Skip to content

Fiat, Emma and Olivia

March 25, 2014
How was it gentle,
That curve whence they fled our gaze
like snow in springtime?

 Just one week ago, the wife of my daughter’s erstwhile thesis advisor at Wyoming Catholic College lost two little daughters in an accident on a snowy highway. She herself was not much hurt, because it was a case of slipping sideways and being t-boned on the passenger side, but the children did not make it. One minute hers; the next minute, slipping away, though it would be hours before the final breath.

So painful, so sorrowful! All the college and its students’ and professors’ families, especially those with small children, wakeful and crying at night and clinging to their children in spirit; classes disoriented, papers overdue, teachers overloaded.

Yet also…

I have been reading – for other reasons – a book called A Song for Nagasaki. It is the story of a Japanese Catholic convert who lived in Urakami, the suburb of Nagasaki which was struck by the atomic bomb in August 1945, and which had been the center of persecuted Catholicism in Japan for 300 years, ever since Paul Miki and 25 others were martyred. The very center of the long-suffering of Japanese Catholicism!

Why there?

America planned to bomb the center of a different city; it was clouded over. The second choice was Nagasaki, center city. Instead, because of still more clouds, it was here on the outskirts, right here! Could not he who calmed the storm…

Takashi eventually has this beautiful reflection on the Lamb of God who was slain for our sins, the pure sacrifice that brings an end to wars. Was not Urakami the pure lamb slain for the sins of that war which ended on Mary’s feast of the Assumption, 6 days later? “A whole burnt offering on the altar of sacrifice…”

There was a great murmur about this when he first said it – at a large outdoor Mass, by the ruins of their cathedral. But he had been loved, had worked tirelessly for the sick for months before, indeed years before, as well as pulling things together in the immediate aftermath of the bombing, on a barren and bloody hillside, though his own head was deeply punctured and bleeding steadily under whatever bandaging. He had lost all his work, research, books, home, hospital, teaching center, grass, trees, flowers, beauty of his land, and above all, friends, co-workers, patients, neighbors, the Catholic cathedral, the priests hearing confessions inside, and above and beyond all, his valiant and beloved wife, Midori. His angel. Charred he found her when relief came and he could look for her on the third day, her rosary melted in the black bones of her hand. His children lived; they had gone over the mountainside with Gran. He almost died of his own bleeding, radiation, and exhaustion in the first weeks and was saved by a miracle, but still faced long-term leukemia. He was to live 6 years, mostly bedridden.

So they loved him, and they listened: this was how he had found peace. They were the lamb that was slain for the sins of many, and so brought peace. Even today, the bombing is remembered in Nagasaki with prayer, not with anger.

Less than a year ago, the same college in Wyoming lost a lovely member of the freshman class in a hiking accident with her family; recently a new and hopeful graduate of an associated college, Thomas Aquinas, died just as abruptly, and now this. It is unspeakably painful. There’s snow all over the place and a thousand curving roads; why couldn’t God take someone more … uh …dispensable?

But God is still the Lord. He was not taken by surprise when the truck came round the bend.

I’m not very good with the Atonement doctrine as it is commonly taught: our Father has no need of blood to stir up his forgiveness; he is our father. But there is something else on the underside of this teaching, something infinitely tender, infinitely lovely.

That the wicked should suffer seems fine; they jolly well deserve it, we think, presuming them not to be ourselves, and taking passages from our scriptures to prove it. But the truth is that innocent death and innocent loss are a particular grace, achieving something more hidden and deeper, and therefore Jesus came to make of these a particular union with himself.

Jesus has a particular grace in this. I feel it in my heart. I feel joy. It is around the corner – but like a light around the corner. The light cannot hide: “all my soul’s acres shine and shine” with it.

Oh yeah, I’m weeping too, but it’s like when my brother died in Viet Nam, and I could look up and see Jesus. I remember that so distinctly. I felt it even before I saw the first letter his wife pulled from her collection:

So when you realize I’m going to be gone and in danger, don’t let it shake you. It’s God playing hide and seek with you, all you have to do is stop crying and look up, and there He is, as he was for Mary Magdalen in the garden of Easter. 

I love you… Now it is Sunday night.  Ha!  Now it is eternity.  Stop!  Do not go to jail.  Go directly to Go and collect 200…

I feel deep, deep joy and hope in spite of my tears. God is here. Something lovely is up. If we could see it, we would smile through our tears and shake our heads. Someday, we will see, but meantime, give him a chance. Just a moment; one smile of trust. He is so good a Lord!

