Tuesday, August 6, 2013


Lately, I've been reflecting a lot on my son's short life (what's new?).  It seems like the first year was just a whirlwind.  Sadly, I don't remember much about it.  I know that I was probably very tired and was often in a bad mood (because that's what happens when I'm exhausted) and didn't get out much, so maybe my amnesia is a good thing.  The second year was all about learning and growing.  He grew from an unstable, newly mobile, almost mute lump into a loud and agile runner, climber, and singer.  But during that second year, there were still a lot of signs of baby-hood around the house: diapers (for most of it), high chair in the kitchen, gates at the top and bottom of our stairs. The changes we saw were huge, but in many ways they were very subtle.

Suddenly, as we enter his third year, the progress is more obvious. A couple of weekends ago, the stair gates came down and the high chair, a fixture in our kitchen for the last year and a half, got replaced by a booster seat.  We're teaching manners and expecting consistency with chores (clearing his plate, putting away toys).  Play is more imaginative and independent.  Instead of requiring locks on all the cabinets and drawers, he is able to learn where he is welcome to explore and where he is not.  Most notably, a potty-training lapse forced us to reexamine our routines, which led me to the conclusion that we needed to night-train the little man, as it must be confusing to be expected to stay dry all day but not at night...which meant cutting out liquids in the evening...which meant eliminating the bedtime water cup...which was a REALLY BIG DEAL.

That sippy cup of water has been Asher's pacifier for the last year.  Never a fan of actual binkies and a horrible sleeper most of his life, we let him sleep with formula bottles until he was about a year old and finally started cutting some teeth (note: I don't advocate that because of the potential for tooth decay, but in a kid who has no teeth, I'm not sure it's a big no-no).  At that point, we converted to a spill-proof sippy cup of water, and it became an integral part of the bedtime routine.  He could guzzle the stuff down.  Recently, he even started calling for refills during his wind-down process.  Cutting out the water has been hard on him.  It's the first thing he requests after dinner and the last thing he cries for as he falls asleep.  He is heartbroken, and it breaks our hearts to say, "No."  If I had to name the most monumental change in our household over the last two years, this would be it.

Yet, we have seen big results.  He is learning to fall asleep with real self-soothing, and he's sleeping through the night without getting up at night to pee.  His pull-up stayed dry so many nights that we eliminated it completely, and with that, the Diaper Genie went out to pasture.  He suddenly remembers that pee goes in the potty and not in his pants.  Change can be painful, but often you are rewarded for your struggle.

As I have considered all of this, I have also been struck with the realization that my baby is now a kid.  Part of him wanted to stay a baby.  In many ways, we wanted him to stay a baby too, but at some point, you know what your child needs to grow and thrive, and as a parent, you are compelled to help him.  You know that your kid will be better for it.  Still, there remains sadness for everyone.  Asher cried and tried to put the stair gates back up.  He understood what was happening better than I expected him to.  It's no wonder to me that siblings are often born two to three years apart.   Your one-year-old might be a toddler but in many ways is still your baby.  Your two-year-old is rapidly leaving baby-hood behind.  Decisions are harder.  Protests are louder.  The changes are more bittersweet.  You feel a void.  You fill it.

However, when I look at this more closely, I see an old world opening up to me.  In the last few weeks, I have worked on creating a physical space for myself.  Before Asher was born, our house, though always a work in progress, was furnished and decorated, and I had an office for myself.  I happily converted my office into a nursery, and over the last two years, I convinced myself that it was OK that the house was becoming less and less put-together as the days passed. Toys everywhere.  Furniture rapidly deteriorating.  Piles of stuff all over because there is no good spot for anything.  The dining room was decorated for Christmas for a full year.  Two years into parenthood, I figured that was just what having kids was about. 

