Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Mourning the Loss of Bill Cosby

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross knew how we would collectively react to the news of Bill Cosby. As more and more information comes to light and it becomes clearer and clearer that a man many of us loved throughout our childhoods is not who we thought he was. As woman after woman share stories of drugs and sexual assault. As the reality sets in that the beloved Heathcliff Huxtable was portrayed by a predator and we begin to understand that the Bill Cosby we've known and loved does not exist. Kubler-Ross knew: denial.

When I read the comments online - this is a thing I do that borders on masochism - I am not surprised by the many people coming to Cosby's defense.  Of course there are those who will always claim a woman is lying in situations like this - even when there are over a dozen of them, making the same claim over the course of decades. Even when there is proof of money paid to cover it up. But, there are also people who will eventually come around. People who honestly want truth, who believe in the pursuit of justice, but right now, at this moment, cannot process this information.

We were all played for fools. We allowed this man into our homes night after night, week after week, and we enjoyed our time spent with him. We believed that he was the picture of goodness, a family man with the ability to make us laugh until our sides hurt. His kindness and good humor seemed genuine. How could any of this be?

And yet, here we are. And it is almost too much to grasp. Years and years of deception. Laughs we cannot get back that make it feel like we've been complicit in this heinous behavior for a very, very long time. How are we to make sense of this cognitive dissonance? How are we to reconcile the death of this idea, this man who turns out to be a phantom? We cannot. And so we deny. We come up with theories about how this is all a lie. The accusations are false. They must be. There is no other explanation.

Except they are not. And together we are going to have to find a way to get through it. We are going to have to forgive ourselves for not knowing. We are going to have to admit that it is possible to be that good at hiding something this bad. We are going to have to commit to creating an environment where women feel safe to come forward about this kind of assault when it happens and not 30 years later. 

I am devastated by this loss. I feel like a big chunk of my youth was a lie. I think of all the times I have quoted The Cosby Show with my parents and sisters and I want to throw up. But, the fact that I can't fathom it doesn't make it untrue. We all have to come together and find our way through our grief, ultimately arriving at the last Kubler-Ross stage: acceptance. This really happened. No matter how badly we all wish it didn't.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

We Need to Talk to Our Sons, but We Need To Talk to Our Daughters, Too

I have spent the last three years thinking about everything I want to make sure to teach my sons on their way to becoming men. When my oldest was 10-months-old I put together this list of points to counter the negative messages I noticed society was sending. This past May, I sat again, and compiled a new list for my boys. This one in response to a shooting in Isla Vista in which a male perpetrator claimed his killing spree was retribution for women refusing to sleep with him. 

I have championed the idea that victim-blaming is toxic, that it is not a woman's responsibility to dress conservatively, but rather it is a man's responsibility not to assault her. I stand by this as strongly today as I ever have. But, I worry that in that message we have put so much focus on what we need to be telling our boys that we have neglected to give our girls some very important information. In the wake of the harrowing piece in Rolling Stone magazine about rape and sexual misconduct on the University of Virginia campus, I had a startling realization:  women don't realize that being raped is a violent crime.

If in the midst of a fraternity party a man with a gun barged in and demanded that all party-goers empty their pockets, I feel confident that someone would call the police in the aftermath. Why is it, then, that students are quoted as saying that they didn't believe Charlottesville police had jurisdiction over what happens in a fraternity house? How is it possible that a woman could think that a violent rape is the kind of thing that should be handled at the discretion of school officials?

The ordeal described by Jackie in the Rolling Stone article is beyond appalling, but equally as disturbing is the reaction she received from her friends. People who saw her beaten, bloody, and clearly sexually abused advised her to keep her mouth shut so as not to rock the boat or ruin their social standing at the university. This response contributes to the severity of the problem almost as much as the assault itself. We are failing our children.

It's not something we want to think about. Nobody wants to consider the possibility that our children could be taken advantage of at all, let alone to such a horrifying degree. Nobody wants to imagine their daughters on the receiving end of what Jackie endured. But our daughters need to know. They need to know that if they should ever find themselves victims of sexual assault, getting examined immdiately is the best way to nail the offenders. They need to know that filing a police report is not only within their rights but that we encourage them to go after the boy(s) who did this to them. They need to know that they can call us and we will not judge them or get angry with them, but rather we will love them and advocate for them.

