Yesterday Bigger Boy snatched some toy trains from Littler, chased him round the room with a toy lawnmower while Littler wept in panic, and threw his cutlery on the floor when he didn’t like what I’d given him for lunch. Littler, for his part, pulled his brother’s hair, knocked over the entire draining rack (complete with wine glasses) and ran around with food hanging out of his mouth when I had asked him to sit down.
The above snapshots could lead anyone to conclude that my sons are difficult. What I didn’t mention is that Bigger held Littler’s hand as he helped him down the stairs, willingly gave him some of his most treasured trains to play with, and asked Littler if he was ok after he had fallen over. Littler kissed my toe when I banged it on the cupboard, cuddled me countless times and sat eating his supper until it was all finished.
My boys, Bigger and Littler, are what many would call ‘spirited’ children. On the other hand, they are often calm and quiet, considerate and empathetic, loving and entertaining. They can be apprehensive when they are unsure of their surroundings; when they feel comfortable with where they are and who they are with, anything can happen. Chaos reigns and silliness abounds. They are loud, sometimes ear-piercingly so; they climb on tables and other things they shouldn’t; they take risks and delight in doing so, even if they know what might happen if they fall/slip/collide with someone else. They run around the room in circles then bump into the walls when they discover they are too dizzy to walk in a straight line. They jump on other children, snatch toys from them, put their faces too close to them because I do that to them all the time when I’m kissing and hugging them and they don’t realise other children might not want this.
For the past two weeks, my sister and her young daughter have been staying with us. My boys loved having their cousin with them for so long, and found a ten-month-old baby both a fascinating curiosity and an irresistible temptation. This led to several squashings from Littler, who thought she might play ‘horse’ with him the way I do; as she weighs half what he does, she was not impressed by her unwanted jockey. Littler also took the opportunity to do some cause-and-effect experiments, squeezing his cousin’s hand and clouting her on the head with plastic bricks to see how loudly she would squeal. He repeated the experiment several times, as any good anthropologist would do.
While Littler asserted his position in the household, ensuring I did not pay more attention to my niece than I did to him, Bigger’s caring side came out. He told me to pick my niece up when she was crying and he brought her water when she was inconsolable. He wanted her to be wherever he was, and constantly asked if he could hold her. At the same time, he embarked on a two-week showing-off extravaganza, screeching and pushing Littler over and running in circles round the room when I asked him to get dressed. It was like a bad theatre show that you don’t walk out of, hoping it will get better, and there were no refunds for dissatisfied members of the audience.
The thing is, much as they can exasperate me one minute and have me melting with pride the next, I try as hard as I can not to judge them. They are little people trying to work out how the big world works and what their place is within it. Come to think of it, most adults I know are still trying to do the same. I’m as guilty as the next person of labelling children as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but the little girl who I think of as a good little thing because she is sitting nicely doing colouring-in, will, in a few hours time, be yelling her head off because she doesn’t want to go to bed. Children are changeable, complex creatures and I have to remind myself daily that they can never possibly act as perfectly as I would like them to because they don’t understand what perfect behaviour is. The more mistakes they make, the more they learn, and while on occasion I have to discipline their spirit, I never want to dampen it.