He desires our joy.

Heavenly friends, Midori and Takashi Nagai, pray for us

Charlie Van Hecke, pray for us.

Christine Allen, pray for us.

Emma and Olivia Lewis, pray for us.

Angela Baird pray for us.

Sgt. Roy O’Keefe, pray for us.

St. Maximilian Kolbe, pray for us.

St. Paul Miki, pray for us.

Mary, mother of the Incarnation, our sister and our mother,

pray for us that we may look up into the fair face of your Son.

Father Abraham, pray for us.

Lamb of God, have mercy on us and on the whole world.



Haunted House

March 5, 2014

I keep returning to the house in Open Season on Moms post. What a weird house!

How many people live in houses where there is a hallway between any two bedrooms? I mean, actually I did, but I had 8 brothers and sisters. Most arrangements, you’d just step across the hall.

This is a single mom with a single child and a walkable hall. Really?

  1. Independently wealthy single moms might have such a house, maybe, but with a nanny.
  2. Or high-intensity top-executive single moms might, but such women always get up in the morning. Even if their alarm clocks fail, their circadian rhythms do not.

So why are there so many weird contradictions here, in both the characters and the setting? There could be two reasons, and both are probably at work. The first one is that the story is supposed to elicit a spontaneous response from children who live in every kind of housing and family situation. Responsibility and irresponsibility, courtesy and rudeness, long-suffering love and utter heedlessness co-exist throughout. Any child or no child could identify with it. There is no possible way to mend the story, but attempts to bring it to a close would obviously be telling. It would be interesting to see the scoring on this one.

The second reason for the contradictions is that the general purpose of keeping students off-balance and uncomfortable is nicely met by this kind of more-than-ambiguity. I have seen it before, in materials from the American Psychological Corporation, which drew up the Metropolitan Achievement Test. Weird stuff. Psychological Corporation indeed!

Remember at the end of C. S. Lewis’ story, That Hideous Strength, when the guy is imprisoned in a cell where everything is just a little bit off. Off-plumb, off-square, the arch off-center. So you don’t notice it at first, but then it starts to drive you crazy?

Welcome to school.

 Haunted bus

Not just the house and the Mom. The bus.

When a school bus comes for someone and he doesn’t make it, usually he has friends by the bus windows, watching eagerly to see him, and all the more so if he’s been late a few times before. If he comes out the door as the bus pulls away, they yell to the bus driver, “Stop! Stop! He’s coming!” In this lazy residential area, the bus is about to turn a corner, so it’s doubly easy; it’s not like he’s whipping down the road at 50 mph, surrounded by wild traffic. He could stop.

No response. The bus is as blank and blind as the mom; it might as well have shutters and prisoners. It does.

Where are the children? None on the bus, and no more in the neighborhood either, for as far as the eye can see after the bus pulls away and disappears. Weird.

Getting a different perspective on that hair all on end when he woke up…

Get me out of here.

Non-violent Test resistance

March 3, 2014

No orderly Opt-out

The South Dakota legislature has rejected a bill (HB 1187) that would have permitted parents opt their children out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment. It failed. Parents are not permitted to keep their children out, even though the test is not important to the education of the children, and its results will not be used by their teachers, only by some bureaucrat somewhere… Somewhere.

It is well-known that personally identifiable information will be collected, and since the “test” itself has obvious psychological dimensions, this is doubly disturbing.

Well, opting out is the simple and honest way to stay clear of this material. If that won’t work, there is always the “Christmas tree” system, where the student chooses his answers in a pattern or in some decorative fashion that is not related to the questions. Some students who do this for other kinds of tests repeat 1,2,3,4 or some other pattern: 1, 3, 2, 4… One could be more creative and less obvious by using the decimal places of an irrational number such as pi = 3.1415 9265 3589 7932 38, skipping or substituting for the higher digits. Euler’s number also has a long string of non-repeating digits: 2.718281828459045235… Anyone can make up other systems or just answer randomly, though that is harder than it might seem.

If you give such non-answers, you may finish the test early, and that might clue someone that you are not really taking it.

Well, it could be useful to your parents if a student would memorize a line from the test. Some will readily recognize the juiciest line when they see it. It would be nice if a group of friends could choose an item to memorize together, each taking just a few lines, but this may not be possible since it is an online test that adjusts itself to your answers. New questions are chosen based on the answers you give, so, say, agreeing to memorize Question #7 might not be the same item for everyone. And clearly, considering the example just given, there will be no way to memorize a whole item; they are too long.

