My baby boy Ashton, a most mischievous child in every imaginable way, was two years old and should have known better than to draw on the walls with crayons. Bright blues, purples and oranges he smeared in infantile squiggles all over the white walls of my beautiful home. Since I considered myself a strict disciplinarian and did not want my home ruined by such misbehaviour, I made a rule immediately that whenever he scribbled pictures on the walls he would have to stand in the corner for an hour and not utter a word. This punishment for his wrongdoing seemed tough but fair.
"You must learn to live by the rules," I told my son, although I wondered if he could comprehend a word I was saying. He spoke in baby talk and incomprehensible gibberish.
In the beginning he doodled on the walls every day. I'd wake up in the morning and there he was in the kitchen or someplace with a crayon in hand, drawing a green horse or whatever the hell those odd lines and shapes were supposed to represent. My rule worked well or so I thought at first. I'd instruct him to go stand in the corner and off he went to accept his punishment. Then the crying and the screaming began, and sometimes this was more aggravating than the crayon drawings themselves. I endured it, though. I tried ignoring the cries and screams for the entire one-hour duration. I kept thinking that he would tire out, but the baby had more endurance than I anticipated. For 60 minutes he cried and screamed without ceasing. Still, I truly believed that I was making progress. I would make a man out of him yet.
One morning, however, while watching The Price is Right and enjoying a cup of tea, I went downstairs during a commercial break, and when I returned I found by baby boy colouring the walls again with a sharp crayon. As usual, into the corner I sent him. Yes, the crying and the screaming went on for about half an hour, and then precious silence for the final 30 minutes or so. I felt relieved. When his time was up, I went over to have a talk with him, only to find that he had sneaked a crayon into the corner and was drawing on the wall again! Yes, he drew a house and a sun and a stick boy -- a pleasant scene if it had been on paper and not at knee level in my rumpus room.
Obviously he was not learning his lesson by standing in the corner, and my trying to reason with him did no good either. Lecturing him did no bit of good. I might as well have been lecturing a cat; he just didn't learn a thing. Rather than standing in a corner, I upped his punishment to spending an hour alone in his bedroom -- no TV, no music, no toys and certainly no crayons. Out of pity, I allowed him a stuffed teddy bear, and a few puzzles to play with. Of course, the consequence of confining him to his room was double the crying, twice as much screaming. Overall, I thought my discipline was working effectively.
Wouldn't you know it, the minute I let him out of his room, he was back at it, and drawing his stupid pictures all over my living room walls. To his room I sent him once again. Within five minutes he would find another crayon and begin drawing on the walls once more, putting the finishing touches on some grand design that he had started the afternoon before.
I was running out of ideas, so eventually I made what I thought was the next logical step and threw every single crayon I could find into the trashcan. I figured that this would eliminate the temptation altogether, and solve this problem once and for all. This plan didn't work either, unfortunately. Ashton resorted to using pens, paints, pencil crayons, chalk, charcoal, bingo daubers, toothpaste, black shoe polish, whatever else he could find as a drawing utensil.
While admitting this is difficult, I cannot mince words: I was beginning to hate my son. Like every other man in the civilized world I was taught not to hate but that's the word that best describes how I felt about my son at this point. There were other bratty kids in the neighbourhood with neglectful parents and brats with fine parents, good kids with lousy parents and near-perfect kids with no parents. Based on this knowledge of my own neighbourhood and the families around me, I refused to believe that I was doing something wrong. I believed instead that having an upright or virtuous kid, whatever you wish to call him, was pretty much like everything else in life, a simple luck of the draw. When it came to having children, all a parent could do was spin the wheel and hope for the best. In this regard, I was unlucky. I believed that Ashton was defective. If I believed in karma or past lives or any of eastern spiritualist mumbo-jumbo, I'd say that Ashton was some sort of punishment from the gods for one of my long-forgotten screw-ups.
"You are going to stand in the corner for three hours this time!" I hollered, grabbing him firmly by the shirt and leading him over to the corner.
