Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bad Monkeys

My 3 year old has an active imagination. He's the kind of kid that prefers to just play by himself sometimes. And he is all business when he plays; wrapped up in an elaborate make-believe world.

One rainy day this summer, the boys were playing inside while I did some things around the house. I passed my 3 year old in the upstairs hallway as he was gingerly shutting his bedroom door. He stopped me in the hall to tell me quite seriously, "Please do not go in my room right now because some of my monkeys are sick". His favorite animals are monkeys and he has a large collection of stuffed animal monkeys in his room. I asked him why his monkeys were not feeling well and he said, "Because they ate some bad monkey". Huh.

I'm used to my 3 year old saying pretty crazy things, so I left that one go without further explanation. Later that same day we were in the basement playing "restaurant" with our play food and kitchen set. My 3 year old was hard at work "cooking" up a full course imaginary meal. He mentioned to me so casually while stirring his imaginary soup, "My red monkey likes to cook." To keep the conversation going, I asked him what the red monkey likes to cook. He responded, "Bad monkeys". Well, I guess that explains what the other monkeys ate.

So, it seems that we have a tribe of misbehaving stuffed monkeys living under our roof in my 3 year old's room. The red monkey taking charge and cooking the bad monkeys was not limited to just that one day - my 3 year old has mentioned it other times as well, just as casually. And he refers to the red monkey as "the good monkey". Today, I asked him what else his monkeys eat. He responded, "Nothing, there are plenty of bad monkeys". Okay then. I should have left it at that, but I wanted to know what these monkeys do that is so bad. When I asked, he told me, "They sleep too much". I'm not sure I will ever understand what goes on in a 3 year old's head, but I'm glad we have the red monkey to keep order in our house.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Boys Will Be Boys

My 3 year old has decided to be a cowboy for Halloween and he is very excited. But I think he is more excited because he thinks he should have a gun to complete his costume. I'm not a big fan of guns, toy or otherwise, so he and I have an ongoing discussion on whether he should really have one for Halloween. After much badgering by him, I agreed that I would get him a gun as long as it only "shoots love". He looked at me in disbelief, almost disgust, and asked me quite seriously, "How will I ever kill the bad guys then?"

That's a good question. But a better question is how did my 3 year old learn about "bad guys" and guns? I thought I had done a pretty good job of shielding his little world, but somehow he has still identified good and evil and has figured out how fighting and weapons can be used. For instance, this afternoon he wanted me to sit in his bean bag chair in his room and watch his choreographed "battles" against the "bad guys". Starting from the hallway he came flying into the room to battle his imaginary opponents. Since he does not yet have the gun he wants so badly, these battles were all fought with his hands, but in his mind they were swords, light-sabers, and guns. While I was sitting there watching I was thinking, "Is this normal boy behavior or should I be concerned?"

Before I had kids I would have found today's battle display disturbing and would have assumed the kid performing had serious issues. But I have since come to learn that boys can and will turn any object into an imaginary weapon, and in most cases they are not intending to hurt anyone. I heard stories about my nephew shooting people with string beans at the dinner table when he was 3. And now most days I find my own 3 year old like a sniper around the house. He not only will shoot or "sword" you with anything he can find, but he also has a habit of walking around the house making sound effects of things blowing up. It was unsettling at first, but it now seems pretty normal for a boy.

I'd like to think that boys are just genetically programmed like this. Its my only explanation since my kids don't watch violence or weapons on television or in movies and don't see it demonstrated by the people in their lives. But, even without these influences my older son as early as the age of 4 would "fight" with his preschool friends for fun. One of the little boys would say "let's fight" and within seconds the whole group of them would be rolling around on the floor wrestling and giggling. Yes, giggling. And sometimes the wrestling match would just turn into a big hug. Boys will be boys and it is not containable. A perfect example was at last year's Country Club Christmas party where one boy started a trend by asking the balloon clown to make a sword; then another boy topped that by asking for an Uzi. Within the hour every boy under the age of 10 had some type of balloon shaped weapon. In the middle of a very elegant party, there was a graphic balloon battle being fought in the corner of the dining room in uniforms of Christmas plaid and Bucks. I had to laugh a little when I saw my then 2 year old blaze past me hot on a waiter's trail with his balloon Uzi - sound effects and all.

So, I laugh and hope that this play is just play and does not affect how they turn out as people. My husband keeps reminding me that good versus evil is just human nature and kids try to grasp that concept in whatever way they can; sometimes that is role-playing games. Although my kids do always want to be the "good guy" and fight the imaginary "bad guy", I still don't like the pretend shooting. But, I think back to my childhood where half of the toys in my house were my brother's and mostly weapons. He had a full arsenal of realistic looking toy cap guns, swords, and bow and arrows; and I like to think that my brother and I turned out alright. So, I'm working with my kids on this. I still don't like guns, but I point out to them the police officers and the armed service people who use them for good to protect us. My 3 year old is now going to be a Sheriff for Halloween, not just a cowboy. And he did come back to me after much thought about his Halloween gun with a compromise. He is now asking for "just a gun that shoots nothing" so it won't hurt anyone. I guess I can deal with that.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Happy Heartbreak

If you want to feel really sad, put your first born on the bus for the first time to Kindergarten and wave good-bye. Sigh . . . That's what I did this morning and I have to say that although I thought I was prepared, you are never really prepared for your children to grow up.