And then we need to put our money where our mouth is. We need to come together as parents, teachers, administrators and community members and support our girls. We need to be clear in our conviction that we won't stand for sexual assault on our college campuses, or anywhere else. We need to make sure that these boys/men know there are consequences.

I have been torturing myself reading comment threads on articles about Bill Cosby. So many people point to the lack of police reports at the time of the alleged assaults to suggest that the women who have come forward are lying. Women don't report abuse because they know they won't be believed and then when they finally find the strength to say something, they aren't believed because of the lack of report.

Collectively we need to teach our girls that their safety and their well-being matter. Those of us with boys need to commit to raising sons who understand the meaning of the word no and the importance of the word yes. We need to stress regularly that sex is not an entitlement, that women are allowed to turn them down without fearing repercussion, and that they only get to get laid when they find a willing partner. But even with all of that, some women will be assaulted. And when that happens, we need to make sure that those girls know exactly what has just happened to them and exactly what they can do about it.

Of course there is always an option not to report, and yes, a woman should know that is her prerogative. But it can't come from a place of fear. It can't be because she feels somehow responsible for being raped. If a woman wants to go after her assailant she should know, without a shadow of a doubt, that she is supported. End of discussion.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The One Thing Moms Need? A Confidence Boost

Parenting advice is everywhere. I can't be online for ten minutes without seeing lists upon lists upon lists of what I must do, or should never say, or can't live without.  No one ever considers the possibility that what worked for them might not work for me. It's never here are 5 things I'm glad I did, it's 5 things you must do before having a baby.

Don't get me wrong, a lot of these posts have great suggestions. And I understand the desire for a catchy title that will pull in a lot of views. But I can't help but feel irritated when I read something on 7 things to never say to new moms that I actually enjoyed hearing.  I once stumbled upon a blog where a mother cautioned her readers to "Never say 'let me know if there's anything I can do to help'" because a new mom isn't going to have time to delegate. OK, so there's some truth to that. But I loved knowing that so many of my friends were willing to make themselves available to me. I didn't actually need anything from them, I just liked knowing they were there should something come up. I may be alone in that feeling, and I don't expect anyone to intuit how I feel about something, but that's the point. These lists suggest that there's only one right way to experience these life events and it's just not so.

Sure, there are certain things that are universally agreed upon (never ask a pregnant woman if she's having twins), but for the most part, what bothers one person might not bother another. Families who have children with special needs, or have adopted children, or who have gone through the agonizing loss of miscarriage or infant death are all going to experience these events differently. There is no right way to proceed when approaching these situations, other than to try and be as sensitive to the needs of our friends as possible. Many people who have been through similar situations may agree on a lot of the items presented in these pieces, but there is still something misleading about presenting it as though they are rules.

When it comes to parenting, these lists make me even less sense. More and more we are seeing that families are made of all shapes and sizes. We are different races and religions. We are heterosexual couples and same-sex couples and single parents. We are stay-at-home moms and CEOs. We are wealthy and we are living in poverty. We are biological and we are adopted. We are younger and we are older. There is nothing uniform about families, so why are we so insistent on presenting bullet points to mothers about what they must or mustn't do to be successful? Why do we think that our experiences apply to everyone around us? It's a toxic outlook and one that parents feel at all times. Other parents watching them, judging them, thinking how they would do things differently.

The way I see it, the only thing a mother needs to do to be successful is confidence. She has to believe in the choices she's making. It doesn't matter if anyone else is making those choices, or if she's the first to try. It doesn't matter if people tell her she's making a mistake and that she's going to regret it later. We moms need to rely on our instincts and our knowledge of our own children. We need to empower ourselves to make the decisions for our families without feeling pressure from the parents around us. We need to allow for the possibility that we don't know what is best for the families around us. Sharing our own experiences can extremely valuable, but we have to stop suggesting that everything in motherhood is universal. It is not.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Dear Stay-at-Home Mom: What do you DO all day?!

Over the last few years I have come across blog posts and articles as well anecdotal facebook statuses and tweets written by stay-at-home moms, all making the same point: There is nothing more insulting than being asked what they do all day. Whether they've chosen to be home with their children because they can't imagine being anywhere else, or they've come to the conclusion that working out of the home is not financially feasible, or any other of the many reasons women stay at home, they all seem to agree on this one point.