And then we hit two, and Asher rapidly transitioned from a big baby to a little kid.  He started wanting to go in a room alone and saying, "Mommy to leave!"  These words crushed me at first, but I soon realized that he relishes his independence and can actually be trusted not to kill himself if left alone in a room for a few minutes.  I started toying with ideas about converting our guest room into a playroom for him.  I started seeing that maybe one day, we could reclaim our house.  Then my husband started encouraging me to make a "playroom" of my own, an idea I had bounced around for a few months but never felt entitled to act on.  But with Asher's new-found independence, I have also started to develop a sense of independence again, a realization that at some point, my life is going to involve something other than making sure that my child is safe, healthy, and not destroying everything in sight.  I might one day soon find more time for my hobbies.  I might get to read a book for pleasure.  I might be able to keep my home looking attractive, organized, and comfortable again.

As fast as Asher's growing-up suddenly is, my adjustment to this role change is as slow as his adjustment to water-free nights.  I have been fighting it.  It took me two weeks to order the sofa for my space, and as I wait for that comfy lounge to arrive, I still can't quite settle into my new area.  But at some point, we'll settle into the new normal.  Asher will stop asking to be carried upstairs "like a baby," and I'll be OK not watching his every move.  Seeing us all move through this transition, although I know we all feel growing pains, I realize that we can't wait to see where this adventure takes us next.

It just gets better and better! 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Week of "Yes!"

I haven't posted in a while because I've been busy vacationing.  Yes, vacationing.  It's a bit of a miracle that I can say that. Here's the background:

My husband and I are notorious workaholics, and vacation was always something we put off.  Excuses are always at the ready: I hate flying, the planning required to leave town is daunting, the work that waits when I get back haunts me....I could go on.  Until our son was about 15 months old, we considered the trips we took to visit family and friends "vacations," but as all of you who have to travel long distances to visit family know, those visits are not a real vacation.  We realized that we needed to do something different.

Granted, we come by our workaholism and vacation-less-ness honestly.  Though we both took family trips as kids, the trips generally had a clear purpose and itinerary.  In my case, we took road trips all over California and saw pretty much everything between Eureka and San Diego.  Crockett's family ventured farther, but there were always plans.  Now that I am a parent myself, I can't imagine that those trips were at all refreshing for our parents.  There certainly were moments of great joy and adventure, but the mere thought of wrangling kids (and husband) into the car every morning to head out to a new point of interest and trying to coordinate meals and naps every day is, at least for me, the stuff of nightmares.

As you might imagine, neither of us knows much about the art of relaxation.  We wanted to teach our son something different, so we agreed that every year, we would take a REAL vacation--one where relaxation was the only objective--and we developed a few very important rules defining what that meant.

Number one, and most importantly, our vacation has to be a vacation for ALL of us.  If the trip means more planning and stress than we have at home in the course of our usual routine, it is not a vacation.  This means primarily that there has to be some arrangement made for childcare for at least part of most days.   Clearly, we love our son more than anything, but we love him the most when we aren't responsible for entertaining, supervising, and disciplining him every minute of every day.  Having childcare means that we can have alone time--both as a couple and as individuals--to get the rest we need as well.

The second rule is that our trip should have no objective aside from relaxation.  If we want to visit some sites, that's great.  If we want to go somewhere and do nothing, that's great too.  If we happen to visit with friends who live in the area, fantastic.  If we don't manage to see them, no biggie.  We plan almost nothing and just figure out what we feel like doing one day to the next.  It's a freeing experience.

Finally, we have to be comfortable.  For us, it just isn't comfortable to be crammed in a single hotel room.  We stay in suites and condos, where we can stretch out, shut the boy in his own room to sleep, and have access to a fridge and (sometimes) laundry, which I consider necessities when traveling with a small child.  I am a bit of a hotel snob--I really appreciate a nice hotel and have had the privilege of staying at some amazing ones--but when traveling with a child, I would much rather stay in a less fancy place in order to be able to have enough space for all of us.

And so we arrive at The Week of "Yes."  It turns out that it's not so easy to find a destination that meets all of these requirements, and it takes a bit of work to find the perfect place.  About six months ago, a Google search led me to the Tyler Place resort in Vermont.  I thought I was crazy for considering hauling my little family 3000 miles to stay at a totally unknown locale, but after reading about the resort, I got fixated on the idea.  Fortunately, my husband indulged me and agreed to the trip.  Seven nights in the middle of nowhere, just a few miles south of the Quebec border.  He must really trust me.

