Many moons ago I worked at a high-powered law office. Long hours, doing anything and everything for the client, emphasis on family or work-life balance was actively discouraged, there were glass ceilings, glass doors, and glass elevators, along with supervising attorneys or opposing counsel who were equal opportunity assholes. Sometimes it seemed as though people took great pleasure in making junior associates’ work life miserable, and making sure they had no other life. The money was good, though, so I can’t really complain. Plus, I learned a lot.
I’ve left that particular practice behind, but now I’m dealing with teens. Demanding, self-focused, pompous, teens. I’m outnumbered. Most of them weigh more than I do. Some are taller than I am. At times they behave as if I couldn’t possibly offer anything of value while simultaneously requesting everything I have to give them. Recently it occurred to me that some of the tricks of the trade I learned in my high-powered white shoe law practice can be transferred to how I deal with these large, smelly, mouthy people I grew in my womb and propelled from my hoo-ha (except for the ones that were surgically removed).
Sometimes, it seems, these once cute and cuddly balls of smiles and coos are quite simply, the enemy, trying to break me down.
But Mommy, Esquire, is used to dealing with the enemy, the big boys, the man. These children don’t scare me. I have life and legal experience behind me. Here are a few tricks of the trade I learned from my law practice that I use on my children.
1. Stand up.
When dealing with a difficult opposing counsel, client, or supervising attorney, it helps to stand up, even when on the phone. It’s a power stance and works even if your opposition is taller than you are.
Once a senior partner stormed into my office to yell at me about an expense form. This partner had a reputation of screaming at young associates for ridiculous things in order to break them down, hoping to draw tears. He usually got them. I was just waiting my turn, but I have a strict policy against crying at work. It is one of my few rules. Do NOT cry at work . . . but I digress. Remember “How I Met Your Mother” the Chain of Screaming episode? When being yelled at is just part of the job? Well, that stuff happens. But when my number came up I was busy. I didn’t have time for his crap. So when he found me in my office sitting behind my desk and started to ream me out . . .
I stood up.
He was not expecting this physical display of strength from a first year, female associate. He actually sputtered like a truck with an empty gas tank going up a hill. (I admit I was slightly taller than he, but still . . . ) I listened to his rapidly dying rant, and while still standing I calmly explained why I had submitted the perfectly valid expense form, and he left — quietly. He never yelled at me again.
It was a beautiful thing. A beautiful thing.
I’ve tried the standing thing with my teens as well. It works. My son is seven inches taller than me, which I expected to happen. But I have a daughter who is model tall — she’s got four inches on me, and I’m not short. Still, when any of them come at me with ridiculousness, I stand up. It unnerves them.
I will not have them standing over me. I will not.
2. Create a Paper Trail.
No matter what was said, what was agreed upon, whose “word” was given, or whether there was a handshake, it doesn’t count unless it has been memorialized in writing. Opposing lawyers can amicably agree on the smallest or the largest of issues, but they always follow it up with a letter, “Thank you for meeting with me today. The purpose of this letter is to confirm your agreement to produce ABC documents to be by X date.” Is it repetitious? Sure. But it’s better to have it in writing if there is a sudden memory loss down the line.
Works the same with kids. It could be something simple like telling them what you expect, but also writing on a whiteboard an instruction, like, “Empty the Dishwasher.” Or it could be a matter of more importance like, “Curfew is at 11pm.”
Or an issue of public policy like, “I will not bail you out of jail or raise your child.”
Equally effective is to request something in writing from the kid. Then later, when the child inevitably forgets what he or she said, you can whip out the document and gently “refresh his or her recollection” of what actually transpired.
Me: You’re late.
Kid: You never said . . .
Me: Yes, yes, I did. I told you. Then I texted you, and you responded.
(Slowly pull out smart phone, begin to scroll. Pause for effect.)
Kid: . . .
Mom: Shall I print it?
3. Some conversations should be had “behind closed doors.”
As an associate, nothing caused more fear than to be summoned into a partner’s office and told to “close the door.” The partners knew what they were doing. They were creating a power balance, or, more accurately, they were reminding the associate that he or she is not in a position of power. And the associate? A sitting duck.
So, as a parent, I find it effective to summon a teen into a room, tell him or her to close the door, and invite him or her to sit down. (And if you can pull off Denzel’s facial expression above, you’ve got it made.) Pause, always pause before you begin to speak. (I learned from depositions that the pauses are not reflected on the record, but they make people uncomfortable and the witness will have a tendency to fill the silence with golden nuggets of information.) The teen might start to explain something you didn’t even ask about, at the very least he or she will listen to what you have to say, and may be thankful that he or she made it out alive. Bonus, if you have more than one kid, the others will become deeply concerned that they will be next, and may be more likely to evaluate their recent behavior and/or any (written) lists of things to do.
