Of our two kittens (who I suppose might be considered kinos at this point, kittens in name only, as they’re both getting pretty big) the male has become the decidedly more strong-willed and adventurous one. He also recently began making it quite clear that he would like to be able to spend some time in the out-of-doors as the dogs and the dowager cat do. So, having duly gotten him neutered and implanted with microchip ID, my wife began to let him roam the yard on request. So far so good, as he always comes back, even as his walkabouts have very lately begun to stretch from the time my wife leaves for work in the morning until the time I feed the pets dinner in the evening. And the boy-kino apparently understands very well what “on request” means, as he yowls super-loudly at the rear sliding glass doors when the urge to stretch his furry legs strikes him.
You might wonder what this all has to do with the childrearing type stuff I usually give Thursday over to. (Believe me, I am not one to conflate the concepts of pets and children.) I suppose it’s the yowling in particular that brought me to a realization just the other day in regards to the little guy.
I think one of my personal pitfalls of parenting is that I am quick to defend my son and shield him from attacks from any quarter except one. And that quarter is not my wife; not too long ago the little guy inadvertently broke some part of the hinge mechanism of our dishwasher door, so now instead of maintaining a level parallel to the floor and supporting the weight of the lower rack, it droops at an awkwardly inconvenient angle when open. This happened when the little guy put all his weight on the open door, but that only happened because I opened the dishwasher myself and then wandered off distracted by something else, and the little guy innocently stumbled into it and lost his balance and landed on it. My fault, not his, as I pointed out with no hesitation when my wife got a little understandably and justifiably annoyed by the state of the dishwasher. I might also point out that this annoyance surfaced long after the little guy had gone to bed, so it was essentially victimless and harmless, but that’s how little I can bear the thought of anyone directing any rancor whatsoever towards my boy. Except, of course, myself. I constantly urge others to be patient with him and remember he’s only three, yet I find myself regrettably short-fused with him more often than I’m happy to admit.
And one thing that unfailingly sets me off is when the little guy makes both his life and my own more difficult by refusing to talk to me. There are times when he devolves back to babytalk, and there are times when he pretends to be completely nonverbal, trying to get my attention or convey an idea just through wordless whines and grunts. He’s a bright kid with a big vocabulary, and I am someone who more or less thinks that the ability to put ideas into words and communicate them to others is the be-all and end-all of enlightened human existence, so I was thrilled when he started speaking cogently, and utterly baffled whenever he rejects the same.
Or I was baffled, until the other evening when the boy-kino was yowling at the door and I let him out. Of course, I talked to the boy-kino too, as I’m wont to do: “OK, you can go, have fun out there.” Just like how when we get home from work/daycare and the dogs greet us at the door with plaintive little yips and I say, “All right, I’ll feed you guys in a minute, calm yourselves.” And not too dissimilar from the way I talk to the little girl, who makes a fascinating and entertaining variety of not-word vocalizations herself these days, which are likely to elicit a response from me along the lines of “Hey, little one, daddy’s here, I got you. I know you’re looking for something to bite on, let’s find you a teether toy.” When everybody and everycritter in our household is home, there are nine of us, two adults and a child who can talk, one baby and five animals who cannot, and the stream of conversation is seemingly nonstop.
So what occurred to me is just how this must all be perceived by the little guy. He may be the older child, the first-born, but in the hierarchy I just described he’s very much stuck in the middle. He can’t operate as independently as me or my wife (between both his own physical limitations and the rules of the house) and he can’t always express himself as clearly as we do, either. But we expect so much more of him, behavior-wise and communication-wise, than we do of his sister or the pets; they need forbearance and understanding, but he needs to do what he’s told. It must border on dispiriting sometimes, how clearly my wife and I are in charge, and everyone else is allowed to just be totally inarticulate and still get us to do what they want and engage in one-sided conversation with them, but the little guy is constantly getting reminded to say “please” or earning nothing but a sigh and an eyeroll if he lapses into proto-speech (which makes him sound like a squeaky-voiced caveman, more than a baby, but still). I knew that having a baby sibling would likely elicit a certain amount of jealousy and age-inappropriate behavior in the little guy, but I wasn’t prepared for him to go feral. Because I forget sometimes about all the animals, until one of them really cranks up the volume on the woeful meows and is summarily rewarded with his present desire.
So, I don’t think the answer here is to let my getting-closer-to-four-years-old son pretend he’s a baby (or a dog or cat) all the time, but at the same time I’m going to try to stay calm whenever the urge strikes him and maybe even play along a little. There will no doubt be times when he wants something non-obvious and me misinterpreting his “ooh”s and “uh”s will be too frustrating for both of us to bear, but there must also be times where letting him slack off – on a level playing field with his sister and our pets – is probably not just harmless but good for him. I just have to keep reminding myself of that, but it’s not like I don’t have lots of practice with talking to myself already.