3 minute sugar-free, dairy-free homemade ice cream

Ready for the easiest, breeziest ice cream ever?

I stumbled upon this on one of our last days of summer when Jo was on repeat, “I want a frozen treat. I want a frozen treat. I want a frozen treat.” We were popsicle-less, and I had a feeling that waiting 3 hours for the homemade ones to freeze was not in the cards for him or me. I wanted a frozen treat too, damn it. It was hot. So I improvised with the few things we had and Voila!

1) Dump the following into a blender:
Ice
Half and half or coconut milk for the dairy free option
Lemon juice
Stevia

2) Blend.

Behold your frozen treat!

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How the NICU saved and tormented our brand new family

My most recent doula client, Maude, had an incredible birth. She hoped to have her baby at home and labored there with grace and vigor for a day.

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When she was deep into active labor, this woman thudded up and down her stairs stairs with the consistent purpose of a metronome. (And that expert on-the-stairs-back-rubber, is Anna Mahony, dream-doula, who I sometimes work with.)

Three hours into pushing, she made the decision to transfer to the hospital. Within an hour after getting there, she pushed her baby out to discover, much to her surprise, that it was a girl. We all sighed with relief that we wound up at the hospital, since her daughter needed some help with her breathing at the NICU. She later developed some other complications that resulted in her transfer to a NICU at a nearby children’s hospital. When I met with Maude 2 weeks after the birth, her baby girl was healthy and happy and at home. As we watched Baby Girl nap peacefully in her swing, Maude launched into a passionate recounting of her experience at the NICU. It was so moving and real that I invited her to write a guest post here. I know that her experience is not an isolated one. I also know that her story and candor will be eye-opening at the very least and validating and inspiring to those of you who have spent time in NICU-land.

***

I feel obligated to start by saying this: I am grateful beyond words that my daughter is alive and well. She may not have been, had the skills of the NICU staffs of two hospitals not been so competent. And I shudder to think of what might have happened to our family had we given birth in a country or part of the United States where medical care is not so advanced or covered by health insurance (kind of) or accessible to nearly anyone. I am grateful that she will likely not experience any long-term disability or complications from what happened at her birth. I am GRATEFUL for her stay in the NICU.

AND

I am flabbergasted, horrified, and raging mad.

I say “her stay” in the NICU on purpose… For it was made clear to me early on that this was HER stay in the NICU, not ours. The person who was INSIDE OF ME 24 hours ago was now considered a separate being, whom I was supposed to turn over to strangers to care for while I tried to mentally comprehend her medical issues, communicate these to our loved ones, and take care of my throbbing body that had just experienced the most exhilarating, intense experience of my life.

Upon admittance to the NICU, my husband and I were told our daughter was allowed two visitors at a time, and we counted as visitors.

I wanted to shout, “I am her MOTHER (even though this concept was only a few hours old to me). Her MOTHER!!! She lived inside me a few days ago. No me. No her. Get it? I am NOT A VISITOR. I am an integral part of her care and well-being. I am like the ventilator to which she is attached. I am like the bed on which she is lying. I am (literally) like the feeding tube that is trailing down her throat. I am an indispensable part of her medical care!”

The system in which we found ourselves did not see it this way.

The system saw me as a visitor, at best. At worst, I was an intruder, a distraction, an obstacle to my daughter’s healing. The NICU was a large, open, fluorescently lit room lined with cribs and bassinets on all four walls. There was  no privacy for our family to talk, to cry, to sleep, to figure out what the hell just happened to us. There wasn’t even a place for us to sit down at her bedside.

We tried to retreat to the “waiting room” where we often encountered unfortunate families who spoke loudly, using profanity, about who they were preparing to “fight” upon return to their home communities.

We tried to retreat to the cafeteria, but it was loud and cluttered, and sometimes it was difficult to find a clean table. Plus, it was on a completely different floor from my daughter. I didn’t like being so far away.

We even tried to retreat to the chapel, but the chaplain (!!) told us that sleeping in there was inappropriate. Sleep was all we needed. I can pray anywhere.

Most of the nine days we were there, I had to fight to remain by her bedside and not feel like a distraction to the medical professionals attending her. On the first night of her stay, five doctors came in for “rounds” where they discuss the patient. One of the doctors asked me if I had questions for the main doctor. I asked her about seven or eight questions. The other doctors started fidgeting, annoyed at having to stand and wait through my questions. Finally the nurse jumped in, “You’ll have a chance to talk to the doctors again in the morning.” I guess I asked too many questions.

