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15 Oct

In Which Her Bad Mother Quite Unironically Seeks Assistance In Her Efforts To Practice Good Parenting

I cannot thank you all enough for your tremendously supportive response to my last post (and to my recent, related posts over at your comments, your e-mails, and your many virtual hugs have been so much tonic for my frazzled soul. Things are still very challenging – WonderBaby is turbo-charged for as many hours in the day as she can keep her eyes open, and then some, if the night terrors come – but the knowledge that I am not the only one struggling with feelings of maternal inadequacy, that so many of you have felt or feel right now the way that I have been feeling, has gone so, so far toward easing my anxiety and frustration. But even though ‘thank you’ is insufficient, it needs to be said: thank you, thank you, thank you.

Now to business. I need more feedback and advice: how does one approach discipline with a baby that is rushing headlong into toddlerhood? WonderBaby – 11 months old yesterday – cannot be reasoned or bargained with, and she has only the most rudimentary understanding of what it means to do something that Mama disapproves of. (I think. There have been many moments during which I have been convinced that she knows exactly what she is doing. The deafening silence that falls upon the house when she is about to do something naughty – like, say, reprogram all of the electronic devices in the house – is, for example, suspicious.) Obviously, sending her to a Naughty Corner isn’t going to work.

What we currently do, when she does something that she shouldn’t: calmly and slowly say no, and separate her from whatever it is that she is doing. This, as I related the other day, is sometimes very difficult if not impossible: she’s a strong and willful baby, and if she works her well-honed arch-back-go-limp-deaden-weight move (which makes it near-impossible to lift her), her push-self-against-Mama-arch-and-throw-head-back move (which makes it near-impossible to hold her), or her arch-backward-go-ironrod-stiff move (which makes it near-impossible to get her into stroller or carseat), it can sometimes be – how to put this? – impossible to manipulate her physically. In which case, what is one to do? Obviously, in an emergency or truly desperate situation I would just wrestle her and drag her away, screaming, but I am, as it goes, reluctant to do this under ordinary circumstances. So, what is to be done? Do I just ride some things out, pick my battles, etc, etc? Or will I spoil her by doing this?

She’s a sweet-tempered baby. With so many things, she is agreeable and adaptable: if, for example, I pull her away from my laptop – as I must do frequently – she lets out a holler and stomps a foot but is over the fuss in a split-second and moves on to something else. In some cases, simply saying, firmly, NO, WonderBaby, will be enough to dissuade her from pursuing whatever nefarious activity she has set her mind to. But often, when she is really, really determined to do or not do something (eat, nap, get in stroller), there is no fighting her.

(On that subject: how does one feed a baby who refuses to eat anything but random bits of cheese and cucumber and the occasional lemon, and who refuses – REFUSES – to be spoon-fed? She’s a healthy girl – the energy level described in my last post, and her seemingly superhuman strength are evidence of this, I think – but she can go days just picking at and playing with her food. Is this a problem? How do I battle it?)

I’ve always intended to exercise a form of discipline that utilizes reasoning and discussion and getting down to child-level and teaching. But I fear that that particular resolution is doomed to the same fate as the no-garish-plastic-toys resolution and the no-DVD/television resolution (let’s just say that the week I was sick, I spent hours hunkered down on the floor in front of the television with the remote control and a stack of DVDs, trying to get Miss Business to sit still and get addicted to the screen already. That I was profoundly disappointed with my failure speaks volumes about how very, very far I have fallen.) I can’t have empowering heart-to-heart talks with WonderBaby about why it is very important to not bite one’s mother. I can’t reason with her about how very unpleasant it is to listen to screaming. She’s a baby.

I’m uncomfortable with the idea of raising my voice with her; my heart flips when I think of even speaking harshly to her. I much prefer the idea of firm and gentle – but is it enough with a despot-in-training? (Benevolent, but still.)

Despots-in-training shun toys. Despots-in-training sweep toys from shelves with one flourish of their tiny muscled arms and make those shelves their own. Despots claim territory, and if some idiotic department store employee has left a screwdriver behind with which to dismantle the structures of that territory, so much the better.

What do you all do? What did you do, when your children were very small? When did you begin exercising discipline, and how? And if you have a quote-unquote spirited baby, what do you do now?