There are things I do well. The Pony, for instance. I can dance a Pony to make white go-go boots blush. Also: Whistle. I’m a sick whistler. Crazy. I can’t think of anything else just now but there are definitely — surely — things I’m really, really good at.
Rare, though, is the moment I feel proficient at parenting. It’s not false modesty when I say the task just doesn’t come naturally to me; sometimes I have to fight my most basic instincts to keep from earning the Abominable Mommy of the Year award (and if you feel this way, too, I’d love to hear from you; if you don’t, please keep it to yourself).
So when my 11-year-old got mad at the television remote last weekend and flung it across the living room, accidentally assassinating his dad’s new flatscreen TV — the only TV in our house, during (oh god) football season — I wasn’t sure what to do.
We didn’t witness the crime; he did it right before leaving for a friend’s house. His little brother ratted him out. The good news was we had time to thoughtfully plot a response rather than reacting to the emotions flooding our guts and skittering across our faces: shock, disappointment, and a frustration that teetered on rage — the same feeling that had cracked the darn screen to begin with and thus proven an ineffective problem-solver.
The bad news was we had no idea what our response should be. How does one handle a lapse of judgment with such costly consequences? A ticker tape rolled through my head: “Let him live … Let him live … Let him live … ” I was sure of exactly that much; beyond that, I was stumped.
“What do we do?” my husband asked, bewildered.
“I’m going on Facebook,” I said.
Okay, social networking during a family crisis may seem odd. But if this had happened before the Industrial Revolution — and our kid had broken our loom or something — extended family members would have been around to advise us on the proper course of action. “To the whipping post,” Grandpa would offer. “No meat pudding at supper,” Aunt Prudence would insist.
But modern parents are on our own. All we have to rely on is our wits and (for those of us with working TVs) re-runs of “Everybody Loves Raymond.” I trust neither. So I asked folks who are smarter than me.
It was Saturday night, so I didn’t expect to catch many people online. But I posted the question anyway: “NEED ADVICE!” I typed into my status window, explaining our quagmire. “Any suggestions for how to parent this?”
I got 40 comments.
Some were harsh (if hilarious): “You should chain him to the dead TV and make him drag it around.” Some were lenient: “Take the loss and hug your kid. It’s just a material object.”
Some accentuated the positive: “This is the best opportunity you might ever have to teach the ‘you break it, you don’t have one’ consequence of life,” said one mom. “Great moment for learning!” added another. “You always have a choice in how to channel your emotions, what to do with your anger.”
Some were pure genius: “Make him have a yard sale of just his stuff to help pay for a replacement.”
We settled on a course that seemed fair, educational, and exacting enough to sting: We discussed productive ways to handle frustration, and he lost electronics use until he could pay back a portion of the TV’s worth.
He’s learning the value of property and the consequences of rash actions. We learned something, too: That the extended family is alive and well — and wise — online. Thanks, friends, for supplementing my kid-rearing skills. If you ever need a whistling Pony dancer, you know where to find me.