Sulking, he stood in the corner, and what ensued was the expected tantrum, more crying and screaming, screaming and crying. After serving his three hours, he looked down and found a miniscule piece of black crayon, a broken one that went unnoticed in my search, and I waited to see what he would do with it. Why did I bother waiting? Sure enough, the little scoundrel went over to the wall and started etching something onto the wall. I think it was a fire truck. When I approached him he put the crayon piece in his mouth, swallowed it down. Damn, I thought, this baby would go to any lengths to thwart his father.
For six hours he stood in the corner and I watched him the whole time, never taking my eyes off him. I saw to it that no crayon was in arm's reach. Some days he stood in that damn corner for 18 hours, without eating, without getting his diaper changed. On days such as those, the cries and screams would subside after seven or eight hours, and at last I would get some moments of mercy. I worried about Social Services or some bleeding-heart mothers' group finding out about my strict rules, which might have seemed too rigid or excessive for some people's tastes. My view was that if you made a rule, you had to stay consistent and you certainly could not backtrack, otherwise the child would get the wrong idea and think he could get away with other naughtiness and transgressions.
"If you can't learn to play by the rules, when you get older you will have no redeeming virtues, no character," I explained to Ashton, in hopes that he would understand my strictness. "You will be bullied in the playground and in the workplace."
My explanations were probably of no assistance in leading my baby boy to a brighter future. When I spoke he seemed to listen, yet I could not help but feel that my words were nothing more to him than a distraction that kept him from searching for more crayons. My words meant nothing to this child. I had reached that sad point where if Ashton were to fall off the roof of a tall building and plummet 12 stories to his death, I think I'd be fine with it as long as I wasn't responsible in any way. Indeed, it's sad when a father thinks that way of his only son.
For his perpetual defiance the longest I ever kept Ashton standing in the corner was 72 hours -- three days and three nights. This standing-in-the-corner marathon ended when I had a friend over and he noticed the ribs sticking out of Ashton's back. I had always considered myself a good father. With my friend's line of questioning about my infant son, he made me feel as though I was doing something wrong or mistreating my child.
"I fed him a dry slice of toast on Wednesday," I told my friend, trying to justify my actions.
I explained to my friend, whose name was Jack, that I had no choice in the matter because I had reached an ethical crisis. My baby had not left the house in months, had not felt sunlight on his face, had not played in the park like he once did, none of that. None of these things were my fault, however. If my son would simply stop drawing on the goddamned walls, he could live a life like the other boys his age.
"Nine more hours and he can have a cookie," I told Jack.
Jack was aghast at my statement, and went on a long rant about how starving my child was cruel, having him stand in a corner was a form of abuse, keeping him inside for days at a time was unhealthy, and other similar prattle. That he had a faultless son made his statement easy for him to say. Jack's son behaved the way a boy should. The kid did what he was told, kept shit simple, didn't make trouble for his father, and would never dare draw on the walls of his home.
At my friend's request, I allowed Ashton out of the corner, cautioning him that crayons and other writing utensils were out of the question. Things did not improve one iota. Ashton came out of the corner like a bat out of hell, rushed into the kitchen and pulled a crayon out from under the refrigerator. I was not the least bit surprised. He started drawing on the kitchen wall, at knee level, his own rendition of the Mona Lisa. Or maybe it was a tractor, I couldn't be certain.
Finally I devised a reasonable solution that satisfied Ashton, my friend and me. I announced that it was OK for Ashton to draw on the walls with crayons. Problem solved! It was the best solution I ever came up with for any problem. Parenting got a lot easier after that. Every decision I made regarding our home life worked out for the best. Today, my exquisite baby and I sit happily on the floor together drawing happy faces and purple dogs on the walls. Being a good father I make sure that I always spend plenty of quality time with my son, and sometimes, just for kicks, we go out late at night and knock over stop signs at busy highway intersections. We make a good team, father and son, the way families were meant to be. Last night we sneaked over to Jack's place and keyed his car.