Tuesday, May 18, 2010
I would like to first apologize to all of the unsuspecting toddlers and their parents who have been traumatized by my son. Whereas it is difficult to explain his behavior above the screams of your child, I want you to know that in no way is my child a bully. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. And you can blame me if it makes you feel better. You see -- it’s my fault he pulls hair, dog piles, and head butts. And as you may not be fully aware, I am going to drop some science on you: most babies do not know how to show affection and love in a gentle manner. I can see from the way Lyle mauls other babies that he is trying to imitate my affections toward him, but that’s very hard to explain to a parent whose wailing child is missing a pigtail.
This is where one-year old Lyle gets it: At night when he can’t sleep, I stroke his hair. He loves it. It settles him down almost immediately, and he makes cooing noises to show his happiness. After a minute his breathing slows, and he drifts off. When he needs reassurance, nothing does it like a scratch on the head and a ruffle of the hair. On the days when he has way too much energy and is tearing around the apartment, I get down on the floor with him, curl up around him and growl and nibble on his ear, which sends him into hysterical giggles. Now no matter what I am doing, if I get on my hands and knees, he comes running in hopes of a doggie pile. And as for head butts, well, those are as close to kisses as he can get. My husband and I have had black eyes, fat lips and one bloody nose as a result of his ersatz smooches.
It makes sense that the child thinks that grabbing another kid’s hair will give pleasure, and that doggie piles are fun, and a firm kiss says, “I like you.” The poor guy thinks he’s doing everyone a favor, and the mayhem that ensues does not parallel his intentions. Last week at music class he stood up and walked over to another girl and grabbed her head with his sticky hands and gave her a “kiss” from behind. Then he collected a handful of hair and tried to remove her sparkly butterfly ponytail holder. Her mother immediately began yelling, but before either one of us could make it to the love birds, the little girl turned around and shoved Lyle as hard as she could, and he went reeling over backwards. The little girl returned to her play, but Lyle lay there on the ground wailing. Dejected. Unloved. Unrequited.
I picked him up and stroked his hair. I kissed him. And I explained to the mom that Lyle just wanted to play. She muttered something about football and bullies, collected her daughter, and left. Needless to say I was completely sad and embarrassed about it. I don’t want my son mauling people, but I don’t want him to lose his enthusiasm for affection, either. I am thinking carefully of how to handle it.
One mother in our music class suggested I google how to handle the situation. That made me laugh. It was a good idea, but part of the fun of parenting is figuring out how to navigate these situations in a good way. In a sensitive way. In a way that is right for my child and for the people around him. I don’t want to be a textbook mother. I want to be an intuitive mother.
So these days I am sitting on the floor a lot, waiting for Lyle’s next declaration of love for his brother. When I hear him give his three shocks of laughter, see him flapping his arms, and doing his drunken speed walk toward his brother’s unsuspecting head, I get there first, and I take Lyle’s hand, open it, and stroke Wyatt’s head and say, “Gentle, gentle, gentle.” I’ll be honest. Lyle doesn’t know what the hell I’m doing. He doesn’t get gentle any more than a Labrador retriever puppy does during his play. But it spares his brother, and it’s better than yelling “no, no, no!”
I don’t want to isolate him from other children. I’ll have to do some talking to their parents. Maybe I can find other parents whose children have big love and who don’t get upset over a few hair pulls, dog piles and head butts. And we’ll just wait this out. Because love is one of those things that is as strong as it is fragile, and I don’t want to teach my son that affection is wrong. I just want to teach him that it should be gentle and kind whenever possible, because too often in life it isn’t.