What a glorious week it was.

Asher was in "group" for eight hours every day: from 8:30 to 1:30 and then again from 5:30 to 8:30.  It was expected that your child participate in group activities every day, and when your child was there, you were expected to be out of the picture.  "Go!  Do your own thing!  Your kid will have a great time with us!" was the message.  Surrounded by dozens of other parents who embrace this philosophy, I could relax.  No worry about who was watching him.  No guilt for wanting time to myself.  Plus, they had a roving photographer catching glimpses of the kids in their group activities for us curious/obsessive parents who want to document every childhood moment.

In the meantime, Crockett and I could do what we pleased.  We took a pottery class on Monday morning, and on Friday morning, I sojourned to Quebec to fire my pots.  One day, Crockett took an archery class.  Another day, I experimented with a martial art I had never heard of.  Some days we just hung out, napped, read, got a massage, or went to the gym.  There were a lot of activities we could do, but none required much advance planning--sign-up sheets were posted each evening for the next day's activities.  Afternoons for us meant napping and time at the pool, and when Asher napped, even I got to nap because there was no urgency  to complete chores while he slept.  I actually felt rested for the first time in two years.

Perhaps most glorious of all, as an all-inclusive resort, meals were a no-brainer, and it was adults-only dining at every meal (kids ate with their groups).  No fussing with a toddler at restaurants or trying to plan where or when we were going to eat next.  No worry.  No stress.  Real conversations with other adults who, similarly, were not distracted by their children.  Perhaps too much dessert, but who cares?

One of the women I befriended, an ophthalmologist from Tucson with four children, said her husband was worried mid-week because she was acting strangely--she didn't project the usual degree of anxiety.  For the first time in their life with children, she had nothing to worry about.  I could relate; I had never been so relaxed and carefree in my life. 

I wasn't the only one who was happy and carefree.  I realized toward the end of the week that everyone's family dynamics had shifted.  Kids didn't fuss.  Time-outs didn't happen.  Boundaries were respected.  It was amazing.  As one parent described it, it was The Week of "Yes!"

Every family needs this kind of week.  Vacations are not about breakfast with Minnie Mouse or seeing the tourist-traps in New York City.  They are about re-charging and letting go of the day-to-day stresses of life.  Since our return, many people have seemed perplexed about what we did while Asher was in group, and I have realized how much we parents have devalued our own happiness.  I want to shout, "We had lives!"  Contrary to what many parents believe, this is possible, though it takes some work and sacrifice.  It might mean flying cross-country with a 2-year-old or taking a shorter vacation so that your budget will accommodate sitters and a suite. Whatever compromise you have to make, finding this kind of retreat for your family will pay you back with a new kind of closeness that few families are able to achieve. 

I feel fortunate that we have found this kind of retreat and will be able to return year after year.  In the future, we will probably tie in some goal-directed side-trips, like a few days in Boston to see the sights or an extended lay-over in Washington, D.C., to catch up with friends.  But the essence of this trip will always be fun, relaxation, and coming together as a family.

Just fifty-one weeks to go....

Friday, May 17, 2013

Being the Biggest Person

It probably would surprise most people to know that there are very few actual rules in medicine.  Being a doctor is a whole lot more art than science.  But still, there are a few rules, which often seem quite arbitrary but are actually based on science.

Today I was trying to decide on when to induce one of my patients, and I was struck by a dilemma resulting from one of those rules.  We followed some rules and settled months ago on May 30 for this patient's due date (OK, so maybe this story is about two rules).  She and I both want to induce her labor because she lives quite far from the hospital and is worried about delivering on the side of the road, but this kind of induction is essentially elective, which means that we can only do it a week before her due date.  This rule is one of the biggies.  Choose to deliver a baby too early, and you risk delivering one who isn't ready to breathe on its own, among other things.  Frustratingly, I am on call the day before we are clear to induce her and then have a  lot going on the rest of the week, so for convenience reasons, I would really like to fudge things a bit.  In fact, the patient and her husband both thought her due date was the 29th.  Oh, how I wish that were written in her chart!