Perhaps it is the way the question is phrased, or the intonation of the person who asks it, but the way it is received is most often as a belittling of the job of mother. Because this is how the question is heard, it is usually answered (when it's answered at all) with some generic response like "I'm molding a future generation" or "I'm raising my children," both of which are true, but don't actually answer the question.

I recognize why this question is hard to hear, especially given the history of feminism and the pressure women sometimes feel to work outside of the home. I also know that some people ask it in a way that is offensive and condescending and makes a woman doubt her choices, even when she is perfectly happy with them. But the truth of the matter is, it's a valid question - one that I could and would ask to anyone who has a job that I don't know very much about. I would likely use different wording, but the gist would be the same: So you're an accountant? What exactly do you do? No one I know with an outside-the-home job would be insulted by this question. I've asked my brother-in-law to explain what he does at least a half a dozen times; I still don't really understand it.

Instead of hearing the negativity, we need to be hearing this question as an opportunity to explain our lives to people who are unfamiliar with what it means to be home with children. Not only would it be helpful for the corporate-minded among us to have a better understanding of what stay-at-home parenting is (and it would be really helpful), but it would also start a dialogue that could greatly benefit parents.

I am currently home with my 3-year-old and 8-month-old and, especially as it gets cooler, every day is a challenge. If it's not a day with any classes or playdates, I wake up with this dread in my belly that we have the whole long day ahead of us. If it happens to be raining, then it's confounded by the knowledge that the park is not an option. I am constantly wondering to myself "what do other people do all day?" And every time the question pops up in my head I think about all the times I've seen women get frustrated by it. I realized that if I - a mother who is herself at home with kids - wonders about what stay-at-home moms are doing with their time, then it stands to reason that people who have always worked away from home would be curious as well.

Most people I speak to who have traditional "jobs" appear to be in awe that I spend all day with my kids. Their questions about what our days look like are genuine curiosity. If we want to make the claim that being at-home parents is as legitimate a job as any (and it most certainly is), then let's allow people into our secret club. Let's stop hearing this question as insulting - even if it is presented that way - and start sharing what makes the job the job - the good, the bad, the ugly, the exhausting, the messy, the funny, you get the idea.

Monday, November 3, 2014

A Guest Blog: An Open Letter To My Son's Teachers

Something a little different for the blog today. I was approached by the mother of a 6-year-old with special needs who had a particularly frustrating experience with her son's teachers. Exasperated by the lack of support she's received from the people who are supposed to be a part of her son's team, she asked if I would share this correspondence. Keep in mind that both the mom who wrote this letter and I know that there are many wonderfully skilled teachers out there working tirelessly to help their students navigate their challenges. This particular experience, however, is indicative of a problem and sharing it seemed the best way to call attention to it.  

Email from: [The Teachers]
Subject: [Your child]'s Morning

Good Morning,
We typically do not go on email at this time but we wanted to inform you about [your child]'s very difficult morning.  [Your child] came in to school shouting and making noises and appeared exhausted ( he was yawning). After returning from Art at 9:40am he began to cry. The crying lasted for almost 45 minutes on and off. Teachers attempted to coax him with strategies such as a bean bag and pillow, we tried taking him on a walk, and offered him his usual preferred activities in the classroom. He was throwing his glasses and appeared very distraught. We just want to inform you about what occurred this morning.
Also we wanted to inform you that the gate closes at 2:50PM and [your child] should be picked up at 2:45.  Three days this week the babysitter picked him up late.  Please inform your babysitter about the correct pick up time. Thank you,
[The Teachers]

An Open Letter to My Son’s Teachers:

Good Afternoon,

I do not typically respond with sarcasm and negativity to a situation, but I wanted to inform you of my gut reaction to your email, as both a teacher and a special needs parent.

Your email came into my inbox just as I was finishing my day of teaching and sitting down to a meeting with my colleagues.  When I finished reading at 12:40 pm, I began to cry and had a hard time focusing on my work for the rest of the day.  I wondered if I should come to pick up my son, but you had neither mentioned that, nor called me at work to ask for someone to come get him. I wondered if he was still crying as you sent me this email.  I decided you were probably sending it to vent to me about my horrible parenting job and your frustration with him, me, and the system that placed him in your class.