One reason I was treated as such an anomaly in this particular hospital occurred to me slowly, over the nine days of her stay. This particular hospital tends to serve many “Medicaid” (read: poor) patients. Why they are funneled to this hospital is a mystery to me. Why their children need intensive care is not. In the NICU there are mainly premature babies, many of whom likely did not receive adequate prenatal care or nourishment. This NICU is used to poor parents. Poor parents tend not to ask questions. They may be intimidated by medical professionals. Poor parents rarely have the luxury to stay at their child’s bedside all day. They have to go to work. So the NICU has developed policies, facilities, and protocols accordingly. And naturally, the staff there were ill-prepared for my borage of questions and constant attempts to stay at the center of what was happening to my daughter.

This makes me RAGING MAD. Poor parents and their children deserve the same kind of care as any other family. They deserve everything I want and am about to ask for.

1) Deliberate coaching on pumping breast milk.

It was 2:00 am on the first morning of her stay in the NICU. (I elected to spend the night, even though there was not an adequate place for me to sleep in any restorative way. Leaving my daughter in the hands of strangers while she was 36 hours old while I went home to my bed empty-handed just didn’t seem doable to me.) I said to the nurse that I wanted to learn how to pump breast milk. This fabulous nurse called her friend from another unit to come over and help me in the “mother’s room” (a hideous, windowless closet with one, overhead fluorescent light and a breast pump with no instructions). The friend came and showed me how to operate the machine and set up the plastic flanges on my breasts. She gave instructions to pump every two hours. As a result, the nurses were eventually able to administer my milk to her via a feeding tube instead of formula, and I had an established milk supply several days later when my daughter was allowed and able to nurse.

Every new mother should be offered pumping instruction in her first visit to the NICU. She shouldn’t have to remember to ask.

2) A clean, private place to use the bathroom.

After a woman has given birth, going to the bathroom is a new experience. New moms often have stitches, either in their abdomens or in their vaginas. A filthy, windowless hospital bathroom is not a place to care for open wounds. New moms have supplies they need while in the bathroom. Placing my bag of said supplies on the filthy floor of the bathroom stall (upon which I KNOW someone vomited less than 24 hours ago) is not hygienic. So I balanced the heavy bag on my shoulder while tending to myself.

New moms need sanitary napkins, ice packs, garbage cans within reach of the toilet, spray bottles, glasses of water with which to take their prescriptions, and toilets that are higher than normal so we don’t have to squat so low. In short, we need private bathrooms.

3) A clean, private place to eat.

I was told upon arrival to the hospital that it is critical that I eat a lot and eat well to establish and maintain milk supply. In the next breath, I was told I was only allowed to eat in two places: the waiting room (aforementioned disaster) and the cafeteria (on another floor from my kid). I was also told that I was afforded one meal per day from the hospital. They would deliver this meal to the NICU, but I had to transport it to an “eating area” to consume it.

4) Have a doctor say to me, “You are an integral part of your daughter’s wellness and healing.” (And have said-doctor believe these words.)

I fear the neonatologists and other doctors were not trained (or forgot) that the presence of a neonate’s mother is CRUCIAL to her surviving and thriving, especially when in critical condition. Doctors certainly did not express this verbally, and the facility in which they work does not express this non-verbally. I was given small squares of fabric that I was to wear close to my body and then place in her bassinet so she could “smell me.” Guess what? If I STAY IN THE ROOM with her, she can smell me too. I found these fabric squares to be insulting. If I were provided a CHAIR to sit in, I might feel more welcome to stay.

5) NICU spaces should be designed to encourage family participation.

Having nowhere for a mother to sleep, breastfeed, eat, or even sit sent me the message, “Go home. We’ll call you when we’ve healed your child.” Having this exclusion constantly rained down upon me made me want to strangle the medical professionals who designed this standard of care. I absolutely could not go home, at least not for the first 48 hours. After that, I felt so defeated that I started to force myself to go home each night. There was literally nowhere for me to be at my daughter’s side.

A nurse said, “You should go home to rest and be ready when your baby does come home.”

I smiled and nodded at the time, but that comment has gnawed away at me. Some of my friends would mention that at least there was the silver lining of me having some extra time to rest. I adore these friends. And I know they were just trying to say something kind. And I feel compelled now to share why the concept of resting at this particular time is a complete crock.

If you think you don’t sleep well when your first-born daughter is cooing or crying in the bassinet by your bed, try sleeping with her 15 miles away in the care of a stranger.  That, my friend, is the definition of NOT sleeping well.