My 5 year old and I have both been excited about him starting his new school this fall. We've been preparing all summer and we were ready. We visited his school and met his teachers. We shopped together for new clothes, shoes, and school supplies. And, we talked about what his days would be like being a "big kid" riding a bus and staying for the afternoon. The days leading up to the start of school we picked out his first day outfit and went grocery shopping for lunches. We really were ready. He was super excited and literally bouncing off of furniture last night. And I was feeling calm; like this was all just a natural progression.

But as we stood there this morning waiting for the bus it started to bother me. The bus was running late and I think I had too much time to think. As I stood there, taking picture after picture of my little boy, looking through the camera at him I realized that he isn't so little anymore. And then he showed me that he has two loose teeth. I suddenly had this overwhelming sense that something big is changing here. Its not that this moment now being here is a surprise; I don't honestly feel like it was just yesterday that he was an infant. But I do feel like the years have started to blur. What if all of elementary school is just a big blur from this "big" moment on? That's what started to tug on my heart. That it could all move at a lightning speed pace from here on and him being a child could be over in a flash.

So, I think my heart broke just a little bit this morning. It was a happy moment, but sad. I tried to focus on the happy and he was so happy to be waiting with his big backpack for the big bus. I didn't cry and I didn't tell him I would miss him while he was gone. But he sensed it, or maybe he was feeling just a little bit of the moment too. He looked straight into my eyes before the bus pulled up and said, "You know Mom, I will always be your little 'Love', no matter how big I get". Well, that was it, I just about lost it then. But still, I smiled. Having my grown up 5 year old say something so meaningful to me at just the right moment made it a happy heartbreak.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Competitive Streak

My 5 year old got in a fight today at our house during a play-date because he was losing a game. I can't say that I'm all that surprised; I thought this might be coming. But, I am surprised that I am dealing with this now - I mean he's 5. Just last year he was not all that good at anything; and now all of the sudden he is good at everything and feels that he should always win. Today, an older boy was beating him at Wii boxing and my son lost control. I wasn't in the room to see the conflict, but after piecing together the story from different eye-witness accounts, it seems that my son said some mean things when he went on a losing streak and then took the boxing to real life and hit the other boy. I'm appalled at my son's competitive streak and this aggressive side that has recently come out; and I'm terrified of becoming the mom with the sore loser kid who is a jerk.

I wasn't surprised by my son's behavior because I know where he came from. His father was "that kid" and my mother-in-law was that horrified mom. I guess competitive streaks are genetic. In sports as a kid my husband was no stranger to fouls and yellow cards. He was the kid who never struck out without throwing a bat or cursing, he shoved on the basketball court, and I've seen him clear a bench in soccer for a mid-field brawl. You get the point: my husband was a jerk as a kid. These memories of my husband when he was younger are like watching a preview to a "coming soon" movie starring my son. Like his father, my son has become very athletic and very competitive. Most days I no longer consider my husband a jerk, so there is hope for my son. But it is really hard to watch certain traits appear in our kids because we can see ourselves; the good, the bad, and today, the ugly.

I am the complete opposite of my husband. I don't have a competitive bone in my body and I could care less if I lose. I've gracefully accepted my third place spot in our family for all competitions and I know when my younger son finds his coordination, I won't even be on the podium. I was hoping that my older son would be evened out by his two parents, but I had a clue when he wouldn't accept losing in games of chance like Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders that he would be competitive just like his father. I've always told my son, that you can't always be the winner, but more recently he has come back at me with "you can if you are the best". I've tried giving him the line "winning isn't everything, its how you play the game" only to get his response of "why would I want to play if I didn't win". I can see his point; I've heard this argued by his father before. But the fact is, he is going to lose sometimes; he already has. Somehow he has to learn to control that aggressive competitive energy when he is losing. Although I want to raise "winners", I need to also raise mature losers. Maybe my husband, with all of his competitive experience, should be taking the reigns on this lesson?

My husband had a talk with my son tonight that went something like "don't be a jerk, I was a jerk and no one liked me". Somehow, I don't think that conversation is going to be the catalyst for change. My kids worship their father and I don't think they believe he was ever a jerk or that no one liked him. For now my son will be without Wii or any other video or computer game that he loves. Having the opportunity just to participate is going to have to be his reward and incentive for dealing appropriately with any losses. And then maybe he will get the message that sometimes it is just fun to play the game - its better than not playing at all. Hopefully my younger son will be wired more like me, but judging by his recent temper tantrum when losing a simple race down the driveway, I think I'm in for more trouble.