 I realize that my son is a handful  -- an enigma -- and that it can be particularly challenging to work with him when he becomes frustrated, especially given that he has practically no language through which to vent his frustrations.  I understand you have over 30 children in your class and your email makes it perfectly clear, to me, that you really don’t want to have to deal with this child as well.  I’m also aware that in erroneously complaining last June, when I was told two days before the end of the school year that this public school was no longer an “appropriate setting” for my child, that I had been given “no warning” about the situation, that I probably brought this email upon myself.  Now, you see, I have had my written warning that your school is not an “appropriate setting” for my child.  This is a conclusion I have already come to myself but, funny enough, schools don’t seem to have “appropriate” spaces for tricky special needs children who apply mid-July for the upcoming September.  And it really eases my anxiety about the one interview we did go on, when you ask me at the conclusion of almost every written and face-to-face communication “How did the interview go?  Have you heard back from any schools yet?”  Perhaps the only thing harder than finding a space in a school for a special needs child in July of the same year you are looking at is trying to do it in September for that same year.  So, thanks for your support.  

Thank you for easing the burden that weighs heavily on my shoulders as I leave the house each morning to go teach other people’s children (some of whom are just as tricky as my own special needs child).  Thank you for realizing that as parents of a child who has, at most, 50 words and can reliably use about 15 of those, my husband and I are totally and completely disconnected from the world at school and rely on your ability and expertise to guide our child (and us) through this situation.  Thank you for loving our child the same way you would hope someone would love your child. 

I apologize for my child’s yawning in class.  His bedtime is 6:30 pm.  I might be able to make that earlier, but you see, I myself get home from teaching young children around 3:30 pm.  I spend about ten minutes in the bathroom and changing into comfortable, paint-germ-and-booger-free clothes.  I then spend a few minutes trying to give both my special needs child and my ebullient two year old equal attention, since they both are clamoring for some of my affection and my husband is still at work.  I say thank you and goodbye to my caregiver and once I get them “calm” (and you know why that’s in quotes) I ask them about their days and they respond about as reliably as a two-year-old and six-year-old with a speech disability can.  I can’t ask my child who he played with that day.  He can’t tell me.  He screams and cries, and sometimes smacks me in the face and says “No!”  Because I’ve just asked him to do about the most frustrating thing I can ask of him.  Something you, and I, and just about everyone short of Stephen Hawking takes for granted.  To make his mouth reliably work.  I’m sure if I could attach a speaker to his brain, that he’d literally be shouting all this stuff from the rooftops.  He’s (despite your report of this morning) a happy, sociable, humorous, loving guy who is always trying to make connections with other people and share these connections with his family. 

The same motor-planning disorder that traps my son’s words in the depths of his head, also keeps the rest of his motor-planning a bit wonky, so that when we move on to the next part of our day (completing the homework assignment, which is neither vaguely appropriate for my child nor based on the modifications laid out by his IEP) we encounter even more frustration than ever before.  He bites me, his shirt, the pencil.  Throws the sheet on the floor.  I am left to modify the assignment to my best ability because there has been no communication from you as to the expectations you have of him.  (Thank G-d I have dual degrees in special education and over a decade of experience in the field.  I think it was all for this moment)  And, at this time of the night I have an abundance of patience, too, since I’ve only been doing this same work for 6 hours with my own class of well over a dozen three-year-olds with varying identified and unidentified needs.  But I’ll do it for another hour for my own child.  Because if not me, then who?
This brings us to 5:00 pm and I’m so excited to start cooking dinner for my children.  I don’t eat with them.  When I do, I end up scarfing it down and getting indigestion, so I wait for them to be finished before eating (or making) my own dinner.   Just to inform you, I do let them watch television while I cook.  And then, after placing the dishes on the child table in front of my son and daughter, I get to sit on my hands, and my patience, and watch as my hard-working son battles his motor-planning disorder for the umpteenth time today as he struggles to get whatever meal I’ve prepared onto his fork or spoon and into his mouth.  Most of the time he gives up after 3 bites and starts using his hands, before he gives up altogether and just stops eating.  Sometimes his two-year-old sister feeds him.  Usually I end up doing it myself after watching a half-hour of his struggle.  But I still carefully plan his meals and place them on dishes with special suction or sides that are used for 9 month olds learning utensil control, because I want to foster his independence and (someday) break his reliance on (literally) being spoon-fed.  Usually around 6:30 pm I smell my son, inspect his face and hair and have an internal debate on whether or not giving him a bath is worth the time it takes away from his sleep.  It’s a 50-50 shot.  So my son heads in, once again unarmored against his motor-planning disorder, this time to undress and re-dress himself in his pajamas.  Because, the kind of thoughtless mother I am, also thinks he needs to learn how to do this independently and that practice is the only way for him to form this habit.  He often screams in frustration when two legs go in the same pant hole or bites his shirt instead of putting it on his head.  It makes me extremely proud and contented to watch.  Just to inform you.   So, I apologize.  Even after 13 hours of sleep (sometimes a very insufficient 10-12), my son is tired and yawning at 9:40 in the morning.  I won’t detail what the hours between 7 and 8:35 look like at our house, or what might be causing him to tire between 8:35 and 9:40 at school, but you can imagine what waking up, eating breakfast, getting dressed, walking to school, etc. consists of for a child whose words and body don’t do what he’d like them to do, when he wants, every time he tries.  And that the only consistency for him is that this is always inconsistent and unpredictable.  This is just to “inform” you about our child’s (and our) daily routine, so that I can vent some of my frustrations to you (since we’re all sharing). 