Coming home was not restful. My husband and I followed the same, breathless routine upon arrival home each night. After crying and shaking and heaving in the car the whole way home, I would peel myself out of the passenger’s seat, walk in the house, strip off all of my clothes (which were filthy, thanks to the condition of the hospital) and proceed upstairs to start pumping. My husband would throw all of our clothes into the washing machine, and provided the hot compresses, cold compresses and all supplies necessary to kick-start a milk supply with a breast pump in the absence of an infant. I would call the hospital to check in with the night nurse about how my daughter was doing, remind them that we didn’t want her to be given a bottle or pacifier or formula, and thank her for taking care of my girl. After pumping for 45 minutes, my husband would take the expressed milk and my plastic pumping supplies down to the freezer. I would set the timer on my phone for two hours, and my husband and I would wake up to repeat the process. Somewhere in there he would bring up the newly cleaned clothes for us to wear again.

I want to see a standard of care that acknowledges the neonate and mother as one unit. When a father or partner is in the picture, this person should also be included in the unit. These two adults are not visitors. They are pieces of the child’s care plan that are indispensable.

I want to see individual rooms for neonates and their parents. Period. With bathrooms, eating trays, and windows, just like other patients in the hospital. If neonates could talk, I’m sure they would request the same.

I must finish where I started.  I am grateful. I realize that my girl’s stay in the NICU was very short by most standards. She was born at full-term and therefore was able, eventually, to breastfeed well. All things considered, she recovered quickly. I’d like to think at least part of this is due to my fierce wrangling to be there, to advocate, to do everything I could to keep her healthy in the ways that felt right to me. And I feel deep gratitude to the to the skillful nurses, doctors, and researchers who contributed to her wellness, the manufacturers of products and drugs she used, and the millions of babies who went before her to pave the way with knowledge and skills to help heal her particular illnesses.

And

I want better. I want better for families of means and families without. I want better for moms who don’t know how or what they should ask, and I want better for moms who are pains in the neck and ask “too much.” I want better for all babies.

What I want is out there.

My friend’s essay about us on Elle.com today

My dear friend Susie is a crisp, courageous writer. Today, Elle.com published her essay about the heart-wrenching way our little Cal has factored into her family’s life in the past year.

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I cried in a bathroom stall at work as I read the first draft of this piece when Susie shared it with me. Feeling the weight of her friendship and longing made my heart hurt.

Her boldness and vulnerability are well worth reading.

(Love you, Susie.)

Summer vacation, when doing the dishes is fun

This last week we’ve been hanging out at a sweet spot just a couple hours away. I chose it because of the stream running by—big enough to splash in but small enough that it didn’t set off any alarms in that “I could drown your children” way. I had visions of sitting on the deck with a glass of wine watching the boys splash and explore.

It hasn’t been *exactly* like that. The deck wraps around so that it takes long enough to get to the creek from my wine-drinking perch that it didn’t feel safe to have Cal down there. What we’ve done every day that I didn’t envision is rock hopping downstream, looking for crawdads and picking the juiciest blackberries along the way.

I had an afternoon while Cal and AJ napped to do just this. Me and Jo splashing around, the gentle joy of discovering what’s around the next bend and the next, feet sloshing through cool creek water. A hot topic of discussion during our meander was conceived of by Jo: “No, Mom, it’s not beautiful. It’s awesome.” He was talking about some moss or a tree or some ripples in the water. And so a new game was born: Beautiful or awesome?

Discarded crawdad claws we found on a river rock after someone’s midnight snack?

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Decidedly awesome.

This dreamy riffle?

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J0: awesome and beautiful. Me: I love this kid.

These are the moments when I totally get my kid. When we’re outside, exploring, both alert to discovery. Our chatter ebbs and flows. Our attention doesn’t. Just two companions, with nothing but interest, space and time.

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Should life require a modest vacation budget and a creek-side cabin to enjoy the people we love in this spacious, easy way?

I’d like to say no, but then I wouldn’t completely agree with myself.

There’s something about being away from the place you know (or think you know) that allows these other parts of yourself to light up. The explorer part, the bored part, the lazy-in-a-good-way part, the “sure, let’s try it” part.

Life at home can bog me down. The relentless weekly schedule, my constant tracking of things that need to be done, the unending stream of things that need to be done. It’s no wonder I angle for boy bedtime so I can lay on the couch and hypnotize it all away with a little sugar and internet tv.

