There are quite a few things a parent can do to inadvertently damage a child’s psyche.
It’s been done to all of us; well-meaning parents trying to infuse some sort of loving control over their children in an effort to guide them through the turbulence we call life.
Inadvertently damaging the child’s psyche usually comes in the form of the well-meaning parent (often frustrated at their astounding inability to break through the child’s unique ability to resist all guidance from said parent) resorting to some teaching tool or tactic they would otherwise not employ – were the child not a logic-allergic…child.
Let me take you back to the summer of 2010. I believe the month was July.
My three boys were outside in the front yard playing with two friends, also boys.
Did I say playing? Silly me. I’m sorry.
What I really meant was screaming/yelling/wrestling/picking weird stuff up off the ground/shoving weird stuff off the ground into anyone’s face within arm’s length/falling down/scraping body parts/more yelling/asking for snacks every one and half minutes/all claiming they were Darth Vader when everyone knows there can only be one Darth Vader/crying and whining from everyone who couldn’t be Darth Vader because they didn’t call it first…kind of playing.
Aaaahhhhh. A typical summer day here.
When my kids and neighbor kids are outside playing here (all under the age of 8) I am omnipresent. Oh, I camouflage myself quite skillfully, usually in a discarded Army tarp and shrubbery remnants which I bungee-cord to myself, so as to disappear….
“…..you don’t seeeee meeeee…..“
I like to think of myself as the Jane Goodall of Moms; living among them but trying not to interfere in the natural order. The problem is they are out there for hours, dammit, HOURS. It gets boring.
There is only so much yard work you can do covered in a mobile duck-hunting blind in the scorching 180 degree humidity of a summer day in Chicagoland.
"Dude, is that your MOM???" "Yes (sigh)". "Does she think we can't see her?" "Yes (sigh)". "Dude, that is messed UP!" "Dog, I KNOW!" (High five)
On this particular day my oldest son Boogs (5 1/2 years old at the time) was being uncharacteristically aggressive and testosterone-y with his brothers and friends. He was also not listening to my admonishments and was generally pissing me off.
I try not to embarrass him in front of his friends with my discipline. I make every attempt to pull him aside and embarrass him with my discipline. But on this day he was having none of it.
I pulled out every Mom threat I could think of to get him to stop bullying his brothers and friends into being perpetual mere clone troopers or droids while he expected indefinite Darth Vaderdom:
- Reason: Share Darth Vader and you’ll have more fun – (“No! I’m the best Vader and you know it!”)
- No popsicle – (“So, it would melt anyway!”)
- A time out – (“Good, I’ll get to sit down!”)
- His friends will have to go home – (“Big deal, they’re not playing right anyway!”)
- Go inside to your room – (“Mmmm…I’d love to be in the cool air conditioning!”)
- No TV for a week (“TV is stinky!”)
Arghhh…this kid. The plain truth was he knew I was bluffing. On this day the two friends were over because their mothers weren’t home. He knew they weren’t going anywhere and that I wouldn’t make him go to his room.
Ooooh, he was giving me all sorts of lip and attitude and pushing my big, red Fisher Price-sized buttons to the Nth degree. And he was just begging me to rein him in.
I was hot and frustrated and was trying at the same time to watch the other boys so I could prevent the “The Lord of the Flies” scenario from taking hold while their indignant leader was gone.
So I gently dragged Boogs alongside me as I waddled in my tarp and twigs to the side of the garage out of earshot of the other boys, and this simple phrase came flying out of my mouth in a forceful whisper:
“Do you want the monkey squad to come?”
Silence and huge eyes from him. Fear. Then…
“What’s the monkey squad?” Still with attitude, though faux now.
My first thought was “Ha! That got your attention smarty.”
But my second thought was, “Oh boy…I wish I could take that back”.
The week before we had watched “The Wizard of Oz” and it popped into my mind that I had told him the flying monkeys were the coolest, and at the same time scariest, thing to me when I was a kid.
But now I was stuck explaining what I meant and trying not to scare the shit out of him, without completely losing any standing as the Alpha Mother.
“Well, um, the Monkey Squad are really good, kind monkeys that sometimes come and teach kids who aren’t behaving well how to be better and listen to their Moms.”
Oh my God. What the fuck? Because that is sooo much less scary than flying monkeys in a movie?
“What do you mean?” he asked clearly terrified. “Monkeys come and get you? Where do they take you??”
Ahh, shit. Think, woman, think…
“Um, they don’t really take you anywhere. They come and talk to you…. They…..oh forget it. I’m making it up. There is no Monkey Squad. I’m sorry. There is no such thing. I was just telling you that funny little story to get you to listen to me because you are not being good today. I’m sorry. There is no such thing. Okay? Just forget it. Forget it. Now go and play NICELY.”
He stood and stared at me.
“Where does the monkey squad live?”
“There is no monkey squad! (deep breaths) I was joking. Sometimes Moms do that when they are frustrated. Never mind. I was kidding. There is no monkey squad. Seriously. I’m sorry. I love you. Now go play.”
