Kavya has a tiny little desk wedged between the sofa and the wall in the living room of our one bedroom apartment. Me and Sona bought the desk for $10 from a street fair a few years ago. We lugged it on the subway, and I varnished the daylights out of it in the basement, and painted it a lovely mahogany. It’s also got a little chair that makes her feel like quite the grown up. She loves sitting at her desk and coloring, drawing, gluing, painting, which all comes under her doing “art,” and declaring herself an “artist.” Clearly, we are setting her up for a life of financial success.
Last weekend, me and Kavya were at the dollar store and she asked me if I could buy her a pair of safety scissors. For her art. She already has a gluestick and glitter, so her own pair of scissors was just the next logical step, a formality, really. A couple of months ago, she cut up a hard drive cord with a wire cutter, which I brought up since she didn’t seem to be able to recall the incident. She conceded that if the incident did in fact occur, she was three years-old at the time, and not really responsible for her actions back then. These things don’t happen to four year-olds, who are much wiser.
I told her we already had a pair of scissors at home, and she countered with, “yeah, but are they safety scissors?” Of course, she knew the answer to this question, which is why her gaze never left mine, until I admitted, “No, they are not” putting me in a situation in which I would be a neglectful father if I didn’t buy these stupid scissors. Unless I was some kind of a parenting expert and could effectively deflect the situation. I put my dollar on the counter and bought her the stupid safety scissors. She was ecstatic and we went straight home and put the scissors in her pencil case on her desk.
It’s Saturday. Kavya has just come home from her first pirate party, where she insisted on being a princess, and wore a brand new princess dress Sona had bought with much deliberation. I’m doing a bit of tidy up, while Kavya sits at her desk and does “art,” and Sona is upstairs hanging with Shaiyar. Kavya promptly cuts several gaping holes in her brand new dress. I’m not aware of this yet, though. I’m still blissfully dusting and Swiftering away.
Me and Kavya go outside, sit on the stoop, and blow bubbles. Sona and Shaiyar are sitting next to us, cheering us on, one of them (ahem) lets out loud yawns, with occasional attempts at speech that sound like whale noises. Kavya turns her little body towards me, excited about the ginormity (it’s a word. Trust me) of her last bubble. This is when me and Sona both come out of our stupor and notice the gopher size holes in her dress. We make eye contact with each other, which I take as confirmation that a flip out is the appropriate response here. Since Sona is holding Shaiyar, I feel I should begin.
“What kind of a laloo (doofus) destroys her own dress?” Kavya looks down at her dress. Sona follows up with, “We’re going to have to throw this in the garbage now.” And Kavya immediately starts bawling.
I ask her what the hell she was thinking, and in the midst of her loud wails, she says, “I don’t know!” I pick her up and we all go back into our little apartment. The original plan for the rest of the evening had been to get cosy on the sofa, watch Frozen for the gabillionth time, and eat homemade pizza. But now a principle is at stake. As we make the short walk from the stoop to our apartment, we are preparing for the wobbly Kavya is sure to throw when we take the weekend from her, and let her know that her dress is irreparable.
I start thinking about something that happened when I was about eight, and living in England. We were all getting ready to go pick wild gooseberries at the local park, where me, my dad, and my sister, would kick around a football. In the early years, the weekend was extra special in our house. Mum and Dad didn’t have to go to work, and my dad didn’t have to go off to London for graduate classes. We would just hang out.
Shortly before we were leaving, I’d gone to the tiny closet sized toilet, up a narrow staircase, and for some reason had flung all six toilet rolls on the sill into the water, rendering them useless. When my parents confronted me with it , my response was to blame Daddy Long legs, a spider I’d just learned about in school. My parents were both furious, but they’re not ones to really make big dramatic points, especially ones based in principle. We still went to the park, and my dad pulled me aside after we played a game of football, and asked me again why I’d done it. Finally, in the midst of sniffles, I said, “I don’t know.” And that seemed to satisfy him. He pulled me close and said, “they cost a lot of money. Don’t do it again.” About a week or so ago, Kavya unravelled almost an entire toilet roll and dumped it into the toilet. I didn’t recall this particular episode then, and told her off like it was the most incomprehensible thing someone could ever do. I’ve done plenty of other daft things, where a swift punishment, involving a slap to the face, or a chappal being flung at me, were dished out, but that wasn’t the memory that came to me during the short walk from our stoop to the front door of our apartment. I remembered my dad just wanting to enjoy the weekend with his family.
I know that we should punish her by not letting her watch Frozen and sending her straight to bed, without a story, instilling a strong message that this sort of behavior will not be tolerated. We get inside the apartment and I look at Sona. She shrugs her shoulders like an apathetic teen, which is code for, “your call.” So I use my own technique based closely on one my parents use, that I like to call, “to hell with it.”
I dry her tears, and tell her we can use the material from the belt to cover the holes because me and Sona are so adept at needlework. Her eyes light up and she suggests we get Hello Kitty patches as well, which I agree is a splendid idea, considering the dress is destroyed anyway. I pull the little doofus close to me and ask her again why she did it. She says again, “I don’t know.” I tell her she has to be very careful with the scissors and not to do it again. She nods her head, which is an obvious lie, but she’s getting better at looking convincing. I brace myself for whatever hell she has in store for me next. But this evening, we’re watching Frozen, and sitting under the covers, while we belt out the songs I don’t properly know the lyrics to (except that one about Reindeers smelling better than people). It is the weekend, after all.
How do you handle discipline during family time?