Also, I want to inform you that we have only had three pick-ups this week, and I did one of them.  I was at the gate at 2:45, no students or teachers were there and they were locked tight.  They did open at 2:55 and I proceeded straight towards you.  My babysitter is an amazing young woman who manages to care for both my strong-willed and extremely verbal two-year-old in addition to my tricky and often frustrated (and strong) six-year-old special needs child.  She gets paid for her job, but should be earning a special educator salary considering the patience and education she gives to both of my children, not to mention for putting up with being yelled at and blamed incorrectly by teachers for being 5 minutes late.  I also ask her to do this job for me because at this point, I’m not sure I can stretch a smile across my face when I see you in person, and I was taught to say nothing if I couldn’t think of something nice to say.  I apologize again, because I think this letter is in direct contradiction to that last sentence.
Thank you,
Name WithHeld

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

On Realizing I Love My Toddler's Tantrums

Ok, so the title may be a bit misleading. I don't know that I'd go so far as to say that I love seeing my little guy in the throes of misery - crying, kicking, and screaming his frustrations out, all at the same time. Especially if we happen to be in public. Like many parents, I would consider my child having a mega meltdown in a supermarket aisle to be a low point of motherhood. However, I have come to realize that tantrums provide me with unique and often exhilarating opportunities as a mother. I have begun to really cherish them. Let me explain.

Parenting a toddler is tough. There are so many conflicting ideas at play. Their lack of understanding of danger and consequence vs. our need to keep them safe; their affinity for exploration vs. our fear of severe injury or property damage; their intense desire to have things their way vs. our desire for the exact same thing.  I find it is a constant tug of war, seeing how much rope I can allow him to have before I need to yank him back in my direction. Finding the balance is always a struggle and I often feel like we are stuck in this cycle of battles. Nearly every attempt to play together gets thwarted by something. Sometimes it's his inability to sit for more than a few minutes at a time, other times his unwillingness to actually learn the rules of a game. I'm more than happy to make things up as we go along (and some of our most successful activities are ones that evolve out of nowhere), but it often feels like we aren't having as much fun as we used to.

A lot of it has to do with the tantrums. Inevitably, when my son and I are playing together, something will happen to set off a fit. The other day we were just sitting down to play a game of memory when he asked me to a refill his bowl of Cheerios. I told him he could absolutely have more if he ran into the other room and brought me the bowl he had been using. He categorically refused, shrieking and crying that I had to go get it.  The hardest part for me is that I am regularly caught off guard. Sometimes I can make a request like this one and he will say "sure, Mommy," and without missing a beat he's off to the other room. It's tough to know when something is about to happen because his reactions are so inconsistent. In this instance, he cried for a while until he decided it was more important to have the Cheerios and he went to get the bowl. The point, however, is that it is not uncommon for things like this to derail our fun time together.

The question is, how can I get us past the tantrums and back to a place where we can have some fun? I started thinking about these tantrums and the most effective ways to help him through them. What I have come to understand over the months is that my son (and I recognize this is not something that will work for everyone) responds incredibly well to being distracted.  The sillier the distraction, the more successful it tends to be. I've begun getting completely ridiculous with my son whenever he gets into an irrational place. And you know what has happened? We've started laughing a lot. We don't need to get past the tantrum so we can get back to having fun because getting past the tantrum is fun in itself.