Still, I remember a verse I learned from a high school test many years ago; it was a parody of Edgar Allen Poe, and it was just very funny.

‘Twas many millenniums, long ago
in a millhouse on the mall
that I met a maiden whom you may know
then again, you may not at all,
Ulabelle Lume, her high-born name,
And she, just six feet tall…

Massive Data Collection

Unfortunately, such passive resistance seems childish when you recognize the scope of the data collection in question. The ambition here is breathless, and nothing is left to chance.

Here are some of the 400 data points recommended to be collected; the information is from a blog, but is the same as I have heard elsewhere.

I do not know specifically which data points will be in process of collection in South Dakota at this time, but this is from the  “National Education Data Model,” and once collected, rest assured, the data is irretrievable, completely non-secure, and internationally available to innumerable business and government entities. Religious affiliation, complete computer address, and hot-button medical information including vaccination date and insurance coverage are included.

A few items

Are you kidding?   Bus Route ID 
– Bus Stop Arrival Time — Distance From Home to School 
– Nickname

Think: permanent international databank: Class Attendance Status 

– Class Rank
 — Days Truant 

– Developmental Delay 
– Dialect Name 
Diploma/Credential Awarded

 — Reason

Health stuff: Disease, Illness, Health Conditions
 — Immunization Date 
Insurance Coverage

Household stuff: Dwelling Arrangement
Economic Disadvantage Status
– Family Income Range

Stuff the feds presumably have, so why here? — Family Public Assistance Status 

– Federal Program Participant Status 


WHAT?? : Non-school Activity Description
 — Religious Affiliation
 Voting Status 

– Career Objectives — Family Perceptions of the Impact of Early
Intervention Services on the Child

And: Born Outside of the U.S. — Citizenship Status (!) — 
Birthdate — 
City of Birth 
Social Security Number

 — IP Address — Electronic Mail Address

Open Season on Mom

February 27, 2014

Smarter Balanced

Here is another sample item from the Stupider Vertigo Assessment in preparation for 3rd graders this coming spring.

By the way, notice the name of the test: it is “Smarter Balanced Assessment.” What does “Smarter Balanced” mean? Is it a test that can show who is smarter and also balanced? If so, it needs a comma: “Smarter, Balanced.” Or it could use a conjunction: “Smarter and Balanced.”

Or does it mean this test is intended to be part of a program to rebalance of our education in a smarter way; in that case it should be “Smarter Balance.” That’s got a nice ring to it!

Or does it mean that test is balanced in a smarter way than other tests. That’s what I think it means, but if so, “smarter” is being used as an adverb, which is an error of grammar: “balanced” is a past participle and should be modified by an adverb, not an adjective. The correct usage would be, “More Smartly Balanced” – admittedly a clumsy name, but at least one that is grammatically clear and correct.

Grammar? What’s that?

Oh yes! This is the test written by illiterates to build an illiterate society.

Freeform Assessment

This time, the essay is to be finished in free form. No suggestive sentences are offered: write whatever comes to mind when you finish reading the selection. Don’t worry about grammar; we don’t. Just tell us a little bit about your Mom.

The story concerns an episode of oversleeping on a school day. Mother and school child have both overslept: no other sibs; Dad not in the picture. Read the story and describe what happens after the bus turns the corner.

Everything I have already said applies. To wit:

  1. This is a writing assessment for third graders. They are stressed; why is it about a stressful situation? That is the impulse of someone who wants to change a child’s values. It is at least rude, and possibly abusive.
  2. The story concerns a Mom who failed in her responsibility. In the narrative, the child (maybe 9 years old)  takes equal responsibility: “We both overslept.” Charming, but who is really responsible? For a third grader, the mother is responsible for household order. School materials these days commonly have bad moms and nice teachers. That is propaganda. Are there bad moms? Of course, and bad teachers too! Is it appropriate to bring this up during a test? No; it is not.
  3. A stressed child is a suggestible child. If an assessor had no compunction about brainwashing and if he wanted to push a negative view of motherhood, this would be the correct way to do it.

We Oversleep

So: here’s the story.

A student is writing a story for his English class about being late for school one day. Read the following paragraphs from the story and complete the task that follows.

