“This place is The Slap just waiting to happen.”
That was the first thing I said to my husband when we moved into a place housing over 400 residents – with at least a third of those being children- all sharing a communal pool and gardens.
Sure enough, my premonition didn’t take long to come true.
If you’re not familiar with The Slap, the book by Christos Tsiolkas that was adapted into a TV series, it was about the fallout from an incident at a suburban BBQ where a man slaps another couple’s child for hitting his own. It brings into focus the subject of disciplining another’s child and the validity of this.
Clearly, the question of whether it is ever okay to punish another’s child is an emotive one and one that divides many. Was the boy doing something wrong? Yes. Did he deserve to be punished for it? Most definitely. Should this discipline have been delivered by someone who was not his parent? The general consensus was that no, even though there was a dangerous situation being created by the boy, the discipline should have been left to the parent.
This action – the slap – was also delivered in a momentary fit of rage, one where the man’s first instinct was to protect his own child. This is an instinct that, as parents, we all possess – the difference being, of course, that a rational and responsible adult should be able to recognise that it’s not okay to harm another in this way. The difference between adults and children is that we should have learned to control our temper and actions.
My own similar situation also happened in a public space.
There’s a middle-aged man who liked to come down to the communal pool and swim laps on a daily basis. I’d noticed him quite often, although I’d had no interaction with him. Until this day.
The pool is quite large, but there are over 280 apartments in the block of buildings, which is a converted former asylum. It’s fair to say that if you get the pool to yourself you need to call the Vatican, because you’ve just witnessed a miracle.
This day I was sitting watching Sam, my then-10-year-old, swimming around with another boy he’d just met, playing some imaginary game. They weren’t being loud or silly; in fact, they were hunting for bugs on the side of the pool. After watching them for a while, I went back to reading my book.
I looked down to read again- only to hear a scream, then look back up to see the man grab Sam by the shoulders and violently fling him out of his way, hurling him through the air. Apparently, Sam had fallen in from the side of the pool and accidentally gotten in his way.
I jumped up and yelled out to the guy, asking him what the hell did he thought he was doing.
The guy’s response? To tell me I needed to “control my kid better.”