Saturday, November 3, 2018

The Brother Club

L has taken to telling me stories before bed and when we wake up, usurping my position as the yarn-weaver in the family. They are usually concerned with disaster relief. This morning, an earthquake flipped the Golden Gate bridge upside down, but a "super rescue plane" flipped it back right side up and then rescued all the cars and people in the water. It was another hard day at work for the "super nice" rescue plan, the unnamed protagonist in L's stories of late, that saves people each day from various natural disasters that befall our city. One of L's favourite narrative lines is "and then something happened" with a sincere emphasis on something, to entice his audience into wondering what it could be next as he dramatically pauses to amplify the anticipation. 

L certainly loves to put on a show. We have been told by his teachers as well as our friends who observe him on the playground when we are not there (apparently he is more modest around us) that he takes the lead and loves to dictate activities. I’ve exploited his need to win and be first to achieve some short-term ends. For instance, attune to L’s need to be the fastest boy in school, I’ve notified him that the boy he believes to be the fastest is so fast because he eats all his vegetables, yoghurt, fruit, meat et. al.  and goes to bed on time for a restful night’s sleep. This has worked a charm. If L pushes back, I employ this device and my short-term gain is achieved. I wonder however whether I am unwittingly supporting a character trait that has discernible unfortunate features. I don’t want L to grow up into an adult that is solely focused on winning at all cost, which not only puts an insurmountable amount of stress upon him and doesn’t allow him to enjoy any activity he pursues, but may potentially lead to animosity and self-recrimination. Parenthood is always a delicate balance of achieving short-term gain without impacting long-term consequences. I've come to the realization that I need a new vegetable incentive. Fortunately, L has rediscovered his love for veggies and I haven’t had to employ any device in a while. 

At L's birthday party last weekend, he announced to everyone before his cake (which he directed to be bright blue) was cut that he loved them all and thanked them for coming and for his presents. This was shortly followed by a request to open his booty, which I denied and explained this was an activity he could look forward to when we returned home. L immediately proceeded to pronounce the party over while my cheeks blazed incarnadine in front of the flabbergasted crowd. 

When we returned home, L attacked his booty somewhat ferociously and serendipitously he received two exact same packages of cars and a flat bed which were favored and which avoided volatile fraternal relations that otherwise would have inevitably led to either me or my husband obtaining another to ensure continued familial peace. 

Turning 4 has been accepted by L as if it were an ontological difference, which has been somewhat brilliant in consequence - dressing himself for instance, but at other times extended far beyond reasonable measure, such as his insistence that he have a later bedtime or ride a motorcycle. Instead, he received a bike and a helmet (blue of course) and is learning how to ride the less dangerous and more environmentally friendly way. 

We’ve been surprised by L’s sensitivity recently. My husband thought it a grand idea to show a film he loved as child to L, involving a boy navigating a space ship, which had the unintended consequence of a deluge of tears, as the narrative revolved around a boy separated from his family. L's empathy towards the boy in the story and his fear of losing his family were palpable. My husband was particularly shocked at L's reaction, remorseful of his choice. He hadn’t even remembered that part and merely remembered the boy's interaction with the sentient space ship. You can’t control what part of a story, whether a film or a book, a child will focus on and how they will understand it. The other night, when L was in a particular brood and didn’t not want to bathe, he told me “you shut your mouth”. I started, flummoxed that my 4 year old had so rudely spoken to me. I asked him where he heard such language and he said from me! I asked when and where he heard me say that and with glee he explained that I had read Yertle the Turtle and that Yertle had yelled at the dissident Mack at the bottom of the turtle heap to shut his mouth. This time my husband was able to roll his eyes at my discerning choice of literature. I had thought Yertle was a grand didactic narrative and did not notice this language at all. And yet, what we gloss over, is what our children may attune to. We’ve learnt to be apply more discretion in our choice of narratives. 

However, you can only shield your kids up to a certain point. The other day, L was playing with M and L and their police cars and L was indulging in a narrative in which the police car was taking people to jail. I was stupefied. Where did he hear that from? I asked him what jail was. “Oh, that’s were adults go for time-out.” I stood riven with indecision while I internally debated whether I should explain the inherent problems of our mass incarceration system that structures and perpetuates a criminal underclass or whether to let it go. I decided to leave his view of it for now as I couldn’t think of a better explanation that would be digestible for him. 

L is now asking questions we are not prepared for. The other day, walking to dinner, L asked, “where do babies come from?”. I believe my husband and I fumbled out a very nebulous and amorphous answer involving a mummy and daddy and good intentions. L didn’t seem very accepting of our sub-par answer, but luckily we were saved by ramen as L was too ravenous for his dish to further prod us on the issue. I know this question will come up again and I’d like to be prepared with a less than accurate biological answer but one that is not exclusionary and takes into account the various, wonderful families around us without resorting to storks....