This morning, I woke up late. My alarm clock never went off! The only reason I woke up at all was because I heard my dog barking. I walked down the hall to my mother’s room to find she was still in bed. “Mom! Wake up!” I yelled. “I think we both overslept.” I looked over at the clock and it was 7:30 a.m. School starts in one hour – great!

I ran into the bathroom. There, I brushed my teeth, washed my face, and then looked in the mirror. My hair was standing straight up! I combed it down with water as fast as I could.

After that, I threw on some clothes and shoes. Racing into the kitchen, I grabbed my backpack from the table and an apple from the fruit bowl. “Bye, Mom!” I yelled as I pushed through the screen door letting it slam shut behind me.

As I ran for the sidewalk, I watched the bus pull away from the curb and turn down the next street. Soon it was out of sight.

In one or two paragraphs, write an ending to the story that follows from the events and experiences in the story.

 What’s up?

Obviously, in completing the story, the child tells as much about his family life as about his English competence, maybe more. Indeed, if writing competence is actually the goal of this article, why is it full of blunders? You might say: well, after all, the story presents itself as the work of a student.

Not an acceptable excuse! The 3rd grader is under stress. You are modeling bad English for him. That is harmful. It is an abuse of the privilege of testing a child.

Here are the writing errors and the open season on Mom:

  1. “The only reason … was because…” Correct English is “The reason was that…” or “I only woke up because…” “The reason is because” is poor construction. You may argue that this is a student essay; people talk this way. I repeat: it is a bad model, and this is a test; you can’t model bad English on an English test. You may respond that English is changing. Fine. Let it change. Don’t push the change on an assessment; that is not your mandate.
  2. “I walked down the hall… “Mom! Wake up!” I yelled. “I think we both overslept.” This is not an error of grammar, but of character development, don’t you think? Either you are running and yelling, or you are walking and graciously sharing responsibility. Not both. So the story feels fake. You can say that, being offered as the work of a student, it doesn’t have to be Shakespeare. Right; but does it have to be fake? Could this really happen? Doesn’t it feel weird to read it? This kind of disorientation is completely uncalled for, and the student feels it; it adds to his stress.

Meantime, where is Mom?

  1. He runs along out the door, without breakfast. (I think it’s a he because of the way he fixed his hair. It might have been a girl, of course.) I watched the bus pull away from the curb… Alone. Why didn’t the mom get up while he was brushing his teeth and do something clever, like butter his toast or flag down the school bus? What kind of a Mom is she?
  2. Since he says “Bye, Mom,” we think he loves her and also wants her love. However, it appears that she is still in bed; anyway, she hasn’t said a word, hasn’t opened the door for him. Nothing. Doesn’t even answer, “Bye, darling.”

To finish the story, we need two paragraphs from a third grader under stress, presumably to be graded by some semi-literate intern who probably can’t read cursive but might be able to figure out whether this child likes his Mom.

So, our 3rd grader gets to tell what kind of Mom he has, or perhaps what kind he wishes he had. Or will he explain something about the wonders of personal independence at the tender age of nine? Is she on drugs? Did she work late last night? Or party? Is she, perhaps, dead? Does she have a morning job that she might be late for? Will he turn around and find she is ready to drive him to school with scrambled eggs and warm chicken pie in his lap? Will he suddenly remember that he is homeschooling now and he can sleep in too? Uh-oh!

Or should our 3rd grader just end the story with a volcanic eruption so that he doesn’t have to answer any of these questions, which are nobody’s business and certainly not the Fed’s?

Again: disclaimer. This item is not on the test. Something else is, however, and you can bet that your child is going to be invited to offer inappropriately personal descriptions of his family. He is, after all, only in third grade.


Cursing Cursive

February 26, 2014

Smarter Balanced: Cursing Cursive

The Smarter Balanced Assessment is scheduled to be administered in South Dakota this spring. Need I say: it is Common Core aligned.

Although I have not intended this blog to be political, this is such a deep issue for us as mothers, that I would like to take the time to go over a question from the sample test, by way of showing what is at stake in this or any other test, and what kinds of things are going on.

First, by way of disclaimer, the question I am going to present is not actually on the assessment. The company offers it as an example; obviously the real questions are not for publication. Ever. On the other hand, the sample test is probably quite close to the real one in spirit; I have seen these things before, the sample and then the one my kids took.

