Motherhood, Part II: Its toddler time, and Ive got to learn to say no

Today is Levi’s first birthday, his exit from Babyland and arrival at Toddlerville. And in honor of his birthday, I want to talk about how naughty he is.

Certainly, he’s the most excellent child that has ever lived and is the light of our lives and we love him beyond measure and adore every millisecond of his incredible existence. But he really is very naughty.

Levi will crawl up to the bookshelf in the living room and pull everything off the bottom two shelves, then crawl over to the DVD rack and do the same thing. He pulls my hair, throws his toys and loves to play with all the things he’s not supposed to touch — the remote control, our cell phones, the temperature knob on the radiator in the kitchen. He even knows how to turn on Daddy’s Xbox.

When he was 9 months old, I decided to try out a little discipline, on the advice of one of my baby books. “Your 9-month-old understands the word no,” it said.

So one weekend morning, while Levi and I were playing on the bed, he yanked my hair. I looked at him sharply and very firmly shouted, “No!”

He stared at me for a second, then burst into tears. I felt like the worst mother in the world and immediately scooped him up in my arms and told him over and over that I loved him.

I just can’t override my innate Jewish motherness — when my kid is crying, no matter how bad he’s been, I just want to hug him and feed him chicken soup.

I was traumatized by Levi’s reaction to my shouting. I was angry at myself that I had shouted at all. So I quit the discipline game altogether. I grimaced at the hair-tuggings and book-throwings, but what could I do? I couldn’t keep making my kid cry.

Some weeks later, Amy Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” came out. Chua’s memoir is about how she raised her two daughters in a very strict manner that emulated her upbringing by her Chinese immigrant parents, but eventually had to back down when faced with a strong-willed, rebellious younger daughter. I read the now-infamous Wall Street Journal article that excerpted some of Chua’s more controversial parenting techniques, and expressed appropriate shock and derision.

Then, I started to wonder: Was being a tiger mom so bad? And was my inability to accept the consequences of discipline setting me up to be one of Chua’s dreaded “Western mothers” who coddle their children into idiocy?

Maybe my aversion to Chua’s methods was borne from the fact that I’m scared that I’ll never know exactly how to control my child.

A few days after I read Chua’s excerpt, I decided to try to get a little tough, tiger mom style. The baby book’s advice for when baby was being naughty: “Do not pay any attention to your child for one minute. Your baby yearns for your attention, so this is a good punishment.” Ouch! This seemed like tiger mom stuff to me.

On a day off from work, I was with Levi in the living room when he started clawing at my face. I said, “No. Stop.” He did it again and again. Finally, I said, “No, Levi!” and picked him up and put him in his bedroom.

Before I could finish shutting the door, his face crumpled and he started to wail. He screamed and pounded at the door like I had left him in the fiery pits of hell instead of his sunny room with lots of toys.

For a minute I stood in the kitchen listening to his shrieks, imagining what he was thinking. I told myself, “Amy Chua made her daughter practice piano without water or bathroom breaks! Surely this isn’t worse than that.”

Finally, the minute was over. I opened the door, picked Levi up, hugged him tight — and apologized profusely.

I know Levi wasn’t permanently scarred by the experience, but still, I don’t know if I’m cut out for this tiger mom stuff. I felt horrible making him think I’d abandoned him for one minute. I can’t imagine ever calling him names or telling him he wasn’t good enough.

I know Levi’s only 1, and ostensibly he’s pretty easy to control. At some point I’ll need to learn how to lay down the law.

But when that happens, I’m going to do it my own way. Tough, I hope, but mostly loving. Call it Jewish mom, by way of tiger mom.

Rachel Leibold is a copy editor at j. She can be reached at rachel@jweekly.com.