Here, I have actually enjoyed doing the dishes. In a day with no demands, only options (and fewer of them) I’ve become interested by daily chores. Why should sweeping feel any more or less monotonous than reading a magazine? The truth is, both can be relaxing or drudgery, depending on the context. Yesterday’s highlights were spent on my knees cleaning my yoga mat with soap and water and scrubbing the brownish crust from around the burners of the stove. I leaped into both activities with the same interest and satisfaction that I see in Cal while he spins the clear glass knob on our bedside table for 20 minutes while I doze.

I’m hoping that these reminders – that time can feel big and open and interesting, that dish-doing can be a sensory reprieve – will carry over into my regular life. But I know that within a few weeks I will have forgotten. Maybe that’s why vacation exists.

Car camping is my new best friend

As a long-time backpacker in my youth, I would scoff at car campers. Why would you go to so much trouble to sit in a dusty parking lot and sleep in a tent?

Well, you narcissistic 20 year old know-it-all, because you have small children. That’s why.

And it doesn’t have to be a dusty parking lot, either.

We packed ourselves all up with stuff we had—sleeping bags, folding chairs, camp stove, pack-and-play, an old nonstick aluminum pan that AJ bought at a thrift store in New Zealand while I snuck off with a lid from another cooking set since we only had $6. And then we added a slew of borrowed stuff to the mix: 6 person tent, twin air mattress, full sized air mattress, battery operated thing to blow up air mattresses.

Then we were off. Propelling ourselves through the heavy, hot air of California’s central valley to a place called King’s Canyon.

Back when we did childless things like going to trivia night every Monday, I remember one of the co-hosts mentioning how beautiful King’s Canyon was. So we decided to go to there.

Let me tell you, I’ve been dragging my feet on this camping thing. We tried once when Jo was 7 or 8 months and it was not the best. We actually backpacked in a couple miles–AW with Jo strapped to his front and a backpack on his back, only to find out that there was a spot we could have driven to less than 1/4 mile away. In the end, he barely napped and instead rolled around the tent like a ping pong ball. The night was pretty similar and I woke up bleary-eyed and desperate for our usual world of cribs and doors that close.

When it comes to camping, I wish we were co-sleepers–sleep together at home or sleep together in a tent. One less hurdle to get over. But for our separate-sleeper family and particularly me, with my sleep PTSD, the idea of bedding down together in a tent gave me the heebee-jeebees. To his credit, AJ was persistent, and I said OK through gritted teeth.

Then I stumbled across this post about traveling with kids and–cue soundtrack for light breaking through the clouds–a little golden ray started shining through. I commented on the post, admitting my terror of family tent sleeping and Free to Be replied,

…if you’re used to doing things a certain way at home, it often is a case of looking at things from a totally different angle as a camper – just as the cooking gets done in a different way, so does bedtime and babycare.

Eureka!

So damn true.

I packed that little nugget along with us and kept it as my mantra. I still doubted as we wound our way through the canyon to a campsite at the road’s end, all while enduring Cal’s cry which had turned raspy from overuse. We pulled into our site around 6 and I stumbled out of the driver’s seat, grabbed blotchy, sobbing Cal, yanked his clothes and diaper off and deposited him on the riverbank.

There was a cool breeze. Jo scrambled from rock to rock. Banged sticks on things. Threw stones at things. Cal felt the wind in his face. Splashed. Was calm.

I didn’t look at a clock for the next 4 days. We ate when hungry, slept when tired and not only survived, but enjoyed ourselves. That huge tent and the air mattresses helped too. Yes. There were nights when Cal would wake up Jo who would then wake up Cal. But AJ and I would take turns sleeping in and napping by the river. And being up with Cal at 5:30 washing dishes by the river had its own charm.

There was a sublime joy in seeing Jo in such a fitting environment. I had a blessed break from the word “no.” Wanna break that branch? Sure. Light that on fire? Please. Hurdle that huge boulder down into the water? Just wait till that girl floats by. Ok, you betcha.

And we got deep into Roald Dahl’s The Witches. Jo saw the cover illustration of the spooky, beautiful witch at the library and was hooked. I required him to sit through my lengthy prologue about the term “witch” and it being a catch-all category for many powerful, magical, wonderful women. Once we got into it, I was struck by Jo’s fear and fascination with deadly, dark characters. Since I’m still afraid of the dark and the Wicked Witch of the West, I worry that stories like these only introduce him to oppressive, new fears, but I had the sense over and over as we read it that it was filling a deep need of his. To have a place to rest some of his knowledge that there are scary things and people out there. To be trusted with a story with some sharp edges.