In conclusion, end the meeting with, “Let’s keep this between us.”
Just Me With . . . lessons from a law firm.
Thankfully, my kids have all been healthy. Their gross motor skills developed early. Translated, that means as toddlers they were (are still) runners, climbers and jumpers.
Once somebody gave me one of those big plastic houses kids are supposed to play house in. I had space inside so I put in it the family room. Not once did my girls play house in it. No, no. They did, however, stand on top of it and jump off, repeatedly. Had to get rid of it. That cute little house was a safety hazard for my twins, two of whom I call Thelma and Louise . . . but I digress.
We had a long informal dining table, also given to us. With the leaves attached it sat eight people. It was just the size we needed. However, according to my Olympic monkey children it was also long enough to run across. Again, a safety hazard. The table wasn’t that long and once the toddler runs and reaches the end? BAM! No, this was not going to work. I’d caught the kids right before falls on previous table running attempts but sooner or later my luck would run out. My daily goal back then was just to stay out of the Emergency Room (and off the Six O’clock news).
Still, I needed a table, so it could not suffer the fate of the play house. The table and the children must learn to co-exist safely. But the children were still little, they were at that age where I could really only chase behind them. They had no concept of consequences, danger, or any real responsiveness to my voice — they were all,
“Oh I can run, I can climb. Therefore, I will run and I will climb — all the time.”
And all my parental, “No, Stop! Wait!!” and all that jazz — meant nothing.
Absolutely, nothing. Say it again, y’all . . .
Back to the problem. How to keep the girls off the table? (Later it’ll be how to keep them off the pole, but I digress again.) They could only get on the table by first climbing on the chairs, but simply moving the chairs away from the table had not worked. These minions simply pushed them back to the table and climbed up, then a sibling would follow and in a blink of an eye, I had a line-up of miniature Village People looking toddlers on a table.
No, no. I needed something more secure.
I think it started with a jump rope. No, I didn’t tie the children up (not then, heh heh heh).
But after every meal, I would push the chairs in, grab a rope, thread it through the chairs around the table and tie them up in a nice knot.
The children’s fine motor skills had not developed enough to untie the rope. They weren’t (yet) strong enough to pull the chairs away, though they tried.
I didn’t realize how weird it was until a friend from out-of-town came to visit. We sat at the table together, ate, fed the kids. When we were finished I cleared the table, got out the rope and proceeded to tie the chairs around the table while we were chatting away.
She stopped talking and said, carefully, slowly, like talking to a crazy person:
“What are you . . . doing?’
Oh snap, sometimes you don’t know how strange and dysfunctional you are until there is someone to see it.
Me: “You mean you don’t tie your chairs together after every meal?”
Sometimes the kids did listen to me, even when I didn’t want them to. See, “Momma said, No!“
Here’s a fun fact: As children grow they develop fine motor skills.
So I did what everybody does, I told him, scolded him really:
“Do not ever unbuckle your car seat. It is not safe. Do you understand me? You will get a time-out for that! It is very, very, very important. Do you understand? ”
Me: “Are you sure?”
Him: “Yes, Momma.” He still called me Momma then.
He could tell when Momma wasn’t messing around. I was using my stern voice, my serious face and my angry eyes. Mission accomplished.
But my little Houdini is not my only kid. I had had five kids in all. The three-year-old was just the oldest. Twin girls, twice, came after. Yes, They are Twins, Yes, they are Twins, Too. Consequently, we didn’t get out much. Taking a preschooler, two toddlers and two infants to any store — well, this was not an outing that a person takes lightly. So sometimes when I had to run errands and my mother was with me we would buckle the kids in the car and my mom would stay with them while I would run in and out of stores. It got us out of the house, sometimes the kids would get their naps using this method, and it gave me a little break.
The very next day after the car seat unbuckling incident and lecture, my mom and I decided to load the kids and run some errands. We pulled into the local pharmacy and I ran in. As per usual, my Mom stayed with them in the car. I was gone only a few minutes.
When I came out, my mom was standing outside of the car, all five kids were still strapped in — inside.
The doors were closed.
“This can’t be good,” I thought.
My mother was distraught. Almost in tears.
“I can’t get in.” She said. “The babies started to cry and I got out to calm them down. I — I — I — closed the door . . . and now it’s locked.”
We, the adults, were locked out. The children were locked in. Turns out I was right. This wasn’t good. The keys were in the car.
I tried not to panic. After all, the car was running and the air conditioning was on, so they wouldn’t cook in there . . . but still, it’s not good to leave five children alone in a car and I didn’t know how much gas I had.
