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Discipline is the superparent's burden

Editor's Note: This is one in a series of occasional columns by reporter Ryan Pfeil as he documents the impending arrival of his first child. To see others in the series, read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/pocketprotector

Dear Bethany,

Congratulations: You've just set the record for the youngest child ever to be grounded. Take a bow.

And don't think I can't see you rolling your eyes either, kid. The "What To Expect" app says you can open them now. Rolling usually follows suit.

I thought I'd have some lag time to build up to this. I mean, no father expects he's going to have to ground his kid until they're in at least, what, third grade? Fourth grade?

(I never got the best practices memo on grounding someone.)

Oh, so you're pretending you don't know why you're grounded now? We're seriously already doing this dance, the My Dad's Just A Jerk Waltz?

Fine. Let's recap then. You're grounded because you kicked me. Completely unprovoked, I might add. I'd only knelt to say "Hi" after your mom told me you were awake and moving. That was an understatement. You let your little foot fly, pushed out your mom's stomach just far enough to where it clapped me across the right cheek.

"She just kicked me," I told your mom.

"Yeah," she said. Like I should have known. Like people the size of cucumbers being ninjas is common knowledge.

No, you're not really grounded. Grounding is about restricting privileges, and there's not much to be restricted when it comes to infants. Still, the Kicking Incident got me thinking about discipline and how it's basically the tax season of parenting: regular, dreaded, necessary, avoided altogether by many.

And I'll let you in on a little secret: it's the topic of a lot of the conversations between couples without children.

"When we have kids ..." is our frequent kickoff phrase pertaining to statements about misbehaving children we witness. We all have our go-to anecdotes we like to share when it comes to them.

Mine goes something like this: Once upon a time I was in a Wendy's when I saw some dumb teenager drop his beverage cup on the floor. It was close to empty but for the ice. Dozens of pieces skipped across the tile.

The kid stared at them for a few short moments, picked up his dropped cup and threw it away; he left the ice right where it sat. The adult with him didn't say a word. Fearing another restaurant patron might accidentally slip and break something, I walked over and cleared away what pieces I could, kicking some beneath the nearby garbage can and throwing others away. He stood idly by the whole time, talking to his friends.

The end.

Dear wretched teenager: If you're reading this, you know who you are. I'm sure your parents are proud.

I've heard dozens of stories just like this. We not-yet-parents promise ourselves our children-to-be will never behave that way. We draw up battle plans and protocols on how they'll be raised, what consequences will look like. TV and video-games time, nutrition, what happens when you get bad grades, manners, please and thank you, ma'am and sir.

There's a Spider-Man story arc called "Superior Spider-Man" where Spidey's adversary Doc Ock crafts a plan to switch minds with the webslinger. He pulls it off, his mind inhabiting and eventually taking over Spidey's body. But instead of going dark, he sets out to improve the wall crawler's heroics. He wants to be the hero, just better, more efficient.

"With my unparalleled genius and my boundless ambition, I'll be a better Spider-Man than you ever were," he says.

OK, "unparalleled genius" and "boundless ambition" aren't among the lexicon of phrases I'd choose for my dreamed-of parenting style. Still, I have to think many first-time parents approach the ordeal believing they can do it better when compared to the countless examples they snarked at previously.

But here's the part that scares me, Bethany, the part that keeps me up at night: What happens when I get to the point of actually having to carry out these delusions of superhero parenting? Expectations versus reality and all that.

I know I'm going to have to be strong. You're going to have a powerful weapon; the curl of your lower lip and a bit of mist in your eyes, a Kryptonite expression that could defeat this once ready-to-parent figure.

Luckily, your mom will be here to give me her own expression if it starts to look like I'm backing down. Because really, all this talk of discipline and parenting is fine, but let's be realistic here: I'd be a hopeless pushover without her when it comes to you.

It takes a Justice League to raise a child.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.