It’s My Prerogative
Dinner last night was spaghetti with homemade sauce, since there was no Prego at hand in the pantry, and Texas Toast. Ngnat, as is her wont when faced with even the slightest of culinary experiments, found something to complain about–in this case the lack of a spoon with which to eat said dish. After demonstrating the absolute uselessness of a fork when it comes to consuming spaghetti by stabbing at the noodles a couple of times, she breathed out the weary sigh of a epicure denied, then rested her head in her hands, gazing listlessly at the pedestrian nutriment set before her.
“Elbows off the table, dear.” I told her. Her mother echoes me from across the table. “Yes, you aren’t supposed to eat like that.”
With yet another sigh, she turned to me with palms upraised, and in the most reasonable of tones, tried out the newest of the schoolyard epigrams she’s recently been exposed to.
“Daddy, how many times do I have to tell you? You’re not the boss of me.”
Across the table, Sainted Wife chokes on her milk. Inwardly, I’m chortling. Outwardly, I’m all Daddy voice.
“Go to your room. Get in your bed. You’re done for the night.” Challenge my authority, will you?
Ngnat’s face turns red, crumples, and tears begin to leak as she gets up and heads for the stairs. I twist the knife.
“I guess I am the boss of you, huh?”
I’ll pay for it one day, I suppose. One less trip she’ll feel obliged to make to the nursing home. Right now, though, Ngnat is far more concerned with the fact that her homework isn’t done. Between wails she relates this information to the world around her.
“I-hi ha-haf to-oo do-oo my-hi homewohk!”
“You should have thought of that before you started mouthing off at the table, Little Miss,” her mother informs her, and the wails retreat upstairs and fade, somewhat.
We consider the matter at hand, wife and I, while Scotty M from his seat informs us somewhat nervously that he is a very good boy. It’s three hours before bedtime, which means that we have over-punished, and need to back down–without, of course, appearing to have backed down. Fortunately there is an existing example for us to follow; English Common Law and The Royal Prerogative of Mercy. Robert Hughes, in The Fatal Shore, describes it thusly;
“This drama of immutable rules lay at the heart of the tremendous power that Law held over the English imagination. The judge simply surrendered to the imperative of the statutes, a course of action that absolved him of judicial murder, and that caused him to weep. His tears humbled him not before the men in the dock, which would have been unthinkable, but before the idea of Law itself. When the Royal Mercy intervened as it commonly did, transmuting the death penalty into exile on the other side of the world, the accused and their relatives could bless the intervening power of patronage while leaving the superior operations of Law unquestioned. The law was a disembodied entity, beyond class interest; the god was in the codex.”
That’s pretty much an accurate description of our parenting philosophy, minus the hanging and judgely tears. Over sentence as if we had no choice in the matter, then intervene at a later time to commute or reduce the punishment. In this case, this was about a half hour later, after the table was cleared and the kitchen cleaned. That’s the nice thing about the exercise of the Royal Prerogative. Once one knows that it is to be exercised at some point, you can schedule it for the most convenient time, or, if there’s something interesting on TV and you really don’t want to be disturbed, after that.
Ngnat was encased in her comforter, red-faced and damp, when I entered her room. “Do you know what you did wrong?” I asked her. She nodded, too overcome to speak, hiccupping her grief every few seconds.
“Okay, then. I’ll talk to Mommy about maybe letting you to do your homework, but only if you concentrate on it and do a really god job. ”
“Thank you, Daddy,” she squeaked, and then burst into fresh tears. I sat and took her in my lap. The sobs slowly wound down.
“It’s okay, honey. You won’t do it again.”