Years ago I wrote a children’s book called Bossy Bossy Two Socks. It’s a book about a little girl who, with all best intentions, spends all her time telling people what to do until eventually she discovers she has no one left to play with. It was an autobiography of sorts, a love letter to the lessons an only child must learn. I started thinking about Bossy Bossy Two Socks again recently and wishing I’d had it published. A: because “author” is a pretty good answer to “What do you do?” and B: because I’d have the book to read to you right now. BB2S is a book you should be reading and having it would allow me a way into a discussion about appropriate behavior. I wouldn’t even tell you I wrote it. Frankly, I think it would mean less if I did.
You’re in a mode. A pressing every button, testing every established rule mode. You talk back and act up and push your luck and, if I hadn’t seen it before I’d be nervous about what was happening to you. The thing is, I have seen it before. Every year around your birthday something like this happens. Overnight you seem to morph from the boy I raised to some unknown, attitude coping child I’m unsure of. When you turned three you started ignoring me. You’d stare right at me as I told you not to do something and do it anyway. You pushed hard against my authority. You even tried to swat me once while I was plugging you into the carseat. I was freaking out. What happened to my perfectly behaved boy? Who was this ruffian with his embarrassingly willful behavior? I brought all my anxiety to your wonderfully and amazingly zen teacher Tammy. I didn’t know what to do. What had I done wrong? What made you think this behavior was ok? Teacher Tammy, in her infinite wisdom, told me not to worry, that this was a normal phase. You were growing up, testing your boundaries and seeing, now that you were older, if the rules still applied. You were looking to me for guidance. You wanted to know what being three meant and I should see it as good and normal behavior even if it appeared the complete opposite. Another mother who overheard our conversation told me when her son turned three he started spitting, everywhere, including on her. She was so appalled that – for the one and only time – she’d slapped his hand. She said she felt like “Where did my child go? Who is this kid?” and I totally understood. Teacher Tammy told us both to relax and accept our job was to calmly and firmly remind our children of the rules. To let them know they may be older but the expectations remained the same. She reminded us that even though it was a trying period, it was a short one that would be outgrown provided we stayed firm, and two weeks later just as predicted, the testing stopped and the boy I knew returned to me.
When you turned four the behavioral shift arrived in the form of attitude coping. “Mommy, you don’t know.” “Mommy, you got it wrong.” It was eye rolling/teeth gritting/don’t lose it behavior and just when I’d bent down to eye level to “calmly” talk to you more times than I thought I could possibly handle, overnight your sweet disposition came flooding back. Now, you’re five and transitioning again. This time your boundary pushing has arrived resembling what I would call snit fits. If you don’t get what you want, you pout, you badger, you talk my ear off with disappointment and blame and if you’re worked up enough you fall into full fledged, life’s unfair, crying dramatics. I honestly think you’re subconsciously seeing how far you can push me before I lose it. The other day I had to put you in a time out because you became so completely worked up looking at yourself in the mirror. It was as if the more you witnessed your own devastation, the more devastated you became. It would have been hilarious if it hadn’t been so irritating. I understand things can be disappointing and it’s hard when we don’t get our way but life is like that and, if you don’t learn to handle it now, you’ll be more prone to breakdowns later, and there’s nothing worse than a grown man having a hissy.
The other issue five has kindly brought us is bossy, know-it-all behavior. I’m sure it’s partially the product of growing up an only child, though we’ve done our best not to let you run the roost. Your Dad and I make a big effort to encourage you to fall in, to play our game or use your second choice toy. It’s not because we care what placemat we’re using or what Ninjago we get, it’s because we don’t want you going through life expecting everyone to bow to your will. We’ve done you no favors if you think the world revolves around you and reality will be a crushing blow. We’re very sensitive you not grow up with an inflated image of yourself. We don’t want you to fall into a world of righteous entitlement. We want you to feel special. We don’t want you to feel SPECIAL. It’s important you understand everyone’s ideas have merit and just because you have a captive audience at home doesn’t mean the world will always stop to listen to you. Learning to be flexible, to defer to others, to know when to take the lead and when to give it away are important life skills and ones too often lacking in both children and adults.
Up till now, you’ve been great at this kind of behavior. You’ve been a leader without being a dictator and I’ve secretly patted myself on the back for your excellent manners. So now that we’re returning to the post-birthday boundary check, these long established skills have been slipping and we need to reign them in. Recently you were playing at your BFF’s house and from the kitchen I could hear you screaming “No! You don’t do it like that!” “Stop playing until I say it’s time to start!” “NO! Wait for me to say ok!” And, when your friends ignored you and continued playing the way they wanted, you freaked out. “Stop! Stoooop!!!” I came in to find you standing at the side of the room just as livid as can be and I was floored. All your beautiful give and take, “please may I have?”, “that’s ok, I’ll play with it after” had been replaced by an unfamiliar, little tyrant yelling at his exasperated friends. When I asked you why you thought you were in charge you looked at me with irritation and disgust and said, “Because I’m the Director!”. Now, if you’d grown up on sets, or gone to work with your Dad, I might chalk this behavior up to remiss parenting and the need to extricate you from “the business” but you don’t even know what a Director is so the behavior was all you. What you really meant was you were the “Boss” and we needed to address it immediately.
Driving home you explained you were frustrated because no one was playing the game “right” and when you tried to explain the rules no one was listening so you had to scream. I tried to impart parental wisdom by saying that unless a game comes with rules written down on paper, there is no “right” way to play and you have to learn to loosen up on the “rules” because everyone’s ideas were worth the same amount. I tried to explain if you kept telling everyone what to do, yelling that they were wrong and screaming when you didn’t get your way, pretty soon just like Bossy Bossy Two Socks, no one was going to want to play with you. I realize it’s a tough lesson but it’s one you have to understand. At this stage, having friends is infinitely more important than being in charge.
So, the battle continues. I hope the Post-Five adjustment ends sooner rather than later and I get my easy going boy back. Lochlan, I know you can’t stay the same forever. I know you’ll only continue to grow and change and each phase will test me in different ways. I can only hope I’m always able to rise to the challenge. I think children fail when parents get complacent and tired. Keeping up with the rules is exhausting. There are so many times when it would be easier just to say “eff it, I can’t deal with this” and let you do whatever you want, but high expectations require effort from both sides and we keep at it because we want the best for you. We want you to be the best you can be. We don’t want you to be that kid.
Most of all, we don’t want you to be that adult.
At the end of the day I’ll love you no matter what phase you’re in. Let’s just try and keep it an 80/20 split between my boy and that boy. Deal?
I love you always. Even when you’re a twit.