When we weren’t reading in our camping chairs to the delicious white noise of the South Fork of the Kings River, we were roasting marshmallows over a campfire while Cal slept in his tented pack-n-play. In just four nights, I learned the geography and natural rhythms of Sentinel campsite #13 more intimately than those of the sweet little house we’ve lived in for the last year and a half.

The way the cedars go from 3 dimensional swaying green giants to lacy black frames for a hundred million stars. The evening glow on the east bank of the river, just before sunset. My back pressed into the smooth curve of river rock, eyes closed in the sun, squinting the light in every so often to watch Jo jump and splash through his new river world.

Why you’re all welcome in my exclusive bad boy club

For those of you who don’t keep obsessive tabs on the goings on here (gasp! You don’t?!) I’ll catch you up real quick.

I wrote about a parenting breakthrough I had with Jo who will kick, bite, hit, head-butt and then laugh when angry. The post got lots of attention, and 60 or 70 parents, mostly moms, responded about how their kids, mostly boys, did this same thing. I was so moved by all the comments and struck by this pattern of boys behaving this way that I wrote another post speculating about where all this boy raging was coming from. Then I re-wrote that post due to an insightful comment on my Facebook page about gender. I re-wrote it because I realized that while my experience is about boys and while I see and hear this happening a lot with boys, I’m sure it also happens with some girls too, and I honestly can’t imagine the additional challenges of having a girl behaving this way. So I re-wrote the parts where I generalized about boys into generalizing to kids.

Since I did that, there have been some interesting comments in the vein of “Wait?! I thought we were now in this great raging boys club and now you’re expanding it to all kids, and we’re parents of boys. I liked it when you firmly identified as a mom of a boy. Don’t stop doing that!” I also got a fair number of, “Yes, my girl is like this too, so thank you for including me.”

And I’m left here pondering what I think about all of this—the old “are boys and girls wired differently?” conversation. The old nature vs. nurture conversation. The old “how do you talk about your specific experience and bond with people like you and also keep things open enough for different voices to join in?” conversation.

So here’s what I have to say about all that.

I think boys and girls are wired differently. Boys have penises. Girls have vaginas. They have different hormone combinations coursing through their little bodies. I also think boys and girls are wired very similarly. They both have brains and eyes and hands and are human and tend to prefer macaroni and cheese over most any other food in the world.

Here now, courtesy of my friend Jen with a witty blog that always makes me guffaw, are some examples of boy wiring:

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Anyone else appreciate the “nails” theme in this series?!

In terms of inclusion/exclusion, I think something is lost when we try to include everyone in everything because one of my most profound joys in this lifetime is seeking comfort in people who share my experience. I’m talking to you, mom’s of “bad” boys! Also, I think something is lost when we get super exclusive, because one of my other most profound joys is learning from people who are really different than me. And having my mind blown by them. Hello, dads of mild-mannered, craft loving girls.

I want both things, damn it.

I am the mom of a particular breed of boy, and I’m going to talk about that without any apologies. I want you all to write from the hip here too, and not worry about generalizing about patterns you see in boy and girl behavior. I get it. We all see patterns. My big caveat is this: while some of the differences between boys and girls are rooted in biology, the differences between them that we see and talk about are culturally re-enforced to the max. We think boys are like this and girls are like this, we notice what confirms our thoughts (ignore what doesn’t) and make it true.

Also, I want to make room for our boys and girls to surprise us. For the record, when Jo is flinging his limbs wildly about, he’s often wearing one of his favorite shirts–it’s (gasp!) a turquoise “girl” shirt with puffed sleeves and a starfish on it.

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He’s also very nurturing of Cal and regularly shouts, “Mom, Cal’s on the stairs again—it’s a safety problem!”

He’s a big, complicated, easy-to-generalize kid.

Probably a lot like yours.

That slippery fish of parenting mastery

There are moments of mastery.

Because there are so many more moments of barely getting by and utter failure, I have to mark these somehow.

Not to toot my own horn…

To finish reading this post, get ye over to Get Born, a radical blog of unflinchingly real women writers where I post once a month. It’s a dream come true over there.

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Why I re-wrote my last post

Thanks to a really insightful comment from one of you on my Facebook page, I decided to go back and change the title and some of the content of my last post about raging boys.

