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Deborah Copaken Kogan Headshot

A Slap in the Face

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Last Monday, according to this report on the Smoking Gun, Roger Stephens, 61, went to a Wal-Mart in Stone Mountain, Georgia, and slapped Paige Matthews, 2, for crying. Not to dismiss the injustice of the average, workaday abused child, but I think it's important to note here that Matthews was not in Stephens' care at the time. In fact, before she came into that Wal-Mart with her mother and incited her batterer with her incessant tears, young Paige and Stephens had never met.

To be fair, Stephens did fire a warning shot before snapping. "If you don't shut that baby up I will shut her up for you," Stephens apparently said to the toddler's mother. It was only after the child refused to comply that Stephens acted in what he thought was the best interest of all parties involved. Which, as any of you who've ever known a 2-year-old might imagine, caused said child to shriek louder.

Here's a question that may be nagging you, too: When did unsolicited parental advice become extreme sport? Last week, while I was on vacation, I was happily reading on the beach under an umbrella with my twelve year old daughter while my 3-year-old sat in a hole nearby. Suddenly, a jogger appeared out of nowhere and stepped into our shade: that is to say, right in my face. "I don't mean to sound paranoid or anything," she said, "but this is a beach, and your son's sitting in a hole."

"Yehsssss?" I said, trying to figure out which part of her statement was paranoid. As far as I could tell, her compound sentence contained only factual declarations. We were on a beach. My son was sitting in a hole.

The woman seemed frustrated that I could not follow her. "A wave could come up and drown him!" she exclaimed, exasperated. It was, I should add, high tide, and we were sitting next to the dune, miles from the water.

A slap in my child's face, this was not, but it was yet another slap in mine, and my figurative cheeks are raw from them: the countless run-ins with other parents, other people who feel it is their duty to tell me and you what we're doing wrong. "Thank you for your input," I said. Then I turned my attention right back to my book. My adolescent daughter simply laughed and kept reading.

None of us are perfect parents, and our children are far from perfect, but unless I'm beating my toddler in the middle of a Wal-Mart -- which I'm proud to report I haven't resorted to yet, not that I haven't been tempted -- your unsolicited advice is not welcome. In fact, let's call it by its proper name: aggression.

Now, far be it from me to tell you how to parent, but whenever my toddler becomes aggressive, he is given a time out. So let's make a deal: next time you tell me how to parent my children, I will simply pick you up, carry you over to the corner and into the naughty chair, and we will count to ten until you can calm down, apologize, and promise to try to do better.

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