Options: I could run home and get an extra set of keys. But that would take too long, and my mother was losing it. I didn’t want to leave her alone with the kids. My husband was never really available during the day and worked too far away, anyway. I could call my Dad to do it, but he’s hard to get a hold of . . . so . . . I guess I’d have to call the police to break into the car. This was not a proud moment. “Why? Why, do I ever leave the house?” I wondered.
Well, hello there, Mr. Panic.
Then I remembered — my son — the big boy, the one who has motor skills!!! The boy can get out of his car seat and unlock the door!!! He has the ability. He has the manual dexterity. I’ve seen him do it — just yesterday. “It was worth a try,” I thought.
And so . . . one day after having scolded the boy for unbuckling his car seat and making him promise never to do it again —
I begged, “Honey,” I spoke kindly but loudly through the closed window, “Momma wants you to UNBUCKLE YOUR CAR SEAT and UNLOCK the door!”
He looked away from me. “Clearly,” his three-year-old mind must have reasoned, “This is some sort of test and I’m not going to fall for it, nope nope.”
I cooed, “No Honey, it’s okay, it’s okay, really, Momma says it’s okay, PLEASE get out and let us in. Please, you won’t be in trouble!!!! I promise!!!!”
I saw him roll his eyes toward the ceiling, away from me. His hands stayed at his sides. He was more still than any three-year-old could possibly be. It was impressive, really.
My mother was crying by this time and apologizing, she felt really, really badly. But I had to get to the kids.
Me to my statue-like son, “Honey, please. Please!!!!!! It’s okay, I promise. Get out of your car seat. Momma needs you to get out of your car seat! PLEASE!!!”
This child would not even acknowledge that I was talking to him. Again, it was impressive. And comical. I had literally just made him promise never to get himself out of his car seat and here I was begging him to do just that. It was like a sitcom.
“Pleeeeeeease!!!! Momma says it’s okay.” But that boy was NOT going to fall for my obvious trickery. “Momma said no,” he must have thought, “Momma said no.”
We had started to draw a crowd. I was beginning to tear up, too. The girls were useless, too young to manipulate their car seats, arms to short to reach the locks. And . . . they’d started to cry again.
This was not good.
In the end, my obedient son never unbuckled his car seat. Some nice gentleman drove me home (I wasn’t far, and thankfully I’d left the house unlocked). I got my spare keys and everybody was fine.
—- Except my mother. It took her a long time to recover.
We didn’t go out for a while after that and when we did, no matter what the kids were doing, my mother never got out of the car again.
Just Me With . . . five car seats, a mom, and a son who had learned his lesson, damn it.
My diapering days are long gone. But they were substantial. Four in diapers in the day, five at night. But there are some things I will never forget and my tween and teen children and others seem to enjoy Baby B’s potty training fiasco. So here it goes.
At the time I had four in diapers. The older twins were nearing potty training age and showed signs of readiness. I, however, was not ready to potty train toddler twins with infant twins in tow and an active 3-year-old. My mom, though, bless her heart, kept nudging me, “They’re ready. They’re ready. When are you going to train them? ” She was insistent. I caved.
My way of potty training is not my mother’s. I never did sit a baby on potty at certain times and wait until something comes out. No offense to my mom, and kudos to her –but she never had more than one kid in diapers. She and Daddy were smart or lucky enough to space their children accordingly. No, my method is to wait until the kid is really ready, then take the diaper off. Now you can’t go out much during those first few days. And there will be mess and laundry, but the kid will get to the potty eventually and get something in it. Just one of the twins was showing the readiness signs so I thought I’d train one at a time (I figured it would quiet Mom down some even just doing one kid).
Bye Bye Wee Wee! Someone had lent us this little cartoon video on potty training “Once Upon a Potty” where the little one walks around naked learning how to use the potty. Sometimes the wee wee and poo poo were on the floor, but when the kid got it in the potty it was like a Mardi Gras celebration. The child is depicted as so, so proud and makes a big deal out of waving goodbye to the wee wee and poo poo as it is flushed away. It was cute. And it went along with my potty training method.
Now this is where I must have lost my mind. For some reason we left the house. We hardly ever left the house, potty training or not. I mean two sets of twins, it’s not fun to go anywhere. That day my mother had come over to help me with the kids and for some ill-advised reason — we left the house. I must have blocked on the reason.
The singleton was at pre-school. We only had the girls. Maybe that’s why we left the house. Why, why? Often if I had to go somewhere and I’d get my mom and she’d sit in the car with the kids while I ran in the store, etc. But why did we go out that day, during the grandmom pressured potty training?
Whatever the reason, we were out. And, of course, the older twins got hungry. I was unprepared, ill-equipped for this inevitability. Did I say we didn’t go out much? Plus all my babies were breast-fed and I never got used to packing up bottles or snacks if we did go out. (Got Boobs? Okay, we can go.) So we stopped for fast food (again, not something I was accustomed to, so for the kids it was a rare treat).