Here's where it gets even stickier: I am the sole OB/GYN on a committee that reviews cases at our hospital.  Recently several cases came up for review for patients who were electively delivered a day or two before the 39-week mark.  All of my colleagues on the committee were irritated: how much difference could one or two days make?  I found myself defending my department and my specialty.  Yes, a day or two probably doesn't make a difference most of the time, but we've got to draw the line somewhere; it's a slippery slope between one or two days and four or five days or more, and there are few errors worse than delivering a baby who isn't ready for life on the outside without a really good reason.

As thoughts about fudging things entered my mind, I thought back to my role on the committee and my whole-hearted belief that people need to stick to the rules.  Most rules are there for a reason.  And so, with a somewhat heavy heart, I stuck with the patient's established due date and scheduled her induction for a day that is super inconvenient for me.

As a mother of an almost-two-year-old, I find myself internally debating this same issue all the time.  We set rules for our kids for one reason or another--I generally try to limit myself to those with a real purpose--but often enforcing them becomes a burden.  Just this evening, I was trying to get Asher to help me feed the dog, which is one of his "chores," and he was totally unreceptive.  I was too tired to fight that battle any longer and decided to do it alone.  His father was annoyed that I had caved like that, and I knew he was right.  Kids need us to be consistent with our rules.

Now that I have some time to contemplate my day, I have a couple of thoughts.

The first is that as parents we need to be the biggest person by setting a good example for our children.  This includes sticking to our own rules.  At work, that means not breaking a rule just because we know it doesn't really make a difference.  At home that means being consistent with our rules for our children and the consequences of breaking them.  It also means living by certain principles ourselves.  If you don't want your kid eating junk food, you need to stop eating all those cookies and chips and learn to love your veggies.

The second thought is that none of us is perfect.  I feel somewhat guilty for even having thoughts about breaking the rules at work, and I feel even worse that I let Asher slack off on his chores tonight.  In both cases, the offense is miniscule, but the slippery slope lies ahead.   Consistency with rules, which sometimes means being the bad guy, is my weakest point as a parent.  I always feel the pull to be lenient "just this once," but how many "just this once" incidents are too many?  I will always have days when I just can't summon the energy to fight the battle, but hopefully by reminding myself of the importance of consistency, I will be more mindful, and the battle won't seem quite so challenging.

Doing the right thing can be a challenge, but as parents, it is our duty.  The great thing about parenthood is the opportunity to grow along with our children.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

MY Mornings

It all started in college.  My freshman roommate didn't have much of a social life, so pretty much the only time she wasn't in our tiny room was when she had a class.  Fortunately, her classes were always earlier than mine, so after she rushed off to her 8:00 lab, I had the room to myself for a few precious moments before my 10:30 lecture across campus.  Every morning, my CD player would wake me up to the same song--"The Kiss" by The Cure--around 9, and then I would get up, make coffee (the good stuff--I was probably the only kid in the dorm with a coffee grinder, and my mom would ship me my favorite roast from a shop in my hometown), nibble on a bagel or some sourdough (also shipped by Mom), and waste time on the internet, which was just starting to be a big thing.  It was the time I was most comfortable and the most myself.  There are a lot of things I don't remember about my years in school (SO many years!) because the moments got bulldozed by the knowledge I was acquiring, but those mornings when I was eighteen are still vivid.  The first measure of  Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me takes me right back there.

I realize now that that year was the start of a lifetime of being a morning person.  I love having some quiet time after I get up.  It's the one time I can always think clearly.  Now Asher has joined me in a new early morning ritual.  He rises earlier than I would like, but fortunately he also likes to luxuriate in the quiet and slow pace of the morning.   Now we get up together, lounging on the couch while he has his morning milk.  We talk about the dog and cat, who have also just gotten up and had breakfast, and we chat about the plans for the day.  Sometimes, especially on Saturdays when we have extra time to be lazy, we watch a little Thomas or Zoboomafoo on PBS.  Most days, we move slowly for the first couple of hours.  I suck down a couple of cups of good coffee and check my email here and there.  Breakfast happens eventually, as does toothbushing and, sometimes, getting dressed (the beauty of having a nanny is not having to gear up for daycare every morning), but mostly we just chill out until the nanny arrives.  After that, it's a mad dash for me to get showered and ready and out the door.