I suddenly find myself in a constant state of creativity. How can I make this child happy again? I pull from songs and books and movies he loves. I sing lyrics incorrectly, I mix up characters and family members, I quote books with absurd accents. These tantrums have presented me with a chance to regularly challenge myself to connect with him. They send him to a place where he is irrational and unreachable and I have the tools to bring him back. The emotions of a 3-year-old are so fluid, he can go from misery to giggly in a matter of moments. 

Toddler tantrums have the ability to send us spiraling into a bad place. They are loud and often ridiculous and incredibly frustrating. My knee-jerk reaction was (and still is) to get angry, but I've learned that it mostly just escalates things (doesn't anger always?). One day I do hope that the tantrums subside, but for now, while this behavior is age-appropriate and expected, I'm enjoying the fun it's afforded us.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Five Lessons I've Learned From My Toddler

I wrote a post a while ago about how terrified I was to have a second child. I had many fears about what it would be like to add a fourth person to our family dynamic. As is often the case with worry, the things that were on my mind weren't quite the things that have turned out to be difficult. In the last seven months, the biggest challenge I've faced as a parent is how to handle the woes of toddlerhood.

My older son is three years old and incredibly independent and strong-willed. Most of the behavior he exhibits is totally standard toddler behavior. Some of it is directly related to dealing with having a sibling. My instincts on how to deal with his tantrums and refusal to follow the rules of the house are not always so good. It has (and will continue to be) a work of trial and error. It's tough especially because sometimes what I want to do (ignore him) and what I'm able to do (he's sitting down in the middle of the street for this fit) are at odds with each other.

Over the course of the last few months I've picked up a few tricks that have worked better than others. I am sharing them here for two reasons. One, I like to write things down so that I can reference them when I need a reminder. And two, maybe some of these things that have worked for me will be helpful for someone else. I recognize that all children are different and it's possible your toddler and mine will not respond in the same way to the same interventions. This is not a list of suggestions, it is merely a collection of lessons I have personally learned from one specific three-year-old. I would love to hear your thoughts, though, if you have come to similar conclusions or if you have had opposite experiences.

Lesson 1: The good moments can become bad moments and vice versa VERY quickly.

This is something that both distresses and comforts me when dealing with my son. We can be playing nicely together, enjoying each other's company, when something seemingly minute will set him off and lead to a complete meltdown. Forty-two pieces into a forty-eight piece puzzle and suddenly two of the pieces come apart when I accidentally lean on it. Instant frustration, and the next thing I know he has destroyed the whole thing in a fit of anger and tears. I am often caught off guard by the speed at which he can go from perfectly happy and pleasant to shockingly angry and destructive. But, the flip side of this is that it goes the other way as well. When I watch him in the throes of these tantrums, I think that if I were to get that riled up it would take me a very long time to calm down. That isn't the case with him. The slightest thing can distract him from his fit and settle him right back into a playful mood. With tears still stuck to his cheeks he can be smiling from ear to ear. The emotional pendulum is constantly in motion and what I've learned is that it always swings back in the other direction.

It's good to keep this in mind through the tough moments, because I know there isn't much I need to do to help him get past it. Distractions are helpful sometimes, but for the most part if I'm able to let it run its course, he comes back all on his own. And it's good to keep in mind when we are having a good time because it helps me to not take the sudden shifts too personally. If there is something specific I have done to make him upset, I can certainly try not to do it again, but the fact is, this is who he is right now. He expresses himself through these tantrums. We're working on using words and it won't always be like this, but right now, this is age appropriate behavior. It's helpful for me to remember that when our special time gets briefly interrupted.

Lesson 2: Speak to the baby the same way I speak to him

One of the toughest things for my toddler (M) is figuring out how to deal with his baby brother (S). When S was first born, it was less of an issue, but now that he can crawl and grab and get into his big brother's things, it's starting to cause some tension. I do my best to keep the baby out of M's way while he's playing, but I also can't (and don't want to) have S in my lap for the next three years. It's important, I think, for M to learn how to tell his brother what he wants rather than shoving him (or worse) when he wants to be left alone.