Of course — the grabbing of the crouch and the simple word from Baby B,
Damn. Now, of course, I know this is all a scam. Children at this age just like to see bathrooms in other places and will always ask to go to the potty when they are anywhere else but home. Still, any person around a potty training child knows that you’ve got T minus 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . to get to a toilet — that is if they really have to go, which you don’t know until you try. So, I had to take her. She didn’t have a diaper on, remember? So I had to take her to a public bathroom, a public bathroom at McDonald’s. And it wasn’t particularly clean (surprise). And this is a GIRL! I tried to check the seat for errant piss. I did the toilet paper on the seat thing in record time and then . . . . (tinkle, tinkle, tinkle) — would have been music to my mother’s ears but she was sitting out in the comfort of the restaurant area — not in the small sticky stinky dirty McDonald’s bathroom. I was just — well, pissed. (Pun intended.) I did the “Good Job!!” cheer and implored her not to touch anything. But I was pissed. Pissed that the primary motivation for my doing this was the softly consistent and disturbingly effective pressure from my mom — and all the moms that came before me (or so it seemed).
My baby girl (well, one of them) was proud and playing and dancing around the bathroom. She was still so toddler-ish. I washed her hands and while I was trying to keep her from sitting on the McDonald’s bathroom floor in front of the toilet, I washed mine. In my head I was making plans for bath time when we got home (for both of us).
Then, my little girl turned,
put her hands ON the toilet seat,
stuck her head INTO the toilet
and yelled “BYE BYE, WEE WEE!!!!”
I was horrified.
I was disgusted.
I was done.
Clearly in my mind, if the baby-child is not old enough not to put her head in a public toilet, then perhaps she is not ready for potty training. When we got home and washed up, I put a diaper back on my girl. I was flustered and annoyed at myself for not trusting my own instincts.
There have been times in life where I will freely admit that I should have listened to my Mom. This was not one of them.
At that moment, as far I was concerned, Baby B would wear a diaper until she took it off herself, drove to Victoria’s Secret and bought herself her own panties from money she made from her job as a Superior Court Judge.
In the end, it was only a few months until both girls were ready for potty training and they were trained quickly, without incident (but with. of course, the requisite accidents along the way). We were eventually able to leave the house.
Lesson learned? The time has to be right — for everybody.
Just Me With . . . NO kids in diapers.
The day I became a mother — otherwise known as my son’s birthday — is today. He’s 15. I haven’t had a good week with my Ex-husband, and my episodic depression is rearing its ugly head, so I’m a little more pensive than usual. I think back to my fears when I was pregnant that first time. I’d read too many magazines and seen too many articles, not unlike what we all see today online, about how having children takes the spontaneity out of life, that romance dwindles. I was an employment attorney at the time so I dealt daily with glass ceiling issues and the “Mommy Track” — so while I was ridiculously happy about having this planned child, I was also afraid that it would ruin my career, finances, body, sex life, and marriage. Maybe I was just being a nervous mother-to-be after having been child-free for so long, maybe it was just the pregnancy mania. Maybe somewhere deep inside I had reason to be insecure. Never in my wildest nightmares, however, would I have imagined not having a birthday dinner with my son on his birthday because it is Daddy’s day for that. That was never part of the plan.
So now, I wait. I had to tell the Ex that I got a cake so that he wouldn’t beat me to the punch. (It wasn’t supposed to be like this). And the boy will be so tired from having had school, sports and straight with his Dad; he probably won’t have much time for me anyway. Still, I’ll go through the tradition of a cake and small gifts. I’ll have his friends over another time. I made a Happy Birthday poster last night. One of the sisters helped decorate it. I don’t always do things like that, but I’m feeling so vulnerable these days, and I’m noticing that we don’t celebrate things enough, especially since the separation and especially since the move to smaller digs. So I made a poster. I wanted to find a newborn picture of him to attach. It was a little bittersweet to see those pics of me, the Ex and the newborn baby boy. We were so happy. We had no idea what we were doing. We had no idea what was down the road.
But now I sit. I grew him in my belly, I birthed him, I nursed him. Yet my rights are determined by a mutually agreed upon (ha!) court order. Damn. Told you I was feeling a little blue. But I’m alone now. I’m allowed. I’ll pull it together for the little celebration. In case you’re wondering, the Ex and I have, in the past, shared some holidays/celebrations, but it stopped working, it really never did. Why that is the case is beyond the scope of this post. So now it is what it is. I am, of course, thankful for a healthy, happy first-born. He changed my life. He’s a good kid.
So Happy Birthday, Boy. But this is more than his birthday, it is the anniversary of the day I became a mother, and all that that implies.
Just Me With . . . a birthday cake.