Jennifer Ginsberg: My 3-year-old daughter, Kiana, is a petite, wispy, blonde angel who has earned the nickname "Tinkerbell" for her gentle spirit and delicate manner.
She doesn't grab toys in toddler group, and she has never hit another child. She patiently waits her turn for the swing at the park, and she loves to curl up in my arms and coo, "I'm the baby of the family." But if her brother dares to piss her off, she'll bite the living sh*t out of him. And there is a part of me that's glad she knows how to defend herself.
Let me explain: I know how socially unacceptable it is to have a child who has been stigmatized as a biter. I have seen toddlers expelled from playgroups and shunned by Gymboree for committing this very crime. The other day, I was at a party and I mentioned that my daughter was a biter. You would've thought I'd screamed "Al Qaeda!" from the audible gasps and looks of horror on the faces of the other partygoers. I'll admit it: Her teeth are weapons of mass destruction.
But she pulls out the heavy arsenal just occasionally. She is a targeted attacker. In fact, the only victim of her biting is her older brother, Shane.
It goes something like this: Kiana is minding her own business and playing with something super-exciting -- such as a string she found on the floor, or one of my earplugs. Shane suddenly decides he must have that coveted item and attempts to swipe it from her. She firmly says, "No, Shanie, I don't want to share!" and she holds on to the item for dear life. This continues back and forth, and despite my attempts to redirect the conflict and stop his bullying, as soon as I walk away to make dinner or do some laundry, it covertly persists.
At which point, he more forcefully tries to wrestle the object from her -- and being bigger and stronger, he snags it. Then, like a wild, rabid animal, Kiana bares her fangs and clenches down on a piece of his flesh. His leg, his arm, even his cheek once -- anything juicy will do. At which point, Shane bursts into tears, drops the object and comes running to me, visibly scared and shaken. He looks at me with pain and terror in his eyes and cries, "Kiki bit me!" as he shows me the wound, red and raw with visible teeth-mark punctures.
For some unknown reason, it never occurs to him that he, being bigger and stronger, could easily defend himself -- or even bite her back. Her bites are a brilliant combination of physical and psychological terrorism, as they inflict both paralyzing pain and deep fear in her victim. After such an attack, her 5-year-old brother regresses to a helpless infant and is unable to form a rational thought.
Her teeth have the power to set boundaries; they are her last resort for defending her space and property. She uses them mindfully and selectively. After multiple attempts at "using her words" (i.e. negotiating with the terrorist), biting is the only way she gets her brother to leave her the hell alone.
While I'm not thrilled with the idea of my diminutive daughter committing an act of violence, I am happy that when push comes to shove, she can defend herself. She knows biting is wrong -- she has never bitten a person aside from her brother -- and she certainly knows how to use her words. But in the face of incessant sibling taunting, Kiana fights terror with terror.
"Use your words" is a lovely platitude, but I have come to learn that it's an ideal that doesn't always pertain to the real world.