The lines in the palms of his little hands are imbedded with dirt and grime. He holds them out to me carefully cupped around this little creature he found in the moist dirt of the freshly plowed fields. The wiggly, brown worm is curled up tightly under the edge of his little captor’s fingers. My son blows his long straw-blonde hair out of his eyes, big blue eyes twinkling with three-year-old delight and wonder.
“He wants to live in my pockets, Mommy!”
Boys. I always dreamed I would have a house full of them. They seemed so carefree, imaginative and easy. Dreamy flashes of scenes from Finding Neverland would stick in my brain. I saw myself building forts and playing sword fights and putting on war-paint, while tickling little golden haired babies dressed in blue denim overalls and Texas Ranger ball caps. But my oldest, Benjamin, turned three this year I wonder sometimes who is this wiry wild-child that took over my baby’s soft little body?
He use to be so quiet and serene. Big eyes wide, blue and gentle. His little voice always so much quieter than his big sister’s and his chubby hands were carefully and cautiously figuring out the world. I hadn’t really thought through what growing out of baby years into boyhood would really mean. He still has golden hair and soft eyes, but his little imagination has began to take flight and those crazy, insane impulses that I didn’t know little boys possessed started to take over. He suddenly wants daddy more than mommy and cares more for his hotwheel cars then eating his full plate of supper. For no reason at all he will race by his baby brother and slap him on the back of the head. He wipes his snot everywhere. He pushes his sister into the wall, grabs her toys and throws them across the room even though she was just sitting minding her own business (which is not always the case). If he doesn’t want to do something he decides falling face down on the ground and not moving is the best course of action. No manner of coaxing and pleading and demanding will move him.
I just stare at him a dozen times a day trying to figure out what is the best way to handle this strange, wild ball of energy and strength. Does he need boundaries or freedom? How far should I let him express his feelings and when should he be taught lessons of self-control? How do I teach self control? Is there even a point at this age? With his sister it’s always been easy, even when she was young, to talk and persuade and help her understand, but he literally doesn’t care. I express my feelings to him, telling him how sad it makes mommy feel when he hurts his siblings or disrespects others, but he just shakes his little blonde head, rolls his blue eyes and bounces out of reach. I realized very early on that gettting angry or agitated or very strict only enhances his craziness. The higher I raise my voice, the more he ignores me. I’ve begun to quiet my voice, react less and accept the reality I will be repeating and repeating and repeating myself to him for a long time. One of my aunts who has ten kids, gave me the best advice recently, “Be prepared to tell your kids the same thing 30,000 before they get it. Don’t get upset, this is just the life of a parent.”
She has had ten kids, so I figure she knows what she is talking about. I realized my expectations for my kids were not appropriate to their age, especially a three year old boy. I think sometimes we want our kids to suddenly be adults that magically understand social etiquette and how to control and express their feelings and what the rules of right and wrong are. (Like any of us adults have all that figured out yet) Little kids are learning and they should be able to make mistakes over and over again. When my son is creating havoc across the dining room floor, I don’t have to be upset by it. I don’t need to be worried by what others think or how it reflects my parenting. I think the biggest question I have to ask myself is “Do I care more about how he obeys rules or whether his heart is safe and he feels loved?” And guess what? A safe and loved kid begins to exhibit good behavior, not out of obligation but out of desire. I’ve watched too many kids who have become adults struggle over the memories and wounds from their childhood and how their were taught to focus on behavior instead of the needs of their hearts. They are having to relearn again and it is painful to watch.
It is incredibly hard though as a parent. I want so desperately to focus on behavior. It is the easy thing to do and it does produce immediate results, but its not future focused and it is not heart focused. I wish someone would have told me as a child “It’s ok to mess up. It’s ok to cry.” I think maybe those words were spoken to me, but it felt like they didn’t mean it because all their actions spoke the opposite.
There are days that are very painful with my son. I can feel my selfishness and need for accomplishment rise in my gut. I want him to look and act a certain way, because then that makes me look and feel good. But I have to be ok with not looking good. In the long run the results will be better, but for now it looks messy and feels uncomfortable.
But at the end of the day when I am tucking Benjamin into his bed with his giraffe and Lightening McQueen blankie and he puckers his little lips and says, “Kiss me, mommy,” my heart lightens a little. Somewhere in that obnoxious little body is a heart that needs affection. And so I curl up beside him, kiss his little lips and tell him what good boy he is. All the worms and dirt and tantrums and boundless energy slowly melt away as his breathing deepens and relaxes into peace. I press my face against his back, inhaling the scent of boyhood and remind myself he won’t be this little forever. These moments are precious and we never get them back.
Natasha Dosa is mama to three. She is from Texas but has recently moved to Norway. Her passions are storytelling, visual media and family. She and her husband currently work with a non-profit that focuses on empowering and training youth.