M is very intent on cleaning when he is not racing around the house with his train, which he informs to all and sundry is the super fast Shinkansen.  So much so that when he pees, he takes his potty and dumps it in the toilet and flushes, all with undue pomp and grandeur. He is somewhat less pompous about dumping the remainder of his food in the compost, but he has continued to earnestly do this with a satisfied smile. M is also very fond of drawing what is on his mind. He’s drawn family portraits and various scenes, including Curiosity landing on Mars. Unfortunately some of his grand art is displayed on book covers, walls and our couch (fortunately with washable crayon - a necessity for any parent). I suppose if you are earnest in cleaning, you have to make mess initially in order to enjoy cleaning it… 

M is also very fond of making jokes, which he inevitably concludes with "M made a joke, M is funny" in the event his audience needed proper direction as to the merit of his humour. One joke he made the other day, when were counting, was to repeatedly state, "ocam, croissant" (ocam is eight in Serbian, croissants are one of M's favourite treats). L thought this was hilarious and took it on too. It was 4.30 am so I was not as receptive to M's humour.  

M is very excited to begin preschool at his brother’s school. When M is being particularly obstreperous these days, I’ve pulled out the “teacher L” card. M knows very well that Teacher L is the Director of L's school and is “the All-Powerful-One”. I have “called” her on several occasions to purportedly retract M’s admission on account of his behavior. M has quickly towed the line. The other day, we were having a stand-off over certain cereal spillage which M insisted that I clean up. I gave him a kitchen towel and told him to get to work as he made the mess. He resisted. I informed him that at preschool, just like at home, we have to clean up our own mess. This last time, as soon as I picked up the phone, before I even “spoke” with “Teacher L”, M grabbed the towel and began to clean it up. “I’m cleaning mama! I’m cleaning!” he announced his compliance earnestly, one concerned eye on the phone. 

The other day, M asked if he could buy his brother, L, a present (a Blue Angel plane). I was astounded and wondered whether this was simple gratitude or whether M had calculated that as there was only one Blue Angel in the house, with two, he would be able to duplicate his time with the one we already had. Either way, I was impressed. I told him he could, but that he would have to obtain some money, which he would have to work for. M was happy with this deal. So this weekend I am going to be directing some earnest below minimum wage child labor in the home. 

The boys thoroughly enjoyed Halloween this year. They decided they were going to be Batman and Superman, but when the grand day came, Superman had an identity crisis and decided he would rather be Batman just like his elder brother. This led to some costume crisis management (fortunately we had an extra Batman cape around) but was resolved before the big “Halloween walk” which my husband corrected me is called “trick or treating”. This is not very accurate. I’ve never seen anyone hand out tricks - whatever happened to a good juggle? Perhaps the kids’ candy ferocity has led to the abandonment of any tricks. I was astonished at how expertly they weaved through crowds to amass their booty. By the end, L was discerning, picking his treats to ensure he received the ones with the most chocolate.The boys directed me to craft a Curiosity rover costume and their dad to be a rocket, because they correctly calculated I needed to be launched to Mars. I crafted my costume with the boys, which resulted in an iterative process, in which I would paste one aspect of the costume together only for M to use his engineering skills to reverse my advances as if he were simply intent on obtaining trade secrets for a competing company. In the end, I was pretty pleased with my rover endeavour, only to realize as I walked that she was very fragile and that Curiosity appeared more and more like Opportunity.

After Halloween, we ended up with bucket loads of sugar that the boys never eat and that we didn’t intend for them to. Yet, they remember they have it, they worked for it, and were adamant to recoup their efforts. Fortunately an astute parent clued us in on their parental trick. Offer educational presents, such as lego, Tegu, Picasso tiles, in exchange for candy, and your kids, being able to employ their candy as currency, feel satisfied in their efforts and trade (and we are relieved they are not digesting any of the nuclear-resistant ingredients that comprise modern candy bars). 

I have been recently rejected from the recently established “Brother Club” not having the standing for membership as explained by my elder son to me. “Mum, you’re not my brother. Only my brother is my brother, and only he is allowed in the Brother Club. Oh, and me.” I was then told to leave them alone. I asked what they were doing. “Nothing” M responded with a shrug that I expected to see from someone a decade older than his two years. I was shooed out of their room and then they proceed to lock the door. Fortunately I was right outside and barged in before this occurred (of course I didn’t let them in on the screwdriver trick which allows me to enter at any time). They admonished me for trespassing into their private club. I notified them that they could close the door for their private event (after all I have a clandestine digital eye in there) but could not lock it. I could see from their glazed stares that they were not going to adhere to my direction. I explained it was unsafe, I could not get to them in time in case there was an accident and finally, that because of this, if they locked the door, I had to immediately call the police. L decided that the best policy was in fact to leave the door open, but direct me not to listen. Then they proceed to run to the bed and hide under the covers, making a blanket-tent for their first meeting amongst much cackling. So it begins. 




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