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Today, on this day, at 9:16pm, your piercing cry of anger filled my ears.  They placed your slippery self on my belly and all I could do was laugh at your intense spirit.  Your eyes looked black.

Today marks your third year.

You are more than I possibly could have imagined.

You are fiercely independent even when you get frustrated and then we talk about a new solution.

You complete each task in detail (like taking an hour and a half to unwrap your gifts today).

You are generous and kind and like to take care of me just as much as I like to take care of you.

If one of us threatens a grouchy day we just remind each other “Let’s have a nice day, okay?”  And then we smile at each other and I wait until we have to be reminded again.

You can count and identify letters, if you choose.

You can jump from impossibly tall things and land in a graceful two-footed crouch.

You like to moon us.

You love going fast and swinging high.

Carol is still your favorite, but you have a growing collection of puppies and a small group of animals (usually a bunny, a llama, a unicorn, and Vanilla Lambi) whom you refer to as “The Guys.”

You make everyone talk all your toys for you in a high-pitched voice.  It’s both endearing and irritating.

Mouse and Mouse’s Sister still come to play almost every day.

Your simple  questions of “why? why? why?” have progressed to complex thoughts like “Why is the sky blue?” “How do babies get out of their mommy’s tummies?”  “What is under the floor of the tub?” and “Why does there need to be a little hole in the top of the sippy cup to let air in when I drink?”

You are in preschool five afternoons a week.

You are spirited, can carry a tune, can twirl a crazy twirl and dance a crazy dance, and I love getting to know you.

Happy Birthday.

I can’t wait to see you fly.

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I’m finally finishing Kids, Parents, and Power Struggles.  I started reading it about a year ago when Avi and I were going through a particularly trying time.  I never finished it because I was able to apply the first half so readily that our situation improved right away and we moved on.

Life has gotten rough again.  She’s almost three.  And, boy, is she three.  All my mom-friends agree that they don’t understand why everyone gripes about the Terrible Twos when the Threes are far Worse.

For those of you who don’t remember, or are new readers, let me fill you in on my peanut:

  • She is what people call a “spirited” child.
  • She is absurdly precocious and has been speaking in complete sentences and holding entire comprehensible conversations for so long now that I can barely remember her as a non-speaker.
  • She has the ability to remember visual details.  She never fell for “out of sight, out of mind,” even as an infant.
  • She has a loooooooong attention span and can play the same game for over an hour.
  • She needs to feel she finished what she’s doing before she can move on and has a very hard time with transitions.
  • Emotionally, she’s exactly where she should be.  This makes it hard because the adults around her can forget that even though she can speak like a four year old and plays pretend like a five year old, she still is a two year old.
  • She has really good logical thinking skills which drives me crazy because everything that can become a negotiation becomes a negotiation.
  • She does not sleep readily.  At almost three, she finally sleeps through the night but can still take an hour to fall asleep and crawls into bed with me by dawn.  She does not nap.

So, now we’re back to today and the fact that I’m almost done with this book.  It’s been very helpful.  It uses the Myers-Briggs personality spectrums to help you identify your own strengths and challenges as well as your childs.  So, you can see where the interactions are beneficial and where it can cause communication (and patience) to break down.

For example, we both feel the need to “finish” things.  I can find it hard to set something down and pay attention to Avi even when she needs it most.  However, now that I’ve identified this issue, I can consciously say to myself “my child needs attention.  If I give it to her for these two minutes, she will feel loved and satisfied and then I will return to this task.”  And, voila, it has worked wonders.  This step alone has meant far fewer time struggles.