The topic of this question, a test question intended for 3rd graders, is cursive handwriting and the implicit message is that it is a waste of time. Already, there are four things wrong:

  1. Taking a test is, for most people, stressful. That means that they are somewhat suggestible. This is simply a fact of life; it cannot be changed except by making them angry. Therefore, it is not appropriate to make any political or curriculum suggestions to anyone in the context of a test; to do so is the impulse of brainwashing. To do so for 3rd graders is a severe abuse of the privilege of testing them.
  2. What does a third grader know about what is valuable or not in a curriculum? And by the way, cursive handwriting is not the only casualty here. Its value is compared only with math and science, period. History, poetry, literature? None of these are on the table. It’s only “math and science” (worthwhile) vs. cursive handwriting (useless.) Let us all bow down to the god of math and science curriculum while we begin to implement the worst one we can find, the very worst. Guess what? Doing cursive writing would be better.
  3. Actually, brain research shows that there is a close relationship between the hands and the development of language. Any decision not to develop a fine-motor skill is potentially serious for the development of language, and to undertake such a change without a research base is a serious matter. Oh, I know lots of clever people with bad handwriting; most people who see a doctor know at least one. But they can write; they do write, even if not so often. Maybe before their signatures became a hasty formality, they even wrote well, who knows?
  4. Handwriting is also an expression of the total person. A graphologist can tell you an uncanny lot about yourself if you let her have a sample of your writing, and before you dismiss that, let me put it in a suitably multicultural context: The Chinese have a saying, “Your characters reveal your character.” The pun is the same in Chinese as in English. People who print by choice are hiding, emotionally. That’s fine; there are good reasons to hide. But can it be wise to make it school policy not to express yourself in this simplest of ways? Wouldn’t it be wiser to improve handwriting as a way to access your best self?

So I am very irritated about this issue, but enough of that! You are doubtless wondering: What is the question on the test? It is rather long, but here it is:

The Cursive Question

A student is writing an opinion essay for his teacher about cursive writing. The student wants to revise the draft to include more supporting reasons. Read a paragraph from the essay and complete the task that follows.

“Furthermore, there isn’t enough time in a school day for learning unimportant subjects such as cursive writing. I don’t think cursive writing is as important as math or science. Everyone is talking about how American students need to improve their math and science skills. We have to take tests to show what we have learned in those subjects. No one ever tell us we need to improve our cursive writing so that we can get into college or get a job. Let us spend our school day on things that are important. Cursive writing is not something we would use as an adult.

My notes on cursive writing:

* not something to use later in life

* don’t’ have enough time in school day

* unimportant

* not tested on it

Choose two sentences from the student’s notes that add the best reasons after the underlines sentence to support the writer’ opinion about cursive writing.

  • Cursive writing is faster than printing.
  • People use cursive to write their signatures.
  • Learning to print is more difficult for students.
  • Students need to be able to read cursive writing.
  • Not that many people use cursive when they are adults.
  • Most job applications ask people to print their information.

 Minor Critique

First of all, a minor point of grammar should be noted because these tests are always written by illiterates.

The underlined sentence should be,  “Cursive writing is not something we would use as an adults.” Or “Cursive writing is not something we anyone would use as an adult. Since the sentence speaks of what “we” would use, the noun should be plural. Alternatively, the word “we” could be replaced with a singular pronoun, such as “anyone.”

Everyone makes mistakes; I understand that. But this is a test. Supposedly an English test! Doesn’t anyone proof this stuff?

Second minor point: What’s all this whining about what “people are saying?” Is curriculum composition supposed to be based on newspaper polls?

Third point: job applications are not the formative issue for 3rd graders and it is abusive to make suggestive warnings about them. Yes, this is a suggestion to the 3rd grader that, while he is stressed about this test, he should really be concerned about how to complete his job application. Come on!

Fourth: too long.

Down to Business, serious critique

There are six options for the completing sentences. The first four are reasons for learning cursive. (Not terribly serious reasons, but reasons.) Obviously the only options are the last two. In that sense, the question is very simple and the answer is not subjective or ambiguous.

Remember, however, that this is a stressful situation and these are third graders. They have been asked to find the “best” reasons for something that doesn’t much concern them, and when they are presented with four non-reasons in a row, they will be feeling anxious about which is “best” before they realize that they are all irrelevant. They were told they were to make a judgment. I admit I myself went back to re-read the assignment when I got to #3 and still didn’t have a good reason or even a bad one. I thought I must have missed something.

Again: this is a test. The kids are under stress. Wouldn’t it be reasonable to make #2 or #3 one of the “best” reasons?

