I cannot sleep, I feel awful, my stomach is trembling while thoughts are racing with each other on the pathways of my mind. I am nauseated also, yet I have eaten nothing since I hit him, my small defenseless grandson. My heart is aching, I am a brute! He is only 7 years old. I should have thought about it before I reacted angrily and swiftly. True, he was very naughty, uncontrollable. No! More than that, he was deliberately provoking me at bedtime. "Georgie", I addressed him by his nickname, "please undress, get into your pajamas, and fold up your clothing nicely." He didn't move, just let this old man know who is the boss.
When I repeated the request he jumped on his bed with dirty shoes and defiant face, sending me a message without words, something like, "Get lost you old fool! Who the hell you think you are?!" The extreme body language of this small beloved boy gripped my heart. Love on my side, hate on his. I wondered, is he going to turn out like his father? Then I began pitying him for having a father who abused his mother and never supported them. Two small boys raised by their mother, and the occasional grandpa and grandma and granny. I thought about Dr. Spock's teachings, and the irony of gaining experience in child rearing on the job.
No. He shouldn't turn out like his father, I should teach him good behavior. "Georgie", I repeated, "get off your bed! You know very well not to dirty your clean sheets, remove your shoes and clothing at once, get into your PJs and go to the bathroom." From the tone of my voice he new I meant business. He got the message and removed his jacket but threw it on the floor, and remained sitting in the middle of his bed. "Your shoes first," I commanded. I thought, the boy must learn to be dutiful, he must not be obnoxious. He made a hostile gesture while kicking his shoes to the floor. "Georgie", I warned him, "get off your bed, pick up your jacket and shoes and put them away neatly for the night. I am getting very angry at you!" He saw my anger grow, so he jerked off his shirt, wiggled out of his pants, still on the top of his bed, and threw them after his shoes. "You are supposed to help your mother, it is a shameful mess you are doing, and I will spank you unless you come to your senses," I warned. His small shorts just landed on the floor as I spoke, and there he was; naked on top of the bed amidst the mingled bedspread and pillows, defiantly ready to test me.
I turned his small body face down with one swift move and delivered my promise; two well directed blows to his naked rear end. He twisted his lovely fragile body around when I released him from my grip. His beautiful little face distorted, mouth turned down, bitter, frustrated, hurt. No, he wasn't crying loud, only his tears were flowing down on his pale cheeks. He was sobbing quietly, helpless, humiliated. This brute; I hit him, and now my heart is aching. My authority prevailed while his independence was crashed by naked force. In his tears and facial expression I saw his message; "It was easy for you grandpa to grab my exposed body, jerk it around and strike it. Am I such a bad boy? Don't you love me?"
George's little brother Billy retreated to the corner of the bedroom, frightened, swiftly and silently readying himself for the evening bath and bed. He turned pale witnessing my brutality, held back his tears, and folded his clothing neatly. He glanced at me anxiously, afraid that he may not fulfill my expectations. He took one step to console his brother, to kiss and hug him, but he didn't dare to do it in my presence. I think he felt responsible, in his small childish way, for his brother's defiant behavior. He may have felt that Georgie demonstrated his defiance for him, to show that he has grown up, that Grandpa isn't the boss anymore. He may have felt guilty for being present at his brother's humiliation and not coming to rescue him. I felt terrible immediately after my emotions overpowered my reasoning ability. I took the weeping boy into my arms, held Billy’s hand and walked into the bathroom with them. They were meek and exhausted. I tucked them into the nice warm water and left them there by themselves. Later I washed them and then dried them with soft large towels. While they brushed their teeth I fixed up Georgie's bed, and folded his clothing neatly. When I returned to the bathroom to fetch them they were calm and obediently combed themselves. "Well, now that you are handsome and clean, are you ready for your story?", I asked. "Will you tell me about the white horsy with the fleecy hair Grandpa?" responded Billy.
I laid down beside him, on the top of his blanket, put my arm under his head, and started to spin my tale. The boy loved to roll his head on my arm to feel my muscle. That night he said "you could grab even a wild horse grandpa, couldn't you?" He felt safe and protected when I replied, "That's for sure Billy, and I would stop anyone trying to hurt you or Georgie." He would usually fell asleep before the end of the story, but not tonight. He is a good sleeper, he takes after me. I kissed him good night, and crossed the room to Georgie's bed.