I can't remember the last time I slept past 6:30, let alone 9, and the soundtrack is different, but my morning ritual continues, and I love it.  I don't truly appreciate how much I need that morning time until something interrupts it, like a surgery scheduled at 7:30.  Or a helpful husband getting up with the child so that I can sleep.  He wonders why a lot of mornings I get up and let him sleep even though it is "his" day.  The reality is that as tired as I might be, my Asher time is my new morning ritual, and without it, my day just isn't right.

One of the wonders of motherhood is how we change to accommodate the new little person in our lives.  The essence of who we are isn't gone, but it manifests in new ways.  In my case, those early hours are when I am most myself and most connected, and I can't think of another person I would rather share my mornings with.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Strut Your Stuff, Hot Mama!

Yesterday was Mothers' Day (I like to put the apostrophe there because it's not about just one mother--not sure what the official punctuation is), the one day a year when some women actually get to think about themselves.  A crazy concept, I know.  I've seen a lot of ads advertising "Mother's Day specials" on esthetic services like facials and manicures, and I venture to guess that those services are the focus of a lot of Mothers' Day gifts.  Though well-intentioned, I'm not sure I like the message that this one time out of the year, Mom should be allowed to primp and preen.  And, as is my opinion about most motherhood "problems," a lot of the attitude starts with us.

This is one of the two cards my husband got me for Mothers' Day this year.  I don't see myself this way at all.  It is a clear reminder of how we can view ourselves so differently from how others view us.  As thankful as I am to
have such a supportive husband, it doesn't remedy the problem.

After we have children, our focus changes.  It doesn't matter what we're wearing as long as our kids look cute (after all, we are always BEHIND the camera).  Our bodies might have changed after pregnancy.  A patient whose daughter is three told me last week that she wears pretty much the same thing every day because nothing fits.  One of my close friends held out hope and put off buying new shoes for six months after her feet grew during pregnancy.  We're always hoping to go back to the person we were before baby, even though that's rarely a possibility.  Even if we are the same weight, we are inevitably changed by the experience.  Then there's the lack of time: I have yet to see the toddler who is patient enough to let his mother try anything on at the store.  I know that many of us resort to throwing things in the cart at Target while we're doing the rest of the shopping, hoping that something will actually fit.  Besides, it's hard to find fashionable clothes that are affordable AND easy-care (heaven knows how much schmutz is going to end up on them).  Not to mention that at some point you realize that no matter how much makeup you pile on, you still look tired.  And those ponytails are so convenient, which means more time to play with the kid before work....The list of reasons not to get put-together every day goes on and on. 

My job has made me especially lazy because I can get away with wearing scrubs every day.  I noticed recently that over the last six months, scrubs have become my regular uniform.  It's not that scrubs actually save me much time--I still shower, put on makeup, and dry my hair (a short hairstyle that became a necessity after Asher was born because I didn't have 45 minutes to do my hair every morning)--but somehow I justified that my mornings were busy and scrubs were simply easier.  And cheaper.  And never went out of style.  And hid a multitude of figure flaws.  And, hey, I was still taking the time to do my hair and makeup, so that's taking care of business, right?

The reality is that wearing scrubs every day was reflecting an inner frumpiness.  I had gone from being a professional, confident woman to being a working mother, and I wasn't completely confident in either the "working" or the "mother" part of that equation.  My identity was drowning in a sea of "blues," smudged by snot and spilled milk, among other things.

Then, about a month ago, I decided to use some store credit to order a new dress, shades of pink in a geometric print, bright and perfect for spring.  When it arrived, I let it sit in the box for a couple of days.  Hubby couldn't understand why I didn't want to try it on, but I was scared--if it didn't fit or simply looked awful, it would just confirm the insecurity that I was already feeling.  Finally, on a weekend when no one else was around, I tried it on...and it fit...and looked damn good.  And I couldn't wait to wear it to work.

