"Be nice to Sophie!"
"Yes, ma'am," I replied, looking down at the little redhead.
"And when did you begin referring to yourself in the third person, Miss Sophie?"
She looked up at me, her face very serious, and repeated, "Be nice to Sophie!"
"How am I not being nice?" I asked.
"Is it because I told you that you can't have any more chocolate milk?"
Now two and a half years old, Sophie is changing every day.
Every day brings new joys and new frustrations.
Her daily revelations leave me ever more aware of the lessons she is learning from every available source.
Last week I realized that she is even learning from the cat.
Ralph the Cat has perfected the practice of selective hearing.
Any communication without the word 'tuna' or 'chicken' in it is completely ignored.
It's like he really doesn't hear my voice when I say anything else.
Now I find Sophie doing the same thing.
She'll be playing happily and not miss a beat in her activities when I tell her it's time for dinner or time for bed or to put down her toys.
At first I really thought she didn't hear me.
I'd raise my voice and lean into her line of vision.
Still she will continue playing.
The secret code words for her, however, are not tuna and chicken, they're chocolate and cookies.
These words I can whisper and she'll immediately drop whatever she's doing and deliver her smiling self to the kitchen for a treat.
And so we have conversations about paying attention when someone talks to you and about being polite and about not taking manners cues from Ralph.
We have also recently entered the realm of 'big girl pants.'
This is an exciting and money-saving milestone that we were fortunate to reach with relative ease.
Day by day we are both growing and learning, our time filled with lessons large and small.
One day she learns to differentiate a butterfly from a moth.
Another day she moves from her highchair to a regular chair at the table.
While she learns her lessons, I learn mine.
Be patient, I repeat to myself.
You are the parent.
Enjoy this time of discovery, I remind myself.
Cherish her smiles and swim in her laughter.
I remind myself to deal with the frustrations, impose discipline calmly and firmly, and then let the frustration go.
But it's not easy.
This is no bombshell of information for any parent.
It's not easy.
I've felt my temper rising hot and fast.
To help us both get through these moments I've employed the use of the playpen.
The playpen, for us, is a safe place for a 'time-out.'
When she refuses to listen or behave and when my anger mounts, I pull out the playpen.
Sophie goes into the playpen in her room; I set the timer for two minutes and sit quietly in the living room.
When the timer goes off we're both usually calmed down.
Then, with her still in the playpen, I calmly remind her why she got into trouble and ask her to tell me she won't do it again.
After that her behavior improves noticeably and we're both able to get on with our day.
Even as we face our day-by-day challenges, I'm thinking about the future.
"Where will you go to college?" I ask her.
"Stanford? The Sorbonne?"
"You are smart and if you work hard and are kind you can do anything you want," I whisper in her ear as I tuck her in for the night.
"Mommy loves you," I remind her many time a day.
There are no guarantees in raising a child.
I know this.
But I'm trying to give her my best and hope that life will be kind to her.
With my words I think I'm trying to give her an intangible talisman.
Something she can draw upon when the going gets tough.
My hope is that she will pull my words from her memory.
"You are a good girl.
Mommy loves you.
You can do anything." She can examine them like a shiny pebble.
Turn them over and see them reflect the light.
Like a worry stone she can call on these words for reassurance.
"Mommy loves you." It is a small thing that I can give her, this pebble of words.
But, as she is teaching me, small things can bring infinite joy.