And since the students are supposed to pick the  “best” reasons for taking cursive out of the curriculum, wouldn’t it make sense to offer a poor reason for them to pass over?

“Some people’s cursive writing is hard to read.” (The child could say: So what? Not a best answer.)

“Older folks have too many loops in their writing.” (At least this is on topic. Another one for the student to skip over.)

This kind of construction is confusing for the student. There is no “best.” There are four anti-reasons and then two reasons, best or not. Why should a test be mis-directed like this? What are we testing for? Either the authors of the test are incredibly stupid and myopic or they are after something else.

Since the test is not useful for the teachers but is only an information-gathering exercise for the feds, one has an uncomfortable feeling about this. Perhaps the real assessment includes a question that is indeed, not about English, but about gauging where the culture is on some sort of progressive issue. Maybe it won’t be about cutting out cursive writing, but about cutting something else that’s not for 3rd graders to judge, but where 3rd graders will inadvertently show where their parents stand. They will do this because they will check what is on their mind as a relevant point, instead of what finishes an essay that does not concern them.

Why should the children learn the Krebs Cycle? When was the last time you had an employer asking about that? What about the Pledge of Allegiance? Do they ever get tested on that?

We may never know what this is about, because the assessment is only on the computer, only seen by the students who take it and maybe by the proctors who supervise them.

Is that really appropriate?

When my daughters were in ballet, some several years ago, their teacher was French. She showed me the test her daughter took in high school – the English test. The interesting thing was that nine cities in France gave these tests, and gave them twice a year, and published the test and the answers three months afterwards. Eighteen times a year, the French could write an English test.


It’s not such a big deal to write a test, and a little sunshine would keep the questions honest. Instead, we have this cult of secrecy where all sorts of garbage goes unchallenged because nobody is allowed to see or speak of the test.

It’s time to say, “Show me!”

Or just, “No!”

Carrots or crackers

September 19, 2013

My last meal with my 2-year-old grandson was lunch. He had been outside and began to play with his trucks as soon as he came indoors. When I called him for lunch, he obviously didn’t want to come; he was playing his own game and wasn’t hungry enough to care for lunch. I don’t remember what he said, probably “I don’t want lunch” or something like that. It was, from within his world, definitive.

So, what then? I could demand that he come anyway, carry him to the table kicking and howling, and offer him chocolates if he finished his soup. Or I could leave him to his trucks and figure his Mom could feed him when he was hungry enough to come on his own.

Instead, I asked him whether he wanted to have carrots or crackers with his soup. “Carrots” he answered, and came trotting right to the table where he sat while I peeled a carrot, since I didn’t actually have one ready.

Will food. One little decision to let him own the act of lunching, and he was with it. It was still amazing to me.

Two years old and choosing

September 17, 2013

The last two weeks have been an amazing journey for me. I am finishing a visit with my daughter and her family, initiated because she has a new member in the family and needs time to heal before resuming all her household responsibilities. This has meant spending a lot of time with a very smart 2½ year old while his brother learns to nurse and gets the essential second chin.

Enough said. It could have been a disastrous tug of war, as anyone knows.

But it happened that just before I went, I was working my way through a talk on Maria Montessori’s ideas about discipline. I had listened at least four times to someone named “Maggie,” a Montessori teacher of long experience. That’s all I know about her, but the ideas were dynamite and made this fortnight a joy.

What is at issue?

What she says of this age is that, first of all, since it is before the “age of reason” as Catholics understand it, six or seven years, sometimes five, there is no question of sin. I have long wrestled about this – and I know others do as well. Certainly children know (often) when they are doing what they were told not to do. They look away; they feel shame. But then, so do animals, and they don’t sin either. So the impulse of righteous judgement which sweeps over the adult when a child says, “No!” is actually misplaced. There is nothing moral to judge. There’s a serious question of what to do, but #1 is: don’t treat it like a moral issue; it is not.

And it is not a “training” issue either, because a child is never a horse or a dog, at any age. So, then, what is it?

What the child needs, developmentally, at this stage, it to make decisions. It is a time when the will is developing, the center of the self, and the making of decisions is essential brain food. Therefore, at every turn, your task in support of his development is to present a decision he can make. Do you want the red pajamas, or the stripy blue ones? Do you want to brush your teeth before your bath or afterwards? Do you want a peanut-butter sandwich or a cheese sandwich? Do you want Mommy or Daddy to help you into the car?

