Friday, May 8, 2009

That's My Boy

Elan had his first swim lesson this week. It's a parent-child class (previously known as mommy-and-me) at the Berkeley Y. I believe he's a minnow, or maybe a goldfish. Something like that. Elan loves the water, and he had a great time at the class. Water + swimming = what's not to love? But the class did bring up an interesting mothering dilemma for me. In a group of 18-36 month-olds, my 29-month-old boy seemed hugely, disproportionately large. Now he is on the tall side for his age, but this was not just physical. He was bigger than the other kids in the class, but he also seemed to take up a lot more psychic space. Some of the kids were a bit timid in the water, all seemed to want to cling to their parent; he was splashing half the water out of the pool and shouting in glee. It was just exuberance - he loved the experience. I found myself wondering whether I should shush him. He wasn't technically disrupting the class; he was just excited. I didn't want to squelch him, but I got the sense from some of the parents that such out-there happiness was not considered fully appropriate either.

It was not the only time this week that I've come home and told Mikhail, "I think I'm that parent now - the one everyone else looks at and thinks that kid's out of control."

I wish it had all been out-of-control joy. Today at a 3-year-old's birthday party, he got into it with the birthday girl so many times that we had to go for a walk around the block to calm nerves (his, and mine) within the first ten minutes we were there. Later, it seemed best just to physically separate those two, because anytime they got within striking distance of each other, someone ended up splayed on the ground sobbing. We came home both covered in bubble solution, snot, and dirt.

To me this all seems so boy. It's like a foreign land for me, a girly-girl who loved to read and play (quiet!) make-believe games. All this love of sticks and hitting things and wild rambunctious, sometimes aggressive energy was what I thought of when, pregnant, I worried about how I would parent a boy. Not that girls can't be aggressive. But at this age, they do as a rule seem - how to put it? - milder.

It's a delicate balance to instill boundaries without squelching spirit - one I assume that all parents struggle some to find, no matter their child's gender or personality.

And just when he seems so pure boy, Elan and I went to the toy store to pick out his first doll. I don't buy him a lot of new toys, but it seemed the right thing to do with his current love of babies. He didn't really help me pick it out - he was too distracted by the thousands!! of amazing toys!! everywhere!! I was left to face the wall full of pink boxes with only the guidance that he didn't like the soft, stuffed-animal-like dolls. No, he wanted a doll like our little girl neighbor across the street has - realistic, with eyes that open and close, and minuscule fingers and curling toes and eyelashes. So with the help of the saleslady, and quite aware that if he were a girl he would already have a half-dozen dolls, I picked out my son's first doll. A hazel-eyed newborn doll (no hair on its vanilla-scented head) dressed in pink clothes but with a gender-ambiguous cloth body. When I handed him the doll, he immediately held it to his chest and said, "Oh, the baby's so cute." 

"What's the baby's name?" I asked.

"P-C" he answered without hesitation.

I have no idea why he said that name, but Pisi is the Quechua word for "little," so it might just stick. And given the originality his special "doggie," maybe we should make an effort to reinforce some creativity.

We walked down the street to an Indian restaurant, him holding Pisi carefully to his chest. While we waited for our food, he undressed the doll completely, carefully inserted the pacifier into its partially-open mouth, and then had a lot of fun throwing the baby on the restaurant floor and rolling around on top of it. The women working at the restaurant kept looking at me. That mother, I thought, though whether they were amused or horrified I couldn't tell. One said, "not many boys like dolls, do they?" And then I was left to wonder at a whole new set of questions until finally the heavenly-smelling food came and I managed to extricate my crazy-energetic, tantrum-throwing, stick-hitting rambunctious boy who loves babies and dollies from the premises.

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