And then there was today.  The elongated steps of my Thinking Child:

  1. She spent the morning in a new situation with a babysitter and then we went to two different grocery stores before we came home for lunch.  We were both tired.  I promised her that after I picked up the kitchen clutter we would play.
  2. She became a bunny and hopped around my feet, chipped in a little, and then climbed under the table to make it her home.  All was good.
  3. She then tried to “tie” the cushions back on the two kitchen seats.  She actually does manage to tie things sometimes so she did one successfully and was close enough with the second that she was okay with it.  But then she got to the second cushion and lost.her.shit.
  4. I responded that she needed to use her big girl words to ask for help, “Mama, can you please help me tie the cushion?” but screaming and yelling was not a choice.  And so it began.
  5. She whined, “puhhleeassse?!?!”
  6. I replied, “please, what?”  Saying the word ‘please’ in a whiny voice isn’t enough.  Use your big girl words and ask for help, “Mama, Please help me tie the cushion.”
  7. And she exploded.  And I negotiated and she kept intermittently screaming.  I proclaimed I’d had enough with the crying.  And she kept going.
  8. It was then I remembered that there is a difference between ‘negotiating’ and ‘coaching’ so I knelt down in front of her, made eye contact and gave her three choices, “I see that you are angry.  1 – You can go to your room and keep crying.  2 – You can take a break by sitting on the couch, playing, take a breath, or read a book and come back and try the cushion when you’re ready.  3 – You can use your big girl words and ask for help. “
  9. She responded by saying she didn’t like choices and breaks.  “I can see that you are angry and having trouble making a decision.  If you need it, I can help you decide.”  I re-iterated the options to which she said she’d read a book with me.
  10. I stuck to my guns and said that she would have to read alone because I wasn’t done in the kitchen to which she replied that she would take a break on the couch watching a movie.
  11. “You may not watch a movie.  You may read a book.”
  12. This went on for I don’t know how long.  I’m sure I also threatened to make the choice for her, of course, that’s not what this book advises nor does it ever work but it always comes out of my mouth.  Eventually, we ended up on the couch reading a book after I assured her she had already used her big girl words to express the need for me to be with her.
  13. We read a book together, which I prefaced with the fact that I would have to finish the kitchen after this book and then we would play as promised.  Which I did.
  14. Here’s where it gets funny:  It is now an hour later.  We are upstairs playing together.  I have taken a minute to put a shirt in a drawer while she is lacing some beads.  She gleefully proclaims, “I have decided to use my big girl words and ask for you to tie on the cushion!”
  15. I said, “great!  Let’s do it!  Ask away!”
  16. She leads me down the stairs, explaining that as soon as we get to the kitchen she will use her big girl words to ask me to tie on the cushions.
  17. We arrive in the kitchen, she races to the chair, she asks me nicely, and I tie on the cushion.
  18. It took my child an entire hour to process.  An entire hour.

Now I understand how it is that I, someone who is possibly one of the most patient people alive, can lose my temper so frequently with this child.

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Lately, Avi’s had a hard time with her roomie.
She’s been mean to her: just plain old mean.  Repeatedly.
And nothing I said made any difference. And I’ve been concerned because I don’t have a mean child, just like I don’t have a screamer.: she’s mean for a reason.

I just couldn’t figure out why.

Until the morning I pulled her into my lap and asked, “Are you worried that I love L__ more than I love you?”

Her toddler eyes welled up with adult-like tears.

I explained that L___ is our friend.  They can pretend to be sisters but they’re not; L__ has her own mommy and I am Avi’s mama.  Avi will always be my daughter no matter the love I have for our friend L___.  Those adult-like tears poured down her cheeks in relief and a choking sob lifted from her throat.

She had spent all this time pushing her beloved roommate away with the hope that I would not love her as much as I love my own child.

And my heart hurt a little:
how wonderful that my child’s perception of family is so fluid.
A family can have as many mommy’s and daddy’s as you want.
A family can have children with many homes.
Can have grandparents or aunts.
Friends who we call grandparents and aunts.
A family can be, as my roommate calls us, a tribe.

My heart hurt for her hurt because this is only the beginning.  She has another 98 years of figuring out family.

Because, really, what is a mommy?  A daddy?  A grandma?  A sister?  A friend?  Who are these people and what do they mean to us?  Do they love us? Do we love them?  Do we have obligations and honor towards each other?  What does it mean when it changes?  Who have I become because of my family?  Who have I become because of the new family I create?

And she’s only two.

