My Georgia is a passionate girl. She's five now and sometimes I forget how delightful she is until I watch her interact with new people. Georgia is animated and funny and when she's not feeling insecure and overcompensating with silliness, she is just plain easy to talk to. She feels deeply about things, and with that comes some stuff that hasn't always been easy. Before I delve in here, I'd like to remind you that this is Georgia at the age most of this story comes from:
When she was a baby, we had issues with her scratching people's faces. That sounds so violent as I type it out. It didn't start when she was a toddler either- I'm talking she was like 9 months old and hitting people in the face when she got upset. You don't really put a 9 month old in time-out so I'd just say a stern "NO" and hoped she'd grow out of it.
I remember shortly after she turned one, I stood in my kitchen crying while Georgia screamed in time out. She had hit me for the thousandth time and a mom can only be hit in the face so so much before they take it personally.
We had some issues with her in the nursery at church. She'd get in scratch fights with another little girl. These two 18 month-old's would waddle out of a room full of toys and snacks, wearing Sunday best dresses and big pink bows. Their cuteness was in huge contradiction to the glares on their faces- they looked like they'd just finished freaking a UFC fight. Fresh faced toddlers with right red welts on their cheeks.
Once, in this nursery class, I was teaching the kids some song about ducks and I had brought in duck pictures glued on Popsicle sticks for them to hold while we sang. Georgia wasn't quite two yet and there was a three year-old boy who snatched her duck prop out of her hand as soon as she got it. I gave her another one in the interest of time , but out of the corner of my eye, I saw that a different three year-old boy had taken Georgia's second duck out of her hand. At this point, I'm out of ducks and I tell Georgia she can make a duck puppet instead. I am helping another child, when an adult in the room gasps and starts laughing. I follow her gaze to the back room, where tiny, pig-tailed little Georgia has both of the aforementioned three-year-old boys stuffed in a corner. She has each of them by the hair, and she is silently yanking their heads back and forth. The boys aren't crying- they are in total shock and they are clutching their ducks on a stick like grieving Italian grandmothers clutches their rosaries. I was mortified.
We would go on to have this problem for a long time. She once reached for a girls throat and the teacher in the class spoke to me in hushed concern. We just wonder where she learned to choke someone. The judgement in his voice was thick, and the indication was clear.
After she had turned three, I decided to REALLY put my foot down. I laid a strict, zero-tolerance no hitting rule. You hit, we go home I told her. I left quite a few play dates after three minutes. Play dates that took me 20 minutes to get to, I might add. I loathed hauling her out to the van, abandoning the time I could have spent chatting with my friends had my daughter not been such a tiny incredible Hulk. Why does discipline have to be so much work on the parents?
I gave her what the internet told me were "tools" to "redirect" her anger. Most of her reasoning for hitting came from defensiveness, and I read that small children acted out when they didn't have the words to say what they wanted. I told her that she needed "to use her words." I told her to come to me if someone is being mean and I could tell her what to say. Georgia quickly learned I meant business about leaving play dates early, and, because of this, she actually DID started coming to me to tell me when she got upset. I'd give her a line to say, and she'd obediently go say it. She wasn't perfect every time, but I was finally seeing progress.
Sometime during these weeks of me being a hard-nose, we were eating at a fast food restaurant with a play place. Georgia was playing and I was facing the window where I could see her. She came down the slide, scooting at the end, a glare etched deep in her small, smooth forehead. She told me that a boy wouldn't stop "bugging her." I had been down this road before so told her to not talk to him. I told her if he bugged her to say "please don't talk to me" and walk away.
Fast forward about 10 minutes. I happen to look up and see, through the tiny, scratched window of the bright orange play tube, Georgia and a six-year-old boy scratching and slapping one another in the face. I raced inside, my baby on my hip, and shouted for Georgia to come down. The boy slides down first. He's crying, Georgia is not. She's breathing hard, but steady. She is watching the boy sob. I asked her what happened. She tells me that he was "bugging her" and she said "leave me alone" but he didn't, so she hit him.
While I'm getting this story (in three-year-old English, of course), the six-year-old boy is HYSTERICAL. His mother is smoothing his hair and rocking him in her chest and giving me a death glare. I'm embarrassed. I make Georgia apologize. I tell her that she hit, and so we have to go home now.
As I was putting on Georgia's shoes, a skinny little girl with a long, brown ponytail bounces up to me.
"Those boys were poking her and she told them to stop and they didn't. I don't know why SHE has to leave."
Just like that, I suddenly found myself in the sticky ball pit of parenting conundrums. i
My thoughts were these:
I know she's only three.
I know she has a problem with overreacting and hitting and can do better.
I know that if there's one thing I want to teach my daughters- it's that you beat the CRAP out of any boy who touches your body after you've told him to stop.
We did end up leaving. I told her it was because she hit, but I didn't elaborate like I usually did. Honestly, I wasn't sure of exactly what to say. I buckled her in her car seat, I started the car, and then I drove through the drive-thru and bought her an ice cream cone.
*The idea to write this down came from a writing prompt found here. The topic was "Describe a time you allowed your child to do something you normally would not let slide."