I like this post, but I must admit I’m not keen on the slight ‘gender essentialism’ edge to it. Labeling this type of behavior as somehow a ‘boy’ thing isn’t really a good thing for either boys or girls. Also in my opinion it’s really not that clear cut. I have a boy who is (at least so far) the total opposite of this- very physically cautious etc. this describes our friend’s daughter far more accurately. A mom I talked to recently with a wonderful spirited ‘wild’ daughter was lamenting the fact that everyone seemed to think this kind of behavior was fine from boys and wrote it off as ‘boys will be boys’ type stuff, but saw it as almost unnatural and totally unacceptable in a girl. Since having kids I see so many examples of how much we try to stereotype them. When we see behavior that confirms our bias we note it, but when we see anything that runs counter to our bias we ignore it. Boys or girls, the same principles, solutions and dilemmas apply so why pigeon hole?

Since honesty is my bag here, I have to admit that I felt really defensive after reading Ruth’s comment at first. “But I wrote it because I have a boy, and 99% of the comments on my post about Jo’s badness were from parents of boys.” And then I thought some more, and had a back and forth with Ruth and decided that she was right. Parents of raging, wild, aggressive girls probably feel less open about it than those of boys, so I probably hear less from them. And like it or not, this kind of behavior is something that’s more tolerated in boys. Based on my own experience at the playground, I can only imagine what onlooking parental wrath I’d incur if my 4-year-old girl kicked and then dumped sand on the little boy sitting by the slide.

So I want to broaden this discussion from parents of boys to parents of kids. Are you the parent of a kid? Do they rage? Do they head-butt you and then laugh? Well then step right up. I re-wrote this for you.

Our raging kids and where they come from

Well hot damn. Hells bells. Sheesh-ka-bob.

Things have been really hopping over here since I wrote my last post.

I’m a chronic over-sharer in my day-to-day, so writing about my life, all splayed open for the world to see, comes naturally and feels good. Necessary, even. And so I write and I keep writing and I hope it strikes a chord somewhere. Hope someone else feels a little less nuts, a little more jovial about their particular mess, a little bit encouraged by the good company of us other bumbling humans, just trying to see what sticks.

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And then BAM. For whatever reason, I struck a chord last week. A relatively big one.

The things you’ve shared with me have left me stunned.

There are so many of us.

This is my son ALL over the place.

Wow. Just Wow. Your story resonated with our boy word for word.

The attitude of mum, the elder child’s personality and spunk, and the shock when it actually worked all ring so true.

My beautiful bad seed is all girl..lovely, opinionated, strong-willed, thoughtful, loving, commanding, and gorgeously all girl. With a temper that can send giants to the corner, silently weeping and hugging their knees.

What you wrote has an impact for me right now. I can be that padded wall.

This is our house, so thanks-

Like a few of you have said above, he hits, kicks, head butts, body slams me, bites, throws things, ect, and laughs all the while doing it. And I know he is not laughing to be malicious, but because he cannot get his emotions under control, and he doesn’t understand them. It’s damn hard though. And he’s a strong little bugger.

Ladies, this was so my son when he was younger. I think I still have PTSD from his first month or so of kindergarten when he was 5.

I’m trying to find a way with my 3 years old boy that plays –often– the agressive kid, usually against me.

I have four boys – two are like your son. Your piece had me in tears as not an hour ago I had numerous sets of eyes glaring at me at a park as a meltdown occurred. I stayed calm, told myself to ignore the judgement and to love my boy. But gosh was it hard. Even after two years of practice staying calm with him during his outbursts (since I finally learned not staying calm made it infinitely worse!) I still struggle.

Thank you for putting in words what I’ve been trying to do with my nearly-3yr old bundle of energy boy.

My very spirited 2 1/2 year old can be aggressive and violent like this to his very gentle 6 year old brother!

I needed this today.

my son is Jo…

This is exactly my 4yo.

When my son goes berserk he tries to hit and scratch and bite and he’s like a wild beast. If it’s not that it’s chucking things at me and knocking things down.

I am in exactly the same boat with my almost 3 year old and little ‘accidents’ with his younger brother.

My son is only 6-months and I feel like this already fits him to a T. Love the insight and I’ll be sharing this with my wife as we prepare for the next stage!

We have a Jo of our own in the form of Eli. Thank you very much for sharing this.

Your description of the sadistic smile that he gets is so like my William’s! He is so much more than that mask. Your post brought me to tears, because you showed me I am not alone.

Maria, I thought of you when I read this, especially the head-butting part.

And this isn’t even all of them.

