Last night we attended a party with several other couples. In total, there were thirteen adults, seven kids, and four infants. Like most parties, there was good food, a plethora of drinks, good conversation and plenty of laughter (especially as the night went on). For the most part, the kids played downstairs while the grownups kept things afloat upstairs. I admit that I'm loving this new freedom in parenting-- the fact that Charlie can play independently from us while we enjoy adult company only fifteen steps away.
So last night, as I visited with the ladies, C pushed open the door and made a beeline for me.
"Mommy? The little boy with the Spiderman shirt on was trying to hurt me." His voice was soft and sweet, laced with just the tiniest hint of worry. His blue eyes were huge and his lower lip trembled ever so slightly.
Shit. I sheepishly glanced at Spiderman Shirt's mother and then bent down to talk to Charlie.
"Are you sure honey? What happened?"
"He was smashing things and smashing the floor and the playhouse and then he tried to smash me."
I gave Charlie my usual advice: "If you don't like how someone else is playing, then you need to tell them to stop in a big voice. If they don't, then you need to find another toy to play with and move away from them. If they hurt you, come tell a grown up."
As he headed back downstairs, I asked M to check on the activity in the basement. I suggested he not interveine, but rather, just peek in from the stairs. When M returned, he relayed the same story that Charlie had told moments earlier.
I'm finding myself in this situation more frequently, and unfortunately, it isn't getting any easier to deal with. It seems that the majority of parents I know, who have three and four year old boys, describe their boys with words such as "wild, crazy, go-go-go, into everything, loud, rambunctious, rowdy, and noisy". And while it's certainly true that C can be all of the above, he's much more a thoughtful, careful, rule-follower.
He loves to run and jump and crash and yell (especially in the company of his best friends), but for the most part, if we set a rule or an expectation, he follows it. And if he does break the rule, he tells us right away. ("Mommy? Guess what I sneaked from the pantry?" "Mommy, I'm playing with your sunglasses but I'm being very careful.") He has rarely intentionally done something we just asked him not to do (although he does feign hearing loss extraordinarily well). So when we set the expectation of how to treat others, he tends to follow accordingly.
While I'm proud of this, I know it's nothing that his father or I really instilled in him-- it's just his personality. He's always been a bit cautious, a bit more apprehensive about taking the bait. He's observant and thoughtful about the way the world works. He's not the type of kid to push or hit or shove another person. And yet, when it happens to him, this deep mama-bear instinct wants him to do exactly that.
When Mason asked Charlie, "If someone hits you, would you hit them back?" C's answer was, "Noooo! I would never want to hurt someone." And while I wish I knew more kids who felt this way, I also wish C had a little more initiative to protect himself. I don't want him to be treated poorly by others or not be able to defend himself. I don't want him to follow others without thinking, or feel that he always has to give in to what others want. And I don't want to be "that mom", who's kid tattles on the others without solving his own problems. So where's the balance? How do we gently guide our children, teaching them to share and solve conflicts, without always jumping in and doing it for them? How do we walk that line of "I'll help you this time v. You need to figure this out on your own, kiddo"?
As Spiderman Shirt's mother and I chatted, I mentioned this concern. She seemed to understand, but laughed about the fact that her son is just plain ol' trouble. Sometimes, I think it would be easier to admit that fact-- and definitely much more socially acceptable. But for me, I often want to chuckle, "Yeah, I have such a rule-follower. And if he said your kid hit/ kicked/ pushed him, then I bet it's true. Not because my kid is better than yours, not because my kid isn't capable of lying to me, not because I have big ol' mama blinders on, but simply because my kid is a truth-telling, rule-follower. And being the mama of a cautious one is just as hard on me as being the mama of a crazy one is on you."
Of course, I kept the thought to myself and Spiderman Shirt's mama gave the little Spidey a short lecture on hitting and sharing and things of that nature. The boys ended up playing well together, right up 'till the clock struck bedtime. And as we loaded up our van and scooped up our tired little three year old, I thought about the evening. I know we'll face countless situations that will be similar, and I know I'll probably never loose the mama-bear pain that comes with knowing her kid was bothered-- no matter how small the offense. But I hope we manage to teach Charlie how to stand up without pushing others over, how to be assertive without being controlling, how to lead when following is so much easier. And ultimately, I hope he stays faithful to that personality so deeply rooted within him-- the one that really cares for others, thinks and considers and ponders, has an inkling for what's right and what's wrong, and really feels with all his heart.