What can you do?

Now, you will immediately object that we can’t offer decisions at every turn, and we can’t cater to every whim of a two-year-old, and there are some decisions a child just cannot make. Right, right, right. Some thing can be taken for granted, but what I am saying is that if the 2-year-old is not yet taking them for granted, you simply present the non-negotiable thing as something that of course we are doing and immediately present a choice for him to work on.

We’re going to the library now; do you want to carry your own books or let Mommy carry them?

It’s time for dinner, do you want to sit in your booster seat or on a chair?

Here’s your squash, do you want to eat it with a spoon or with a fork?

It’s time for bed, do you want your red pj’s or your green ones with dinosaurs?

Whatever. The point is, engage his decision-making power in something he can properly exercise it on, and do this every time there is an action to be taken about which he cannot make a decision. Otherwise, the only thing he can own is protest. And he will protest with all the perseverance that God has given him for the purpose of developing his will. It is a terrible thing to fight the work of God!

Again and again, my little grandson was on the point of saying “no” when the irresistible candy of a personal decision was offered and he took that instead. By giving him another option for his will food, I made a way forward. It was simply incredible. It’s time for a nap; do you want to go to bed alone or with Nonny? It’s time to put on your pants; do you want the brown ones or the blue ones? It’s time to put on your shoes; do you want to run around the table before you put on your shoes or afterwards?

That was 90% successful, and for dealing with a 2-year-old, 90% is a lot.

And the other 10%?

Very interesting insight here too.

When my little grandson demanded to choose something unacceptable, or when he chose one thing and then switched in the middle of implementation and then switched back – this can go on forever – I had to draw the line, and there were tears.

But the tantrum is much less when the focus remains on his exercise of decision and the proper way to use it, rather than on my superior authority and power.

So it’s not: “Okay, I’m making the decision: you wear the red pants. Now! Right now!” Howls of desperate grief…

Thunders of righteous authority…

Wails of insulted dignity!

Instead: “The red pants were your choice and now it is time to put them on. You can choose the blue pants another day.”

In this way, you are taking it back to him, to his choice, and to the way we have to behave after we make a choice: we carry it out. In addition, we are emphasizing our respect for his life of decision, now and in the day ahead.

As soon as you can engage his attention, offer another choice: “When your pants are on, would you like to wear your shoes or your sandals?” There may still be howls of protest, even kicking and such. But frequently, I found a re-engagement with the new opportunity to choose.

In any case, the focus remains on his power of choice, not on your power of enforcement. Remember, parents represent God to their children. Would you like to say, “God is the Big Boss; he’s the one not to cross!” Is that the center of good theology?

Your message is that he is a child taking charge of his life. He needs to make decisions, and part of making decisions is carrying them out. This does not mean he can never change his mind. Even adults change their minds now and then. But he can’t have permission to make a game of switching back and forth. You have to stop that without slipping into Big Boss mode. You are his teacher and anger is not a virtue, even in the exercise of rightful authority.

If you keep this in mind, you are less likely to be angry, even if you are quite firm, and even if there is a storm.

2 acting 16 or 16 acting 2…?

For men especially, there is a tendency to view the aggressive behavior of a small child as proto-gang behavior. You guys think you know exactly what this two-year-old has in his mind because his actions exactly replicate what a teenager (yourself) would do to show defiance against authority. You’re not going to have a gang child; you’re going to “show him who’s boss,” which is just what guys in one gang try to show guys in another.

Women, on the other hand, as well as certain political liberals, tend to see the defiant teenager, or even the wayward adult, as a two-year-old whose needs were never met.

I admit it; that’s how I think a lot of the time.

So is he a teenager in the making? Of course! But you are he are not in opposing gangs! You are the Dad, or you are the Mom (or grandmother or whoever) and your task is to help him build up a life of rational decision, and of decisions carried out.

The foundation of morality

I remarked at the beginning that a two-year-old cannot sin; this is a logical consequence of the Church’s teaching that the age of reason is around six or seven years. The two-year old does think; he does choose. But this young child is not capable of fully rational decisions or of spiritually submitting his will to yours or God’s either. He is learning rationality; he is learning to make decision; he is acquiring a self. Only a self can sin. Your task is to strengthen this will in relation to this rationality by offering wholesome opportunities for choice.

And, not wanting to write the whole book today, it is a contribution to rationality to be respectful of a child’s dignity; when he is at peace and in trust, you can also talk about reasons for action.