He had calmed down completely while quietly listening to Billy's story. His rare naughty behaviors, like the recent one, usually ceased quickly. He was the nice, cooperative, smart first grandchild of mine, so easy to love. He liked technical and scientific stories. Unlike his young brother Billy, Georgie wanted to know how engines work, how cars are made, or he would listen to the story of metals. I detailed how iron is extracted from mineral rocks, which lie in deep mines under the earth, brought to the surface, and dumped into red hot smelters. Billy could never stay awake to hear the end of such boring stories. He did not ask questions, like Georgie did, "How come the workers don't burn themselves grandpa?" Billy's quiet snoring usually speeded up my reply.
That night as I laid down beside him, instead of a story, I said, "You are a smart boy, and you know that I love you. It was not very smart to behave like you did. You know that I hate it when I have to spank you."
"Yes I know Grandpa," and asked me to tell him a tale, not a story. "Can you tell me about how that boy tamed Black Beauty?" He knew this story by heart, yet I began repeating the tale of the wild horse.
A boy spotted him running down the hill on an early morning. His black beauty, his strength, his galloping speed, his shiny hair and tail floating in the air like a flag, fascinated him. Georgie loved to hear me describing Black Beauty, how the wild horse's eyes sparkled and perked up ears as he cautiously looked around before he drank from the lake at the foot of the hill. From his hiding place in the bush the boy stuck out a carrot, the horse grabbed it and run back to the hills.
Day after day the boy patiently befriended the horse. The story ended so that one day the horse told the boy to get up on his back, and galloped with him by his house, so his mother would be proud to witness her son's patience in taming black beauty. That night, as always, I kissed Georgie good night, tiptoed out of the room and shut the door gently behind me. When I checked the boys fifteen minutes later Georgie was sleeping quietly. He must have been exhausted. I felt pearly sweat on his forehead--a sign of illness or exasperation--that I noticed the first time, when he was a baby and I held him my arms singing him lullabys.
Everything seems to be back to normal except me. Here I am tossing around in my bed with racing thoughts inside the unmapped pathways of my head. Why can't I fall asleep like Billy? After all, he inherited this great gift of nature from me. With a sharp turn, my thoughts wonder about nature. Punishment is part of the natural world. Merciless, cold, impartial, regardless of the violators of its laws. Innocent children are not accepted. Some fall through the ice and drown to death, others get lost in the forest forever, or hit by a car. How do we teach our children to know the limits? What is the right way to raise them to grow up safe, and well protected against the dangers of the natural world and man-made hardships? I wonder...
Several times Billy had fallen 10 feet off the stairs right to the basement. He never hurt himself, never cried, and had never been spanked for crawling through the grating to the forbidden stairs. His curiosity drove him to places before he could walk, before he learned about dangers. We laughed at his photograph many times which showed a big lump on his forehead, a reminder of his ceaseless inquisitiveness. One day, 2 years old, Billy squeezed himself under the chesterfield, while his mother was sitting on it, and electrocuted himself. There he pulled the extension cords apart with one plug gripped in his teeth. I rushed him to the hospital where he remained in critical condition for several days.
Yes, we can explain the dangers of life to a small child endlessly. Yes, we can be very careful and keep poisonous liquids, and drugs away from them. We can teach them not to touch the hot oven, and not to climb to the kitchen counter to reach the cookies. Will we be successful? Not with Billy and not with inquisitive children like him. A small quick slap on a child's hand at the moment when it reaches the forbidden zone can teach a life long lesson. No harm done, I try to soothe myself. A quick slap on a fragile little bum, at the right moment, may do a lot of good, I rationalize. Then I counter myself; no, not in anger, not in frustration as I hit Georgie's bare bottom. That's why I got up from my bed. Enough of these racing thoughts! Start being rational, start analyzing I told myself. So that night I began to write this story. These two boys are dear to me. They are the most important parts of my life. I love them dearly. Susan, their mother loves them more than anyone. She tries to compensate the boys for their father's failings as a father who was gone from their life right after Billy was born and Georgie was only a-year-and-a half-old. We all try to fill the gap, we all try to help raise them well, but sometimes we fail without even knowing it. I know now that I failed tonight. The harm done is clear now, I hit a beloved child in anger, frustrated that I did not find the `right way' to teach him. I feel guilty. That is why my conscience is troubling me and I am unable to fall asleep.