One evening before dinner, my then-27-month old daughter Jolie was sitting on the floor playing with some of her toys. Instead of busying myself with dinner preparations like I normally do, I decided to get down on her level and engage her -- like a good mother.
Our faces were close and she leaned ever so slightly forward into me. I thought I might be the recipient of a hug and braced myself for the delicious goodness: a magical moment.
And then, she reached over and slapped me on the head. Hard. Out of nowhere. Where did this come from?
I looked at my daughter, dumbfounded. "Why did you hit Mommy?"
Bam! She did it again. She was smiling, delighted at this new, fun game of beating on her mother.
"It's not nice to hit people, Jolie. We don't hit people. You can touch gently. You can hug. But no..."
Bam! More smiles.
OK, this was getting old. My head hurt. I tried again. "Jolie, no hitting, baby. Hugging is okay. Let's just hug." I picked her up and sat with her on the couch in an embrace, rocking and comforting her. Maybe she just wanted to be close.
Nope. Because then she whacked me, really hard.
And for an instant, I lost my cool. I felt myself getting angry, upset, maybe even a little hurt. I moved her off of my lap and onto the couch roughly and got up, briskly walking to the other side of the room. "I'm not going to sit with you if you're going to hit me," I snapped.
She started crying. Wailing. Things weren't going so well for me, either. I was feeling a mixture of guilt, frustration and weariness.
I debated about what to do. I wanted my response to show that this was serious. Even though she was only 2, I wanted to make sure Jolie understood it wasn't acceptable to hit people. I thought back to the countless scenes from Nanny 911 and other such shows, which emphasized the importance of discipline and limit-setting. My friend uses "the naughty step" for time-outs and swears by it.
So I placed Jolie on the landing of the stairs and had her sit there for two minutes. By this time, my husband had come home and, after I had quickly filled him in, was standing by, trying to help enforce the punishment. Jolie was squirmy and we had to hold her still for some of it. There were more tears and for the longest time, she refused to apologize. I started to question whether 2 years old was too young to understand the concept of being sorry, whether we were being unreasonable for expecting her to say it. Eventually, though, she muttered, "Sorry," and we hugged. Pretty soon, all the hurt feelings of both parties were forgotten.
But I went to bed that night still not knowing whether I'd done the right thing. Was she too young? Did I get too worked up over something that is just normal toddler behavior? Where was my own Nanny Stella when I needed her, giving me encouragement or staging parental interventions?
My questions were answered the next day. When I got her out of bed for the morning, Jolie's smile filled the room, as if none of our strife had ever occurred. Her arms around me in a tight hug felt like home. That hug made me resolve that, in the future, I won't be seized by the emotion of the moment; I'll handle things with more coolness and collectedness.
My angry reaction seems silly and futile now, when I know full well that my daughter isn't able to fully grasp the meaning of her actions. I need to develop some thicker skin as a mother and realize that my daughter's occasional outbursts are not personal and not a denial of her love for me.
But still, where's my Nanny 911?