Friday, March 23, 2007

The Baton Wielding Beauty

I love the absurd arguments that children get into. Well, I guess I don't always love the absurd arguments that my particular kids get into at the time that they get into them, but I definitely can appreciate the humor later. In our house, since Henry has recently been speaking much more clearly, the arguments have taken on new sophistication. Only three months ago, the verbal banter went something like this:

Henry: Gabba Gooboo!
Luke: No Gabba Gooboo!
Henry: Gabba Gooboo!
Luke: No Gabba Gooboo! (scuffling ensues, stage left)

But now since Henry is speaking so much more eloquently, and since he is recently becoming very, very opinionated, the arguments have taken on new depth, revealing much more character motivation.

Luke: I will be Schuyler "Sky" Tate, S.P.D. Blue Power Ranger, and you will be Sydney "Syd" Drew, S.P.D. Pink Ranger, the baton wielding beauty!
Henry: I Jack (translation, "I will be Jack Landors, S.P.D. Red Ranger.")
Luke: Baton wielding beauty!
Henry: Jack!
Luke: Baton wielding beauty!
Henry: Jack!

Luke always wants Henry to have the worst of things, and I'm not sure why. Even though Luke didn't want to "be" Jack himself, he didn't want Henry to occupy this imaginary position, since Luke himself likes red and Jack is the red Power Ranger. Henry must be the least desirable character, who is the pink, female, "baton wielding beauty."

This is a little game that Luke plays regularly, in fact, this game of deciding who he is and who Henry will be. In a recent reading of a Bob the Builder book (and no, adds that insecure angel on my shoulder, we don't only own television tie-in books) Luke decided on each page who he would be (always the truck) and who Henry would be (always one of the accessories). On one page Luke was the truck named Muck, hauling away Henry, a chopped up log.

Maybe it isn't that Henry must have the worst of things, but that Luke wants to establish that they are different. I feel like Luke has never actually recovered from Henry's birth. Being yanked from his position as the center of the universe, Luke is still fighting to establish his new identity. Many children cling to the "big brother" or "big sister" role, but this was never very appealing to Luke.

I think Luke often feels like he is witness to a great love affair between Henry and the world. Henry flirts, embraces everyone and everything with gusto and glee. This is not Luke's standard mode of operation. So Luke looks on as our front desk clerks say, "Hi Henry! You just make my day, Mr. Smiley!" These desk clerks have long given up on Luke, who, for a whole year, said "GO AWAY!" when they tried to talk to him.

Luke looks on as Henry chats on the phone with Grandma and Grandpa; Luke himself isn't much of a phone conversationalist. Luke looks on as Henry works the camera. And all this looking is with a mixture of humor, jealousy, and discomfort

Luke isn't Henry. I'm okay with that, and I think Luke is working on being okay with that, too.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Boys of Baraka

A few weeks ago I watched the first half of a PBS documentary called The Boys of Baraka. This was an amazing movie in many ways, and I'm excited to see the other documentary made by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, Jesus Camp. But really, I digress, because this isn't about the film, but about me and my children. Film used to be an academic interest and hobby of mine; now my main hobby is obsessing about my children.

So this movie was all about these boys from a "bad" neighborhood in D.C. who go to the Baraka School in Africa. It is a school designed for inner city boys who are having a hard time academically and socially, and the school's focus is on nature, teamwork, and just letting these 11-13 year old boys be boys.

What struck me so much was how the physicality of these boys manifested itself in these two different environments. In their D.C. 'hood, most of them were physically aggressive at times, and, while this sort of physical aggression did happen at the Baraka School, it was much more unusual. Instead, the body language of these boys changed from defiant, challenging and aggressive to boisterous and curious. At the Baraka School, they danced, they chased lizards, they were very active and often wild, they were silly and creative and wonderful.

I think of my own boys, and how they change when they are in nature and surrounded by hard physical work and challenges. Of course, I haven't seen this in Henry so much yet, since he is so little, but Luke is a child who cannot walk three city blocks but can climb a mountain. He will dig and haul 25 buckets of dirt when given the opportunity. He has raked a whole lawn. Last spring when we went camping, he was a delight.

Even in the best of situations they are full of energy, often bursting at the seams with it. What was so wonderful to see in the movie was how the boys of Baraka were not expected to stop jostling each other and wiggling around and dancing and yelling. This was expected of them, being boys.

And while I could get bogged down in nature vs. nurture and justifying all of my statements about boys--and who really knows why my boys are as active and loud and obsessed with trucks and superheroes as they are--what I really know is that my boys need nature, and space, and places to be loud and rough and active.

I don't know where we will wind up living in the long run, or where or how my boys will be educated, but I know that I want to be somewhere that my boys don't need to pick a fight in order to be as active and loud as they want to be. I hope we can be in a place where they can chase bugs (and probably dismantle them) and build forts and run and yell at the top of their lungs with, not defiance, but joy.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Oedipal, Only More So

This morning Luke wanted to play Spiderman, as he does most mornings. Usually I am Aunt May who is just discovering Spiderman in Peter's room. This morning, Luke wanted to change it up. He decided that he would, as usual, be our hero Spiderman, Henry would be Doctor Octopus (otherwise known as "Doc Oc"), and I would be Mary Jane.

"You are falling in love with Doc Oc and you want to marry him, okay?" Luke commanded. "And then I convince you to marry me instead, okay?"

"Well, okay," I agreed, not quite feeling comfortable with this break-engagement-to-one-son-to-marry-another scenario, but too tired to argue.

"Okay, now tell Doc Oc you love him!" instructed Luke.

"Doc Oc, I love you," I dutifully told Henry.

At this point, Henry decided it was a good time to nurse and, being nearly two years old, he helped himself.

"Now tell him you want to marry him!" yelled Luke, escalating in his enthusiasm.

Feeling uncomfortable, I told my nursing son Henry that I wanted to marry him.

"You can't do that!" Spiderman-Luke informed me. "He does bad things!"