Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Tortured conversations

I’ve been reading all these blog references to the use of corporal punishment as a legitimate form of discipline. They remind me of Alice Miller’s work. Once you’ve read Miller you’ll never view corporal punishment in the same way again, however much you ascribe to the notion of ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’. Is that how the quote goes?

It also puts me in mind of a conversation I overheard recently. I’ve tried to record it as best I can remember. It puts me in mind of Ruth Schmidt Neven’s notion that ADHD can perhaps be relabeled: ‘parental attention deficit disorder’. But of course, any parent was also once a child and most of us tend to repeat what was done to us. Therefore we need heavy doses of compassion for all parents however seemingly inadequate.

At the airport on Saturday as I stood and waited for the arrival doors to open and let out our youngest daughter, returning from a three week school trip to England, I overheard a conversation.

A boy, about ten years old stood, between the barrier and the corridor that leads from each of the three exit doors. He was waiting with his father for his mother to arrive. Presumably this mother was on the same flight as our daughter, Emirates 404 from London via Dubai and Singapore. I knew this because I had overheard the father tell his son that the air hostesses, who walked out of those sliding doors, mostly in twos, were from the Emirates flight, his mother’s flight.

The man said this I think to encourage his son to be patient, but it had the opposite effect. The boy wore glasses and had a sharp freckled face, none too attractive but typical perhaps for a boy of ten who had been waiting for a long time at the airport for his mother to arrive.

I noticed his face after this first odd exchange with his father.
‘I’ve seen people over there who are crying,’ the boy said.
‘They’re probably happy to see someone come home. Like we’ll be happy when we see Mum and Emma.’ There was a pause, and the boy strained to look to the top of the corridor where people were finally able to come together and hug.
‘I don’t care about other people,’ the father went on to say. ‘Forget about other people. We’re here to see Mummy and Emma.’

The boy spun around then and glared at his father momentarily before regaining his position behind the barricade beyond the opening doors. In that movement he looked directly at me. His face was a grimace and I wondered whether I had missed something.

The boy held a small plastic figurine in his hand and he tapped with it against the metal bar.
‘Stop that now,’ his father said.
‘Why can’t I?
‘Because I said so. Now just be quiet and wait till your mother comes.’
‘There are some balloons over there,’ the boy said, straining to look behind him. ‘Can I have one?’
‘No,’ his father said.
‘Where did they get them?’ the boy asked. ‘Why can’t I have one?’
‘They probably brought them with them. Now settle down.’
I was looking straight ahead so I did not see what happened next but the boy’s voice rose to a new pitch.
‘Don’t you hit me,’ he said.
‘Let go of my shirt,’ his father said. The boy held on.
‘Let go of my shirt or I’ll leave.’
‘You can’t do that,’ the boy said. ‘Who’ll look after me?’
‘Let go of me or I’ll leave.’ The father pulled away. The boy wailed.
‘I’m sorry dad. I’m sorry.’
The father left off leaving.
‘You’re not sorry, he said. Now settle down or I will leave.’
‘You can’t go,’ the boy said. ‘I’ll be all alone.’
‘I told you to settle down. Just settle down.’
‘You shouldn’t have hit me,’ the boy said.
‘Let go of my shirt.’
‘Dad, Dad, I’m sorry Dad.’
The father must have moved away because the boy became even more agitated
‘Don’t go, Dad. I’m sorry.’ In the midst of all this wrangling, the boy’s mother arrived.

I leave this conversation now for you to interpret and make sense of.
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