Sunday, January 13, 2013

Leave a Mark

I have spent the weekend reading Lit by Mary Karr. It is an engrossing read with both an engaging plot and awe-inspiring writing. Like her other memoirs, it is about alcoholism, mental illness, screwed up relationships, and redemption. As you might expect, it does not contain many examples of great parenting.

While some may differ with my assessment, I think the following passage is a counterexample. I only hope that if faced with a similar situation, I'd have the guts to offer this advice and the good fortune to have it work out the way it did. In this passage, the author's son, Dev, has been chased home and pelted with snowballs by five other boys, including Dan. Here is his mother's advice:

"Over breakfast the next day, I tell Dev the strategy's this: if he's away from school, and there are that many of them, he should turn and fight. Throw down his book bag and just accept the fact that he's gonna take an ass-whipping.

Slipping his backpack on, he looks completely defeated.

One ass-whipping hurts once, I says. Running home afraid every day hurts every day.

Why would they ever stop? he says.

Because you're gonna pick out one of them--the closest one you can get to--and you're gonna leave a mark. Bite the dog dookey out of him. Lay the ivory to 'em.

He tries to grin, but a cloud passes over his face as he pulls his royal blue watchman's cap on.

What? I say. What's the matter?

Dan does know karate, Dev says.

Do you know, I say, what would happen to Dan if you hit him full-on?

What? Dev says.

He'd topple like a pine. He's a pipsqueak of a thing. You've got a leg as big as Dan.

Dev grins all over his face. He says, Really?

Absolutely. Karate or no karate. You're twice his size.

He's out the door when turns and hollers back, You swear I won't get in trouble?

If you hit first, you've lost TV for a month.

That afternoon he comes in shucking off his backpack. He'd run for about a block before turning to face the pack. Dan had said he was gonna karate Dev's block off, and Dev had said, You go ahead and hit me first, adding, When I hit you, you're gonna topple like a pine.

End of discussion."

I love this passage and I love this anecdote. Do you agree or disagree with me that it's risky but wise advice? Do you think you could or would give your child similar advice?


  1. Hmm... Matthew = Dan; Noah =Dev except that Noah knows karate. I think it's great advice but I don't know if would have the guts to offer it. I do love the "if you hit first" consequences AND I like that it's an actionalbe plan for standing up to bullies.

  2. Love it..and yes, I think it is solid advice