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Like ADD and Colic, I think a lot of children get lumped into The Terrible Twos unfairly.  Sure, there are plenty of children who actually have ADD, colic, and completely unexplained tantrums.  But, for the most part, a lot of patience, research, communication, and coaching can go a long way and allow you to remove the negative label you’ve given him or her.

But then, a couple of weeks ago, Avi momentarily changed all that.

She entered The Terrible Twos.  And I labeled her with gusto.

She threw herself on the floor screaming for no reason.

She looked me in the eye, dropped food over the side of the table and then innocently asked, “Is Avi being naughty?”

She screamed inconsolably.

She pushed buttons I didn’t even know I had.

And one terrible and fateful lunch hour, I slapped her.  Yes, I slapped her.  Not hard enough to hurt; it didn’t leave a red mark, it didn’t make her cry.  But it did make her stop.  It wasn’t planned.  It wasn’t wanted by either of us.  But out it came.

I was heartbroken, ashamed and horrified.

I never knew I could feel so much anger at such a little person.  I never knew I could hit her.  I had become the parent I never wanted to be:  I threatened, I screamed, I fumed, I forcibly stuck her in chairs, I hauled her out of stores.  We were both miserable.

So I gave myself a time out.

Everyone I spoke to reassured me that “it happens.”  In fact, the first person I called was my girlfriend, L__, who had just admitted to hitting her son the previous week without really meaning to (he’s just about Avi’s age) so I knew she would get it.  My mom admitted to slapping me and also reminded me that my dad spanked me several times and I’m perfectly fine, and I don’t remember it.

I let them make me feel better, because I needed it.  But, the thing is, I don’t really believe that.  I don’t believe Avi cries for no reason.  She always has a reason, even if I think it’s silly.  I don’t believe she would push my buttons just to irritate me.  I don’t believe in only one-sided anger: it does, after all, take two to tango. I don’t believe that this hit will not affect her even if she doesn’t consciously remember it.

So I’ve started reading.  In fact, I stayed up reading far into the night because I found this book so helpful that I kept telling myself, “I need to read as much as possible right now so I can put this stuff into practice!”  Eventually, I did go to sleep.  But, even being tired today, Avi and I had the best day we’ve had in weeks.  Not a single tantrum.  Oh, there were disagreements and irritations.  But no anger.  No screaming.  And no hitting (by me, at least.  I can’t say the same for her…yet).

And, just so you know moms, the hardest part of all this?  Admitting to her dad what I’d done.

And admitting it to you.

I’ve committed myself to revealing, in this blog, all the bits and pieces of honest-to-goodness parenting that no one is willing to admit or talk about.  But this was by far the hardest thing to state publicly.  For those of you who do spank, maybe it’s not a big deal.  But it is to me. I will carry the shame of the betrayal of my daughter’s trust forever.

I may forgive myself, as she has already forgiven me.  But I will never believe that I made the right choice at the moment.

I made the wrong choice.

So now I’m trying to fix it.

And, in the process, I think I will discover what I have believed all along: that a lot of children get lumped into The Terrible Twos unfairly, including my own daughter.

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Avi: (Staring intensely) “What is that on your eye?”

Mama: “It’s called eyeshadow.  Do you like it?”

Avi: (Gleefully) “When I is a grown-up fireman, I can wear that!”

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At three months old, Jessica, from Boston Baby Photos, drove up to take photos of Avi.  I love photographs.  Particularly photo-journalism style.  You get a little peak at real life, only slightly manipulated by the glow of a lens.  Even the ugly parts of your life become art.  Not that Avi is ugly.  Far from it.

I desperately wanted a photographer at Avi’s birth.  But I couldn’t swing the cost.  And, as far as I can tell, there aren’t many photographers who are willing to be on call for a birth.  I was hoping my mom would get some good photos; I’d claimed her as my doula since she used to be a midwife.  But life backfired and my mom ended up not being in the room when Avi popped out.  So I’ve been making up for this loss since then.  Here she is at one year old.

And, so, one year later, here she is at two.  The big beautiful girl that she is.

Okay, okay, I’ll stop.  For now.

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