Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Salon's Big Blunder

I've been following the hullabaloo over at Salon.com where writer and "satirist" Neal Pollack wrote a woeful tale of his biting 2-year-old Elija. Elija was booted from his preschool because he'd bloodied one Sophie with his chompers, not once, but over the course of a month. The very bad school allowed it to happen again and again. Poor little Sophie's not-so-hot parents allowed Sophie back, again and again. And Elija continued to bite, despite being told by his parents not to. (Can you imagine a 2-year-old not listening to logic?) Finally, he was expelled. Neal wasn't complaining so much because his son had been expelled from his very first attempt at school. No. Neal was in crisis mode because he and his wife were going to have to now spend a lot more unfettered time with their spawn.

The piece was allegedly satire, a point missed by about 3 million bloggers, letter writers and Salon readers. Most people responding to the column were aghast. Some offered to adopt Elija. Others suggested that the Pollacks get themselves sterilized. Pollack himself wrote a defense on his own blog, claiming to be misunderstood.

Actually, after reading everything I believe the Pollacks were indeed misunderstood, and that it's Neal's own damn fault. I think Neal wrote a big, steaming pile o' dung, sent it to Salon along with his invoice, and called it a day. Salon dropped the literary ball and just posted the damn thing. Ye gods, people! Aren't you trying for world-class stature here? What a collasal fumble!

Anyhoo, now come the letters. Dozens of them. Six links with on Salon--a record if I am not mistaken. Pretty much everyone thinks the Pollacks suck. No one has really taken Salon to task, but they should. So I will: Salon: tsk, tsk. Bad Salon. If I'd been the editor on that piece, I would have stopped it in its tracks. It would have bounced back to Neal for rewrites. Salon was lazy, perhaps because they were busy with the three day Memorial Day weekend. Maybe those San Franciscans are all rushing home to prepare their houses for sale ahead of the Housing Bubble burst. Who knows? They have become so hit and miss over there.

At any rate, that's not what inspires me to write. It's the letters. Many are no better, really, than the original post. Here is why: Everyone seems to think that it's a good idea, when things go wrong with the way this generation parents, to go back to the way grandma did it. Well, suggests one letter (or blog post, can't remember), why not bite Elija back? That's how they did it in Grandma's day (you know, back when children were to be seen and not heard). Or, why not smack the kid in the butt? I didn't bite, says one writer, because I know that if I did, I'd get smacked in the butt. Be the parent! Who's running the show here! In a word, Dominate! Beat! Bite!

For the record, my oldest boy, now five, was a biter at Elija's age. He never drew blood, but he bit a half-dozen times. It was a crisis, I'll admit. His preschool, a parent-teacher co-op in San Francisco, didn't boot him. But we all hunkered down and began to think about how we could prevent the bites from happening. Yes, that's what you do with 2-year-olds folks. You prevent. That means, you get down and play in their little groups with them. You know when a crisis is building and you get yourself on the alert. You stop the hit. You stop the bite before it happens. In other words, you don't warehouse your kid with a preschool where the teachers are sitting around drinking coffee across the room and allowing your kid to get bitten or to bite. It takes a lot more involvement with your child to do this instead of, say, whacking him upside the head when you see him misbehave. But it's better for your bond. It's better for the kid. It's ultimately better if you want to create a non-violent society.

Toddlers are really bad at impulse control. Their brains just aren't developed enough to control their emotional outbursts, whether they be physical or verbal. This isn't me just talking out my ass here. It's true. The brain is not a complete specimin when kids are born. They develop. Kids behave according to their brain development.

My son quit biting eventually. Now he is a really delightful kindergartener. He has no behavior problems in school, and I am continuously amazed to hear him described by his teacher and other parents as being, well, good. I'm amazed because back when he was a biting 2-year-old, I'll admit, I was worried that he was going to be a big troublemaker.

Anyway, my point is this: let's not go back to the bad old days of parenting just because kids are still behaving the way kids have always behaved. Let's keep charging forth to the good days: those in which we treat our kids with love, compassion, understanding and respect.

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