Middle School was not my time to shine. I did not skate gracefully about, I did not fit neatly into a J Crew scoop neck sweater. I could not do The Roger Rabbit or The Running Man. Instead, I scurried anxiously. I pulled at my top attempting to mask my training bra. I played drums on my braces with a number-two pencil. And worst of all, I could not, no matter how hard I tried, master the art of conversation with those of the opposite sex. Chats with boys threw me into a panic. I fumbled and floundered. For every coherent sentence that I managed to eke out there were dozens of tangled attempts that I wanted to retract. I’d say things like, “Um… wanna go out with me? I mean not go out like to a place, I’m not allowed to go out to places…I mean I am allowed to go out to places but not with boyfriends.  Not that you are my boyfriend, because you’re not, not yet… but if we went out you would be…do you know what I mean?”

Silence.

Just thinking about it makes me want to puke. I was so grateful when I began to settle in to my skin, when I got the hang of the casual boy chat and mastered The Running Man. Stupidly, I figured I was out of the woods for good. But… as luck would have it, I find myself babbling away once again. This time it’s not a boy who’s making me flounder; it’s my daughter. Apparently, in my case, disciplining a toddler is much like asking a prepubescent thirteen-year-old to “go out”; it’s awkward, rambling and totally confusing.

Here’s how my latest attempt went down.

Sage and I were standing by a bookshelf and she happened to notice a glass of water sitting between “A Brief History of Time” and “Real Meditation in Minutes a Day”. I watched her eye the glass and then make the decision to knock it down. Water shot everywhere. It soaked the nonfiction and began trickling towards the “oversized”. “No.” I shouted as I scrambled for a towel and started pulling everything off the shelf. “No, No, No.” And that’s probably where I should have stopped. I should have handed her a towel, asked her to help me dry, made a quick statement about “never doing that again” and been done with it. But I didn’t. My mouth took over and I launched into this confusing speech about handling liquids:

“We do not spill water. Well, I mean we do sometimes spill water and it’s OK if it’s an accident. But this was not an accident! This was on purpose. That means you meant to do it! And we do not mean to spill water… except if we are watering plants or maybe experimenting outside and that’s not really spilling that’s pouring! You didn’t really spill or pour. You threw the water…yeah you threw it. Don’t throw water. Don’t throw…unless it’s a ball or a balloon, but not water…unless it’s a water balloon. OK you can throw water if it’s inside a balloon but not if it’s in a cup. You know what I mean?”

Silence.

I want to puke. How is it that I am here again? And how can I get out of this babbling stupor. With each awkward chat I’m just confusing my daughter. Soon she’ll be fearful of water and books and maybe even me. If I don’t get it right I worry that these conversations will have a negative influence on THE REST OF HER LIFE.  So despite my better judgment I start looking back to middle school for answers. I conjure my thirteen-year-old self like she’s Yoda and I ask, “What worked back then? What should I do?”

Here’s what she/I/we come up with:

Watch cool people do it. Watch people do it in the movies. Study their actions; write down their catch phrases-learn from the masters and the fairy tale endings.

Practice in the mirror, practice with a pillow, practice on your friends. Practice when the stakes aren’t so high. Practice lots.

Avoid freaking out in public. If you’ve got do it, run to the bathroom and cry- it- out in the stall. It’s not going to help if someone sees you like that. You’re going to lose points if you lose your cool.

Give yourself little mantras like “You are hot and awesome,” “Keep trying,” “Someday you’ll be Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing and live happily ever after.” Remind yourself that you are capable. You are going to get it…eventually.

And it’s the most surprising thing because I really thought there was absolutely nothing that I could possibly learn from puberty but I actually think this is some damn good advice. Suddenly I want to write a book called “Everything I ever really needed to know about disciplining my toddler I learned in Middle School”

You’d read that…right?

Silence.

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