And he walked away slowly, peering ever-cautiously through the trees for the rest of the afternoon.
Good Christ. I felt terrible. But damn if he didn’t play nice from that point on.
Okay, so I thought it was done. Kids his age have the attention span of ducks anyway, right?
That night we were getting ready for bed. I was brushing his teeth.
“Mom, where does the monkey squad live?”
Son of a BITCH.
“Babe, listen. I told you. That wasn’t true. Really. I was kidding. Sometimes Moms make jokes that are mistakes and that was a big mistake. There is NO monkey squad. I promise you.”
Oh holy shit did I feel bad. Horrible. In a moment of sheer frustration and anger at my own inability to control a 5 1/2 year old boy, I instead scared the bejesus out of him.
I was sure he’d be riddled with nightmarish images all night long of flying monkeys landing in our front yard coming to take him to a Maury Povich-type troubled-teen boot camp.
But he slept fine. He was okay. He never mentioned it the next day at all, and yet I was overcompensating still to make up for my “Mommy Dearest” moment.
I just wanted him to never remember I said it. I plied him with more candy than normal. Was super-lovey with him, more than normal. And it seemed to work. No mention the next day, or the day after that.
Whew. Bullet dodged.
(I’m pretty sure, Dear Reader, you know that is not true or you wouldn’t be reading a blog entry about it would you? Am I right?)
Fast forward roughly one year later. Early August, 2011.
My three boys were upstairs getting ready for bed. I’m sorry, did I say getting ready? Right.
What I meant to say was running around and bouncing off the walls like racquet balls as they usually do right before sleep. You know, just to get it all out.
Teeth were brushed, potties used, jammies on and I was looking through the dresser drawers in my room right across the hall from them.
The two youngest boys were particularly nutso that night and even Boogs was getting irritated. He kept telling them to be quiet. But they wouldn’t listen.
I was looking for my night-shirt when I heard this from Boogs to his two little brothers:
“You guys better be good or the monkey squad will come and take you to their camp in the woods for months until you learn to behave. But they’re not mean, they’re nice. But still they live in the woods and they’ll come”.
What the fuuuuu………………..
“NOPE…NO….!!!!” I yelled as I tripped over myself running to their bedroom, pulling myself along the walls and busting through their bedroom door in an effort to diffuse the A-bomb I had dropped the year before.
“NO! That’s not true. Guys, no. There is no monkey squad. Ha! Ho, man, that was just a funny little story I told Boogs a long time ago but it’s not true. Okay…so, let’s get ready for bed guys!”
The forced chipperness was oozing out of my pores like molasses and they could smell it a mile away.
“The MONKEY squad?!? What’s THAT?” my 3 1/2 year old whimpered in terror as he clutched his favorite stuffed animal – a monkey, of course.
“No, Babe. No Monkey squad! Hey, you guys wanna go to the park tomorrow and then eat ice cream sundaes for dinner??”
It was done. The damage. Boogs had remembered it…of fucking COURSE! Why wouldn’t he remember the single most terrifying thing anyone had ever told him, much less that it came from his Mother; his ordained protector and anointed truth-teller?
For the next half hour I tried in vain to explain the non-existence of the monkey squad. The more I denied it, the more they believed. They laughed some about it, but mostly they stared at Boogs as he kept interjecting more and more outrageous information about what the monkey squad was and where is was stationed (Minnesota, apparently).
It was the proverbial snowball. From Hell.
They still talk about it. They’ve told some of their friends about it. One friend recently asked me if it was real.
“No. Nope. It is not true. I told a bad-Mommy joke because I thought it would be kind of funny and maybe make Boogs listen to me. Nuh-uh. Not real”.
The friend turned to Boogs and whispered, “Where do they take you?”
It was useless. They believed, and my protestations to the contrary seemed only to reinforce its reality. It was done.
God only knows how many kids Boogs has told monkey squad stories to. Hundreds?
The only thing I can’t believe is that I haven’t gotten a call from a single parent who had to get rid of their pet chimp because of my 10 second lie.
Parental guilt is rivaled only by Catholic guilt. In my case I have both. Such is my cross to bear.
These poor kids, not only will they be randomly subjected to sweat inducing, heart racing nightmares periodically throughout their lives…they will likely one day perpetuate this myth by telling it to their children in dire frustration, despite what logic dictates.
But here’s a VERY interesting thing… I Googled “monkey squad” just to see what might come up. And there was the picture you see further up…”Monkey Squadron”.
Coincidence? Was that picture created by a collective parental mind at work – by other parents all over the world who have told similar stories to force compliance from their offspring?
Or perhaps, just perhaps, we have direct knowledge as to how a folklore is born…on the driveway of a suburban Chicago home out of sheer desperation, from a little white lie meant to help a Mom on the precipice of losing control of her 5 1/2 year old son.
The whole story has taken on a life of its own. You know why? Because deep down kids think – it has to be true… Moms wouldn’t tell a lie.
One thing’s for certain…I will lose all semblance of street-cred when they find out about Santa.