I had no idea how many of us were in this boat. Parents with young ones who are scratching, hitting, throwing, biting and yes, as Maria well knows, head-butting; they’re hurting things and people in their path and then tossing off a sadistic laugh to boot. Even though I know these behaviors intimately because we’ve lived them all for the past couple years, it still baffles me to write it all out. Why is this happening? And to so many of us?

Maybe this has been going on for centuries with human kids. But if that were the case, wouldn’t there be a How-To-Handle-Your-Young-Child-Who-Often-Behaves-Very-Much-Like-a-Sociopath manual out there? Written and tried and tested by the droves of mothers who have come before us, and sat where we sit, staring, glazed-over, at a loss?

I’m working out a theory for why we’re seeing this particular kind of child so much.

First, there are a bunch of us parents who are suspicious of going straight to punishment when our kids’ behavior goes south. We don’t go straight to spanking or time out when the block goes whizzing by our head. That is not to say we don’t ever go the punishment route. After a long LONG day when I’m over it, I bust out some yelling and forceful placement in the room, to “not come out until you can touch your brother the right way.” But sometimes I have the energy and time to try other stuff. I listen. I give eye contact. For those of us who are willing to try this stuff, we don’t (or can’t!) stop the cyclone of destruction dead in its tracks (as much as we might like to!), so we see our kids’ raging as it gains steam and plays out.

Second is this article. It has me floored.

Atlantic Overprotected Kid

My friend Meg brought it up as we were talking about the response to my post about “bad” Jo and all the droves of moms of kids like him that were moved to share their thoughts here. It’s a long read, but worth the time, about the dramatic trend away from unsupervised and risky play since the 1970s and how, these days, children expect to be constantly supervised. While the hyper-supervision trend seems to be rooted in parents’ fear of injury or abduction, instances of those things haven’t gone up since the 70s, though our awareness of them has. And I have a hunch that all this reigning in of our kiddos has something to do with these little psychopath boy moments we’re trying to contain out in the world and in our houses.

For example, beginning in 2011, Swanson Primary School in New Zealand submitted itself to a university experiment and agreed to suspend all playground rules, allowing the kids to run, climb trees, slide down a muddy hill, jump off swings, and play in a “loose-parts pit” that was like a mini adventure playground. The teachers feared chaos, but in fact what they got was less naughtiness and bullying—because the kids were too busy and engaged to want to cause trouble, the principal said.

Are our kids so bored out of their skulls with their wooden train sets and soccer practice and happy cartoons that they’re seeking out the juicy-dangerous-aliveness that comes from risk-taking with us? If they could wander, unfettered with their neighborhood friends and build forts and cut down tree limbs and explore on their own more often, would they rage less at home?

Something tells me yes.

How my bad 4-year-old and I found our way home

There’s simplicity parenting, attachment parenting, parenting by temperament. Authoritative parenting, French parenting, parenting the spirited child.
And one I think we’re all familiar with: parenting by the seat of our pants.

That, whether I like it or not, is where I parent from most of the time. And let me tell you, the seat of my pants is battered and worn. As I have mentioned before, parenting Jo since I got pregnant with Cal has been no cake walk. We’re talking hitting, kicking and throwing things at me when I was pregnant, having big physical outbursts with other kids and trying to contain his massive physical energy in a small house with a newborn.

I sought advice everywhere I could—books, friends, my mom. I dissolved into tears while asking Jo’s teacher what I should do after his first morning of preschool, all while bouncing Cal in his carrier.

So this last fall, I went to an introductory talk for a Hand-in-Hand parenting class that was recommended by a mom I’ve been admiring for months. Her daughter goes to Jo’s preschool and she’s a kick ass and very real mom of 3 exuberant children, including a very physical, eldest boy which is why I sought out her sage advice.

At the end of the talk, I was the woman raising my hand, “Sure Angela, that all sounds great, but then what do I do when my 4 year old starts head-butting me?” I walked out of there with the massive chip on my shoulder that only a mother of a super-physical and sometimes-aggressive boy can have: Your slick limit setting ideas won’t work in my house. My child will chew up your parenting tools and spit them directly into my face.

But I was at the end of what felt like every one of my ropes, so I tried what she talked about.

I actually stopped the 7 things I was trying to do at once while making dinner and got down on the floor with Jo the next time he tried to hit me. AJ happened to be home, so I had the pleasure of being able to try this without having Cal in tow. I tried to set the limit with a “firm and warm tone while making lots of eye contact.” I just kept saying things like, “I can’t let you hit me.” And “I know you’re angry because we’re not going to watch a video.” And “Nope. I can’t let you kick me either.” I stayed with him while he flipped out.

