Up until last Friday I was a wizard and I had this magical power. No matter what the situation I could stop my two-and-a-half-year-old from making mischief simply by chanting the following magic spell:

“I’m going to count to three and if you don’t stop you are going to have to… [Insert appropriate ending such as “go to your room”, “go home”,” put away your toys” etc]

It worked every time. I felt like such a gifted being to have come up with such a trustworthy spell.

I used my magic sparingly of course and never took it for granted. I had seen enough wizard movies to know that if you abuse your magical powers they usually get taken away from you by “The Association of Magical Wizards”. This fearsome gaggle of overlords is like the co-op board of the mystical world. They put you in your place when you step over the line.

I always played it safe and only used my spell when my daughter was doing something like poking an animal with a stick or screaming relentlessly at the top of her lungs because she wanted apple juice. And because I was so sparing and so respectful I guess I just assumed that I’d have my power and be a wizard forever.

But last Friday, (oh, that cursed day), I got a rude awakening. I was taking a nice fall walk with Sage and one of her toddler friends. Both kids were happily hopping along the sidewalk and hunting for acorns when all of a sudden Sage spotted a pile of fallen leaves. Both children ran to the leaves, scooped them up, and then exploded them into the air like confetti. It was so picturesque I felt like I was at a calendar shoot for the month of October. But then the leaves on the sidewalk ran out and Sage happened to notice that there were more leaves in the middle of the street. “I want those,” she said, and darted past me towards the piles. “No,” I warned. “We can not play in the street. I need to keep you and your buddy safe and running in traffic is not safe.”

Sage was not satisfied with my response. She dipped her toe over the curb and slowly inched her body into a squat and then tried crawling towards the leaves. “No,” I reprimanded. “No running in traffic, no crawling in traffic.” I could see her buddy was starting to hanker for those leaves too. He was watching Sage in her attempts and clearly plotting his move. I knew I had to lay down the law. I could handle one rogue kid, but certainly not two.  What if they both ran towards the leaves at the same time? How would I rescue them? This was about to get dangerous; I had to bust out my magic.

“Sage…” I said, taking my wizard stance; legs spread and arms akimbo. “I am going to count to three and if you do not start cooperating and listening we are going to have to go home.”

I waited for the shimmering sparks and the immediate shift in tone that usually follows that statement… but nothing happened.

Sage just stared at me, her face as unmoved as a brick wall. “OK,” she said, like she was sixteen and completely apathetic, “Let’s go home.” Then with a sprightly hop she once again tried trotting towards the leaves.

I lunged for her and took her into my arms, completely stunned. I just held her there dangling in front of me. I tried whispering the spell. I tried saying it in Elfin and then in Klingon. She just shook her head.

There was nothing left to do. We had to go home. I gathered both children into my arms and tried to hold tight as they squirmed and wiggled and begged for more leaves.

“No,” I said. “The fun is over. If you can not listen you can not play.”

When we got home Sage and I had a talk and then I hid in the bathroom and stared at my reflection. I just wanted to know what a wizard looked like when she’s been stripped of her magic. It was a sad, sad sight.

And now I just don’t know what to do. I don’t know if there is some sort of appeal process. Like, maybe I can go before the wizard association and beg for my power back. I can tell them how very important that magic was to my life. “Look, I need that power. I need it. That power allows me to stay sane. It allows me to keep food off of the walls and water off the floor of the bathroom. It keeps animals safe, it keeps my child safe. It keeps libraries quiet. Do it for the good of all humanity. What will become of my world if I no longer have the ability to curb the unwieldy ways of a toddler with my incantation? Regular humans might have other coping mechanisms to deal with these types of situations, but I never developed those skills. I was a wizard, damn it! I was special!  It’s like you are taking a monkey who has been raised in captivity and suddenly throwing her into the jungle. Don’t do it. Don’t thrust me out!”

But something makes me think they might just laugh in my face and tell me to deal with it. Maybe they’d give me some speech about it being part of the journey. Maybe they’d tell me that being a wizard is not about spells and simple magic, it’s about hard work and time and persistence.

And that would really piss me off. After all, once you’ve felt what it’s like to have magic, even for a minute, it’s really a bummer to go back to your regular human ways.

I’ve never thrown a punch, administered a headlock, or busted out a set of nunchucks. I’ve never karate-kicked, or wrestled, or even slapped someone.

I’ve never been in a fight.

I’ve seen a few scuffles. One time in Brooklyn I saw a guy get pummeled against a street sign and one time in high school two girls in my class attacked each other over a mishap at a volley ball tournament. All I remember is how messy it looked; the sweat, the cursing, the red marks from where the punches fell. I was fairly certain I wanted to avoid any situation where I might get someone else’s spit and blood on my face.

On a handful of occasions I’ve had the impulse to lash out. Like one time when Verzion sent me a bogus bill and made me stay on the phone for five hours transferring from department to department only to hang up on me just as they were about erase the erroneous charge.

I punched the air and drop kicked my phone and if I could have afforded a plane ticked to India I would have flown all the way over to the Verizon customer service center just so I could strangle the dude who hung up on me. But, alas, I was too broke and too lazy to make the journey.

As a mom, I’ve communicated my non-violent ways to my daughter.  I’ve quickly interjected every time she raises her fists in frustration or pushes a friend when the whole sharing thing goes awry.

For the most part she’s gotten the message that hitting and punching and kicking and pinching and strangling are not okay. And I’ve been thrilled!

But a few weeks ago she was out with some friends and two “big boys” came up out of nowhere, hit her in the stomach, and then pushed her down. And a few days later on the playground my daughter took a bite to the arm for lingering too long at the top of the slide. Both times Sage just gave this look of shock. Her shoulders shot up to her ears and she folded her arms over her chest in a protective stance, “NO,” she shouted. Then, “Mommy, Mommy.”

And now I’m starting to wonder if maybe I need to shift my tune. Do I want her to just stand by and get pummeled? Do I want her to fight back? Maybe I should be telling her not to hit unless… someone else hits her super hard and is being a massive jerk or not to push unless someone breaks her skin with their teeth.  Maybe I need to make her a pocket-sized cheat sheet that spells out the types of offenses that warrant retaliation.

A simple push= just walk away

A push + a punch= push back but not too hard

A push+ a punch+ a kick= retaliate any way that you see fit

She could carry this little guide around and pull it out any time she does not know how to respond. “Oh crap, someone is tossing sand into my eyes, I have tried saying no, I’ve tried running away, what now…Wait, let me check the sheet. Hmmm relentless sand tossing equals a light kick to the shin. Got it!”

The problem is, it’s just never that clear cut. At times she is the one who has encouraged the hitting or kicking. Maybe she’s taken a toy, maybe she’s used words to tease. And how does that factor into the equation?

And even if I could come up with an appropriate response for every situation, there would be no way to explain the grey areas in every human interaction. Like maybe the pusher was going through a really hard time. Maybe he was teething or adjusting to a new baby sibling or maybe he had just shit his diaper and was feeling really irritable. How would I even begin to explain all these factors?

So it’s easier to just say “no hitting, no punching, no biting, no kicking, no strangling” and hope she’ll figure out how to navigate her own way. Or… I suppose I could also follow her everywhere for the rest of her life and throw some of those punches I’ve been saving up all these years. “Hey you, yeah you! That’s right kid in the adorable overalls. Did you just punch my kid? I thought so. You mess with her you mess with me. Got it? Now have you ever heard of Karate…”

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.