Thursday, January 8, 2015

More cheap thrills

Everybody knows the old saw, and most people have their own apocryphal story or personal anecdote backing it up as truth, about how little boys have an inherent attraction to violence, aggression and danger. Maybe it’s a tiny dude biting a peanut butter sandwich into the shape of a gun, or every stray stick turning into a sword as soon as it’s picked up, or the blink of an eye between chubby little male fingers first laying hold of a miniature car and subsequent efforts to crash said car into something. I trust that I can assume this premise as a given and proceed.

Setting aside the weaponization of foodstuffs and lawn debris, I’m going to focus on the irrepressible daredevil aspect lurking inside most boys in theory, and my boys for sure. I mean, and my little girl, too, who is just as likely to instigate and provoke wolfcub wrestling matches or climb higher on non-approved scaling surfaces than is probably wise as either of her siblings. But I was specifically comparing the bino and the little guy in my mind the other night, for reasons as much to do with their age difference as anything. (So if I seem to be short-changing the little girl in these musings, it can be blamed as much on her being the middle child as her being the only sister to two brothers. She gets a raw deal many ways.)

I went to change the bino’s diaper one evening and there was a little toy cow standing among the wipes and ointments at the end of the changing table. The bino grabbed the cow and soon had it racing around the rails of the table like a stunt car, complete with improbable jumps that would reach an apex and then fall back down again, accompanied by the bino’s oddly delighted cries of “oh nooooooooo!” Which, in and of itself, is fairly cute and hilarious, from the concept of a semi-out-of-control nitro-powered funny cow to the realization that this is what naturally occurs to our 21 month old to do with a farm animal of any kind.

At any rate, I’m probably reading way too much into it but I found myself wondering if maybe, just maybe, the bino is a bit more of a kindred spirit to me than his older siblings. I’m trying to remember what the little guy and little girl were like at that particular developmental stage, but it’s hard when I’m living in the now and cherishing every moment as I am constantly exhorted to do. And in the now, the little guy is sensitive and easily freaked out, the little girl is cautious and distrustful and freaked out at what I deem normal and appropriate levels, and the bino seems essentially un-freak-out-able. I know, I know, at less than two years old there’s a lot of incidental overlap between fearlessness and sheer cluelessness, but still.

Because we live a life of stability and security undreamt of by 99% of humans who ever lived, the scariest things my kids have to deal with on any given day will be the second-act complications of a movie playing on the television. And that is usually where the levels of freaking out I delineated above come to the fore. The little guy sometimes gets so overwhelmed that he has to physically leave the room, calm down, and then come back. The little girl will get a little shaky when the story gets intense, but a parental embrace and a few words of reassurance are usually enough to keep her from totally losing it. The bino has yet to join us for family movie night (technically he is too young for any kind of tv-watching at all, but come on, this is our third time raising a toddler and he’s less than three months away from turning two and his big bro and sis, aka his idols, are allowed to watch tv sometimes so of course he has sat in front of the odd episode of Dora or Doc now and again) but I nevertheless have a strong suspicion that he will be the one who, right off the bat, actually enjoys it when the climax of a narrative makes his heart race, as opposed to merely enduring it, or not, as the case may be.

I think most/all boys like to be daredevils because they don’t really think through the potential undesirable consequences of jumping off high spots. But given the degree of separation in watching a fictional character in similar (or much greater) peril, and the space created to think things through, some boys will find the inherent tension less pleasant than others. My eldest needs constant reminders not to engage in breakneck activities, but can’t stand not knowing specifically how the conflicts of a movie’s storyline are going to resolve. My youngest is also more or less constantly trying out inventive ways to kill or maim himself (or trying out the beginnings, at least, before being interrupted by my wife or myself) but I see a glimmer in him of being amused by the tropes that place a hero’s fate in doubt. And if there’s a screaming, plummeting bovine involved somehow, he’s almost certainly all in for it.

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