grew up, ther ejust wasn't that much trouble to get into. I could've, maybe, gotten drunk and TP'd a neighbor's yard. Meanwhile, I have friends who grew up in places where their teenage trouble-making could've gotten them into drugs, gangs, jails, and coffins. Part II simply says, "Don't live in those fucking neighborhoods!"
Face it, a lot of the aforementioned criminal activity mostly happens in certain neighborhoods. While drugs are universal, gangs, lethal violence, and teenage pregnancy rarely happen out of certain locales. I'm not saying that you cannot raise decent human beings out of those neighborhoods. If I believed that, a lot of the work that I've done in my adult life would be hypocritical. It's just that raising children in those environments are incredibly challenging. Why do it if you can afford not to? Right now, I am fortunate enough to be able to afford not raising my daughter in such a neighborhood. So, I choose not to. Why have your kids ducking bullets if they don't have to?
A friend of mine once told me that, when she was a child, her mother took one look at her friends, didn't like what she saw, and moved her out of there as soon as was humanly possible. My friend told me that none of those childhood friends of hers survived high school without at least one pregnancy. That's what Part II is all about. Limit those boundaries 'cause sure as "Oh, shit," your kids will find them.
Now, I don't want you sitting there thinking that B-ToPs are meant to be totally draconian--though they may sometimes be. After all, being an abusive parent is just as bad as being a nonexistent one. An abused child can often be out of control, and the legendary "preacher's daughter" can turn out to be a little freak. B-ToP recommends a constant negotiation when it comes to said boundaries. Initially, set them fools real high and gradually lower them as your child grows and matures. This lowering will promote personally responsibility while reinforcing the correlation between consequences and actions. See what I'm saying--Bullshit.
So yeah, Poohbutt's about to turn 18 months, and her "Oh, shit," was her own declaration that she is, indeed, ready for Daddy's B-ToPs. As said father, I must now diminish, as much as possible, the uberquixotic Bill Campbell Bullshit Theory on Parenting: Parental Hypocrisy ("I got it from you, Dad!"). I must now work even harder to elevate my own language from the gutter to the choir. I must create a hip-hop-less Poohbutt Playlist on my iPod and shuttle my forbidden love of rap into the closet. And I must pray and pray and pray.
Wish me luck.