Since then, I've bought a few more dresses: comfy but bright and colorful and feminine, and all purchased online at a deep discount price from one of the same outlet sites I usually look at for toddler clothes and paraphernalia.  I have only worn scrubs on the days that really require them.  As a result, I find myself standing a bit taller and feeling more confident.  I admit that part of me wants to run and hide whenever anyone comments on what I'm wearing--I have spent so long hiding behind those scrubs--but I'm sure that if the trend continues, it won't seem like such an anomaly, and eventually, the attention won't feel so foreign and uncomfortable.

More importantly, I have reminded myself that I'm still a woman who deserves to feel good about herself all the time, not just on special occasions.  It doesn't matter how impatient the toddler, or how much your shape has changed, or how tight your family's budget might be, you deserve to look at least as good as your kid, and there are ways to make it work.  It's time to start showing who you really are.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Friend in Need...

Most mothers are challenged by healthy children who are ready to take on the world.  We worry more about unplanned pregnancies than the possibility that pregnancy might not be in our future.  The day-to-day stresses of mothering and trying to have a life wear on us.  And then things are put into perspective by a friend who is not so blessed.

Unfortunately, I have several such friends.  Friends who have struggled with infertility and abnormal pregnancies.  Friends who have successfully made it through pregnancy but find themselves months later with a child whose development just doesn't seem normal.  Friends who fill out hundreds of pages of forms to get their children the special education they need.  Friends who put their careers on hold to take their children to hours of various forms of therapy every week.  Friends who love their children dearly but cry every night about the hand they were dealt.  I know I'm not alone.  We all have these friends.

With Mothers' Day approaching, I am especially mindful of the great luck I have had in having a child who is brilliant and healthy and thriving with minimal work on anyone's part.  Despite coming up on two, we are having an amazing, wonderful time.  But I also realize the tinge of guilt I feel about this when I think about my friends who are not so fortunate. I am embarrassed to gripe about the normal everyday toddler stuff (number one on my list: the incessant babble) when I think about what my friends are facing every day. Working in a small community, I see this happen to my patients too; the scenario where one patient miscarries and her best friend, also a patient, has a completely uneventful pregnancy happens all he time.  The new mother feels awkward about the miscarriage and doesn't know what to say to her best friend.  It puts a wedge between them.

I know that in my own case, I am not the friend I wish I were.  I feel awkward, not sure what to say or what to do.  I know I can't fix the problem, and that makes me feel powerless.  I am afraid to share anything that is going on in my own life because I don't want my friend to compare.  I simply don't know what to do, so sometimes that means I just avoid contact.

What I do know is that real friends share in each other's joy and pain.  We are thrilled when a friend's child succeeds; we feel sorrow when a friend's child struggles.  And while we might feel a twinge of jealousy over one another's good luck, we never feel that the other's success is at our expense.  The reality is that as parents, we are all working and struggling to keep up, and every child has his talents and limitations, and every woman needs her friends to keep her afloat.

My pledge this Mothers' Day is to be a better friend.  I intend to stay mindful of the feelings of guilt that have kept me from providing the support my friends need.  And when my need to gripe about my own life creeps in, I WILL gripe...because I am a friend in need as well, and we're all in it together.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Bullies on the Playground

I am very confident about some aspects of parenthood: providing a healthy lifestyle, choosing a good education, teaching love for all living things, fostering a loving home environment.  There is one big aspect that leaves me quivering in my pumps (or clogs if I'm on call): discipline.  I would do almost anything to avoid confrontation, and even with my child, I am insecure at times.  Add another parent and her child to the mix, and I am totally hopeless.  Put me on a playground with a bunch of these people, and I want to cry.

Now, don't get me wrong.  We are actually really laid-back parents as far as the discipline goes.  We believe that children learn best when they experience the natural consequence of their actions.  We only intervene when there is actual danger.  We let Asher do all sorts of daring things that a lot of parents think are too risky.  We figure that if he gets a little bump on the head or is frustrated when he can't solve a problem, it  helps him learn about the world.  But we're also sticklers for manners and rules ("please" and "thank you," cleaning up after yourself, etc.) and are trying to teach Asher to use verbal communication to express his needs.  Too bad he's learning this from the queen of non-confrontation.

