Thursday, March 22, 2012

What’s mine is mine

With the little girl standing, however unsteadily, on the cusp of toddlerhood, my wife has been steadily introducing new playthings into our house’s sprawling toy-ecosystem. Or, I should say, she has been re-introducing the specimens, as almost all of them are toys which we’ve had for a while and held onto even as the little guy outgrew them. Our daughter is beginning to move beyond the simple teething rings and other sensory objects, and while she’s not quite ready for fiddly little things which are choking hazards (or large and overly complex things which are simply piles of interconnected choking hazards) it nevertheless seems like a watershed moment when her talismans of distraction move from “only fascinating to a baby” to “yeah, I can kinda see what’s fun about that”.

The main problem, of course, is that if I can see what’s fun about a toy, then so can her brother, which is especially fraught with peril when combined with the fact that all of these toddler toys at one time or another belonged to him (for some value of “belong” within the context of our familial anarcho-syndicalist commune). And a certain amount of sibling rivalry factors into the equation as well. If I were simply to drop the primary-colored plastic vacuum cleaner that sings the A-B-C’s in the little guy’s room, in the midst of his Legos and Cars and whatnot, I’m reasonably certain the vacuum would be utterly ignored. But if his sister is half-crawling, half-hoovering around, he will drop whatever fire engine or locomotive happens to be in hand and claim the stout little pseudo-appliance for himself. To say nothing of the fury set off in his brain when his mother is actively showing his sister something like a shape-sorting bucket, and praising the little girl when she gets a block through the right slot, and he becomes not only jealous of an old toy made new by the passage of time, but of the parental attention it invites. And in the little guy’s mind, yanking one of those toys away from his sister is perfectly legitimate behavior, because they’re his toys and he’s entitled to have at them whenever he wants. We’ve been … working on that. But we’re still working on sharing and taking turns in general, so this facet in particular will likely take significantly more practice.

All of which kind of begs the question of what we’re going to do when the little girl’s birthday – her first – arrives, and she is buried ‘neath a pile of gifts and there are none to be had for the little guy – also a first, since the only remotely similar experience was her first Christmas, which is much more equitable in terms of present-opening. I’m hoping that by strategically inviting a few people to the party who have children who are friends with the little guy (or near his age, which at this point is essentially the same thing) he will have enough fun to not care about the loot disparity between all the loot for her and none for him. The other obvious approach would be to just go ahead and get him some kind of present of his own to soften the blow; we certainly weren’t averse to that when the little girl was born and the little guy got a trio of new Cars when he came to the hospital to meet his new sister.

Letting the good times roll
But at the same time I feel like maybe we are edging our way into the danger zone there a little bit. All this time I’ve been self-deprecatingly lamenting the various ways we bribe our son into acceptable modes of behavior and whatnot, it’s been an exercise in remaining mindful of what we’re doing, how it’s working and what the unintended consequences may happen to be. I want children who internalize the family rules with a minimum of frustrating the bejeezus out of their mother and me, but I don’t want spoiled brats or entitled monsters who are exceptionally good at following the letter of the law. And I think there’s a middle ground to be found between those two, if I’m vigilant, but that vigilance is pretty dang crucial. The other day the little guy opened a conversation with me about Chuck the Truck, who is yet another anthropomorphic vehicular toy, or line of toys, who along with a few friends in the same line constitutes a relatively small minority of the over anthropomorphic vehicle demographic in the little guy’s playroom. In fact this conversation was accompanied by a visual aid in the form of a Chuck the Truck sticker book which the little guy was using to illustrate exactly which of Chuck’s friends he does not currently own, but expects to acquire in the near future. The fact that he already has a few of these characters and wants to have them all didn’t really faze me; having bred and/or cultivated a little completist collector is about as unsurprising as developments in my life might get. But it was a little alarming to pick up on the note of inevitability in his delivery. He wasn’t asking for the toys, he wasn’t telling me he wanted them, he was just asserting that he was going to get them. And I’m sure if I had pressed him on it he would admit that he also assumed he was going to get more Cars and more Thomas trains and more and more and more. Simplistic outlook of a child, or warning sign of what’s to come? I’m not about to drastically overhaul things, but it does make me want to fine-tune my vigilance a bit.

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