My mother kicked my brother’s ass on my 11th birthday. She’d taken us to Harrod’s, where I was allowed to buy three brand spanking new Sweet Valley High books - an outing I had been anticipating for months. But my shitty little sibling ruined it all.
I’m reminded of that episode because of the latest parenting article making the rounds – this one debating the spoiling of America’s children. After the sixth time it showed up in my inbox, I read it, and immediately flashed back to that afternoon where my mother’s no-nonsense, militant child-rearing methodology was put on public demonstration.
“Mummy, can I have this football?” My brother had asked, after spotting a giant basket of fluorescent sports equipment at the entrance to the toy department.
“No.” She’d replied. “You already have one.”
“But I want this one! Puh-lease get it for me!”
“Beta, I said no,” my mother had continued. Like a pathologist studying a biopsy slide, she was inspecting the stitching on a fancy stuffed doll. “Such bad quality. And they want 45 pounds for this! Hai hai…”
“Mummy puh-lease! I don’t have a yellow football! I need this one!”
“No. And don’t ask me again. It’s Pummi’s birthday, not yours. When it is your turn, we’ll come back and you can get it, okay?”
“Well…if you don’t buy it for me, then I’m-I’m-I’m going to steal it!”
Everyone froze, even my brother, who seemed astonished by his own words.
My mother went bat-shit crazy. Just totally fucking snapped.
“You gadda (donkey)! Haram-zada! How dare you? How dare you!” She shouted in Punjabi.
And then she started whacking him, up the side of his head, pat-tah, pat-tah, slap, slap! He howled, covering his head with his arms. She then switched to thrashing his bum with her massive Mary Poppins garment bag, and when he tried to run away, she grabbed him by the collar and kicked him in the shin. And it went on.
Yes. Right there, smack dab in the middle of shiny, swanky, sophisticated Harrods.
I was mortified. I remember inching away, trying to distance myself from the ugliness, hoping no one would guess I was associated with this Neanderthal family. This was futile, given she was brown, he was brown and I was brown, and everyone else in our immediate vicinity was some shade of pastry flour.
A security guard ran over to diffuse and hush. He failed. My mother started shouting at him too.
“This son of mine is a stupid, stupid donkey. A donkey! I will kill him, then bring him back to life, and then kill him again. Steal? Let him try it! I will cut his hands off and feed them to the other donkeys!”
And it went on some more.
Somehow we all made it home – my brother still in one piece, my mother still in charge and not in jail for child abuse. And the birthday girl…sans Sweet Valley High, feeling tremendously sorry for herself, wishing an English family would adopt her.
No one adopted me. Or my brother. He’s still alive, has reached his 30s, and is the antithesis of spoiled. I too, am not spoiled.
But I’m not convinced about corporal punishment. Though I kind of wanted to throw down when my four year old ate my Girl Scout cookies. Cookie season was over, which meant I had to wait several months for more Thin Mints. I was so enraged, I locked myself in the bathroom.
And maybe my kids are spoiled – I give them way too much and have fairly low expectations of how they should behave in return.
My mother makes fun of me when I try to discipline them.
“Time-out, shime-out,” she says using her typical desi inflection. “What is that nonsense Pummi? It’s not going to teach them a lesson.”
But when I don’t buy them what they want, guess who sneaks out and gets the goodies instead? My mother, the ball of gooey sap. She is no longer that woman in Harrods.
There are a gazillion parenting articles, and a gazillion views on how to raise your kids. I read them sometimes, think about them even less, and ultimately always conclude that parenting is a total bitch – as in it’s really, really hard. I just fumble through every day, and hope my kids won’t be assholes when they grow up.
Before writing this, I asked my brother if he has ever stolen. He was surprised by my question, and then assured me that he hasn’t. And I believe him.
I asked him if it’s because of that ass-kicking.
“What ass-kicking?” he asked, totally blank.