This problem became apparent about a year ago when I took Asher, who was just barely walking, to a playground in our neighborhood, where we met a little boy who was just a couple of months older.  They were interested in each other.  The little boy had a couple of big brothers running around, and Asher was fascinated by the three of them.  Until the little boy hit Asher.  And not by accident.  I had no idea what to do.  I quietly told the other boy that he wasn't being nice and then told Asher, half-heartedly, that it wasn't a big deal, hoping that he wouldn't freak out.  The other mother laughed it off, saying that he had learned that behavior from his older siblings.  Flustered and frustrated, I kept my mouth shut and, shortly thereafter, declared that my pallid child had been in the sun too long and that we needed to go home, and so we made a cowardly exit.  I realized that I had chickened out.

What I've learned in the last year is that I have a child who is by nature non-confrontational, just like his mother.  When other kids want his toy, he lets them take it.  If a kid pushes him down, he doesn't cry.  He might look bewildered for a second, but then he finds something new to do.  Similarly, if he's interested in someone else's toy and that kid won't give it up easily, he moves on.  He's one of those smiley kids that everyone wants to be friends with.  He's incredibly charming and incredibly versatile, and I never worry about how he's going to mix with other children. 

I know a lot of you are wondering right now how this could possibly be a problem.  Yes, having a child who is contented and easy-going and polite in his interactions with others does spare me a lot of the usual kinds of toddler discipline.  But it leaves me with a whole different set of problems: how do I teach my kid to stand up for himself without spoiling his happy-go-lucky attitude, and how do I keep the bullies from running all over him?  Today was a prime example.

I had the afternoon off after being on-call this weekend, so Nanny Becca and I decided to use a Groupon that I had bought a couple of weeks ago to take Asher to one of those bounce-house facilities where they have a bunch of inflatable slides and things to play on.  I was encouraged when we arrived that there was one other child there, a boy about a year or two older, and he seemed pretty energetic.  I thought he might be able to show Asher the ropes.  Unfortunately, I was wrong.  While his mother spent the whole outing on her phone, presumably checking email or playing a game or something, this kid set out to own the "playground."  Anything that Asher touched, he wanted.  And if Asher showed any interest in what the other boy was touching, the boy got physical.  I had no idea what to do, and this kids' mom was not doing a damn thing to teach her child how to play well with others.

At one point, I realized that Asher needed to learn to ask directly for what he wants, so we started learning a new phrase, "May I please...."  Amazingly, this bratty kid heard him and then responded by telling him what Asher could and could not touch.  I realized this was the key to teaching my less dominant child how to assert himself.  They were actually getting along.

Then Mom saw what was going on and, assuming that he was being his usual domineering self, yelled at the little boy and gave him a time-out.  And then she went right back to her phone.  And then he got up and again started taking things away from Asher and trying to push him off the equipment he was playing on.  And then, when Asher was happily running across the floor, he checked him (in the hockey sense).  I have no idea where the kid learned this move, but he was clearly an expert.  Again I was stuck in the same playground situation: what to do when another kid is nasty to Asher?  How do I make it not too big a deal for Asher while at the same time teaching the other child that the behavior is wrong? 

I am without an answer.  Again, I told Asher that the other boy's behavior wasn't nice but that he wasn't hurt.  Asher, who didn't cry or show anything besides shock at what had happened, started saying, "Sorry.  Sorry," because he knows that is what you say when you've done something hurtful to another person (or animal, as is most often the case in our house).  It broke my heart.  The little boy eventually was instructed by his mother to look at Asher and apologize "like he meant it," but I'm quite certain he doesn't really get it.

I don't want my child to learn to be a bully, but yet, I want him to learn to stand up for himself.  It's not my job to fight his battles, but I am responsible for giving him the tools to function in the world.  And here I am battling the enemy--the parent who doesn't provide these tools for her own child--myself.  What do I say to her?  How do I balance teaching my child how to get along in the real world without letting hers get away with nasty behavior?  How do I encourage mine to communicate his needs directly when all she does is punish hers for expressing himself physically?  How do I keep my kid "nice" without making him a target for the bullies?

Uncharacteristically, I am without an answer.