What I noticed, though, is that my reactions in these scenarios is almost always geared towards M. "He's just a baby, he doesn't realize he's pulling your hair." "Please don't push him." "Can you give him something else to play with if you don't want him to touch your blocks?" Everything I've said is true, and even fair, but in putting myself in his shoes, it occurred to me that it must seem like this baby can do no wrong. What I've started doing is addressing S as well so that M can hear my give them both instructions. I don't want M to feel like this perfect baby came along and made me get angry at him all the time. So now, I'll say things to the baby like "S, those are your brother's toys and he's using them right now" or "Don't pull your brother's hair, that hurts him!" The fact that the baby doesn't understand what I'm saying is irrelevant. It gives M the impression that the same rules apply to both of them. He has to be respectful of the baby, but the baby also has to be respectful of him.

Lesson 3: Transitions are way easier when they aren't sudden

One of the worst mistakes I make is when I'm so busy running around getting us ready to leave the house that I forget to mention that we are, in fact, about to leave the house. When I finally have us all packed and ready to go, I say "OK, time to get in the car" and I'm met with a massive reaction because he was in the middle of a book or project or TV show. This is also true of leaving friends' houses, getting dressed, taking a bath, going to sleep or really any other activity at all. Any time we have to transition from one thing to the next, a warning makes an incredible amount of difference. Telling M he has 5 minutes, then 3 minutes, then 1 minute until we X, prepares him and 99% of the time mitigates the ensuing tantrum. Sometimes he still has a hard time, but it is always better than the full-fledged freakouts that happen if I forget to give him the heads up. Most of the time, we count down the last ten seconds and then he readily comes along to the next thing.

Of course there are plenty of kids for whom this wouldn't make such a big difference, but I think the reason it's an important lesson is because of the drastic difference between the two approaches. As I said, it's a lot of trial and error and the bigger lesson here is that sometimes a small tweak can make all the difference.

Lesson 4: Who wants to be on someone else's schedule all the time?

On the days that M goes to school, sometimes I eat breakfast before I take him. Sometimes, I am not that hungry when I wake up so I wait til after I get back home. Some days I eat lunch by noon, other days not until two. It is entirely up to me to decide when I'm hungry and when I will eat. That's not the case for M. For him, it's lunch time when I say it's lunchtime. And if he's not interested in eating at that time, it has the potential to turn into an argument. Finally, I realized that it would be very unpleasant for me if someone else was deciding when I should eat.  At the same time, I don't want to be a 24-hour diner, either, ready to get up and serve him whenever he decides. And so I've started preparing his lunch, leaving it on the table, and telling him he can go eat it when he's ready.

I try and apply this logic in other areas as well. The biggest toilet training fights we have are when I try and force him to sit when he doesn't think he has to go. This one is a bit tougher because he has the tendency to be wrong about this and I really don't want him to pee on the carpet. Still, what I've found is that if I don't bother him and I just remind him from time to time that the bathroom is there if he needs it, he typically goes all on his own.

Which brings me to the most important thing I've learned. 

Lessson 5: He needs to be able to do things on his own terms  

Nine times out of ten when M is having a really tough time it is because I am trying to control what he's doing. I remember one particular time when I was trying to get his shoes on and he was wriggling and kicking and generally making it impossible. "Stop it!!!" I screamed at him. "No Mommy," he wailed back, tears streaming down his face "You stop it!!!" And then I tried to imagine what it would be like if someone three times my size had me pinned down doing something that I didn't want her to do. So I asked myself, does he need his shoes on to get into the car? No, I guess he doesn't. And then I said to him "M, if we go in the car without our shoes on, when will you be ready to put them on?" And he said "Before we go to the playground" And that was that. We drove without the shoes and I put them on him before getting out of the car.

It was a moment of clarity for me, because so often I assert my will without considering what his needs are. The fact is that there are many small decisions that occur within the larger ones. It may be that I am making the call that we're meeting friends for dinner. He doesn't get a say in that, at least not always. But what decisions can he make? Where can I let him have a little more control? The amazing thing is that the more I let him come to conclusions on his own terms, the more he comes to the ones I want him to reach. Whereas when I push my agenda onto him, he naturally rebels against it in an effort to establish his own will.

As my father always taught me, children are just short people. It's important to treat them like human beings. The most common thing I ask myself now is how would I feel if someone did to me what I am doing to him. If the answer is that I would feel angry or disrespected, I have to try and find a different way to get what I want from him.