I remember in college when I discovered a standup routine from 1983 called "Bill Cosby: Himself." It was the first and only time in my life that I laughed so hard that I cried. I just thought it was the funniest thing in the world. And even the stuff about parenting I found hilarious, despite my lack of parenting experience. It was just the way he told his stories that made it so funny. And it's still funny to me now. In fact, most of it's even funnier because I understand what he was talking about. The one that sticks with me right now is the bit about kids saying "I don't know" about everything.
My son is 5. And he does things that most five-year olds do. He pushes and pulls and throws and jumps and stomps and punches. Most of these actions are directed at his little sister, who is now 3. So we try to explain to him that he can't go around punching anyone, let alone his little sister. We cite examples of people (like ourselves) who avoid hurting others. We ask him what might happen if he continues such activities. And his answers are generally pretty good. He understands that she can get hurt. He understands that it's not nice, and that she might not want to play with him anymore if he continues. He can answer all of these correctly. But the one question he has yet to answer is, "Why did you do that?" He invariably answers with, "I don't know." And he says it with such a pained voice that I honestly think he doesn't know.
And where Bill Cosby would call this brain damage, I think I've determined that it's something else. I think it's just impulse. I mean, I've done plenty of things on impulse. The first time I saw a peanut butter Twix, I had to buy it. I love peanut butter and I love Twix, so there was no way I was leaving the store without it. But if you'd asked me why I bought it, I'd probably just say, "I wanted it." And I'm pretty sure my son would have a similar answer if he was being completely honest. If I asked him why he threw a boot at his sister's head and he was being truthful, he'd just say, "Because I wanted to."
But that doesn't make me feel much better. That sounds like brain damage to me. And it would probably infuriate me if he answered that way. So I'll take the "I don't know" response for now. Although it may yield more gray hairs for us and more bruises for my daughter, I prefer it to a sadistic child who admittedly wants to throw things at people. Although I'd bet that describes most five-year old boys.