It was the parenting equivalent of walking straight into enemy fire.

And it effing worked.

He cried and screamed and thrashed. And then the hitting stopped. And he melted into a hug.

I was stunned.

I signed up for the class.

Like any parenting advice worth its salt, the things I learned there and practice now are just good habits for living as a human being. And they happen to apply really well to the under-developed brains of children and the calcified brains of parents.

There’s so much to say here because the whole Hand-in-Hand approach is a sweeping understanding of human relationships in general.

It’s rooted in brain science, in particular the functioning of the social or limbic part of our brains that is fully formed when we’re born. When we feel connected to others, our limbic system is happy. When we don’t, the red flag is raised, the alarm sounds. Babies cry. Toddlers tantrum. Moms want to fly far far away from here.

So, in short, the answer when things are going pear-shaped is to find a way to connect if you can. If you can’t, it’s okay. Try again next time. Angela, the same Angela I grilled with chip-on-my-shoulder questions at the intro talk, would repeat this kindness over and over: sometimes you just can’t stop everything and connect. Surprise! You’re human. Each time she’d say this, I could feel every parent in the room deflate into relief. She understood. Sometimes, you just need to sit your child down in front of 6 episodes of Animal Babies on Netflix until you get your sanity back.

The other thing the class reminded me about was how crucial listening is. Often, our kids desperately want to be listened to when they’re upset. (Shockingly, I also want this.) And if we’re not getting listened to as parents, about the relentlessness of it, the trials and triumphs and mind-numbing Tuesdays, then it’s really hard for us to listen to our kids.

Eureka.

Getting listened to over the course of the 6 week class felt like cleaning out some backed-up old pipes. Week after week I was allowed and even encouraged to let ‘er rip: “When he bit me, I wanted to hit him. I wanted to scream, ‘What the hell is your problem?!’” And slowly, I de-gunked. And the water ran clear again.

I credit what I learned in my Hand-in-Hand class with helping me recover the relationship with Jo that I loved. The way I see his outbursts and respond to them has changed subtly, and we recover faster.

As a result of all this listening and limbic system learning, I was able to make a radical mental shift:

I was able to see Jo as a good kid.

After so many months of having him try to hurt me (and sometimes succeeding) and watching him lash out at the baby, I started to believe that Jo was bad. Damaged. Wrong.

This may come as a huge surprise, but when you’re parenting your child from the perspective that they are The Bad Seed, your relationship with that child does not tend to flourish.

I’ve witnessed now, time after time, that if I have the presence and time to connect with Jo when he’s going off the rails, (which sometimes I don’t—see Netflix option above) if I can stay warm and firm, it reminds him (AND ME!) that I’m the grown up. I’m the big padded wall he can fling himself against. I’m not going anywhere. And I see that he’s okay and that we’re okay deep down. He can unfurl in that safety, flip out, and then come back. I show him that I know he’s great even when he’s at his worst. And then he knows how to find his way back.

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‘The Long Way Home’ by Christine und David Schmitt

Case in point:

Cal was crawling around with some toys in the living room and Jo was running and jumping everywhere at ludicrous speed. I stopped Jo and looked in his eyes and asked him to please slow down, because he might accidentally knock Cal over, and I know he doesn’t want to hurt him. Not 2 minutes later, Cal got knocked over, fell on his face and came up with a bloody, screaming mouth. My face crumpled and started to get that angry look towards Jo. I scooped up Cal, and Jo looked back with this horrifying grin on his face as if to say, “See how bad I am?”

I had the presence in that moment to remember his goodness. So instead of talking to the sadistic nutcase in front of me, I talked to the kid I know he is.

Don’t worry, Jo. Cal is going to be okay. I know you didn’t want to hurt him and that it’s really scary to see him bleeding. But he’s going to be just fine. He needs to cry because he’s hurting. But I know you didn’t do that on purpose and I know how much you love him.

I brought him in close and just kept talking about how I knew he was scared and sad and that he loved Cal to pieces. He kept playing the cruel jerk. But I just kept right on.

When Cal’s crying died down, it was time for us to go meet a friend. Jo fell quiet while we were getting in the car, and as I was buckling him in, he asked, “Can I hug him?”

Why yes, dear boy. You can.

“Can I kiss him too?”

By all means.

And then, after the gentlest hugging and kissing that I’ve ever witnessed from my little dynamo, he settled into his seat, looked straight into my eyes and said, “Mama, I’m never going to do that again.”

Yowza. We made it.

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