This morning the boys began fighting over a single Lego piece again before school and I nearly lost it.
I made them hand over all of the Legos. I took two large containers and one small one and placed them in a closet. I then informed them that I would be giving the Legos to a two-brother family such as “so and so” or “so and so” or “so and so” except I used their real names.
I chose three families who we know and care for who are also raising two young boys. I implied that these boys play nicely together and don’t fight every single elfin’ day about Legos. I suggested these other boys respect one another’s need for space and the concept of sharing. In fact, these boys are more deserving of the Legos than ours, I said.
Knowing well that these other boys can and probably do fight like brothers do, what I said was more or less a big fat lie but it was necessary.
Instantly huge crocodile tears flooded our living room. They begged me to give them “one more chance” and that they “would be nice now” and “would never fight again”. The older one cried because he truly believed I was about to give their Legos away to his friends. The younger one took up the older one’s song and cried because it seemed like the most appropriate thing to do. I agreed to reconsider giving away their small plastic fucking bricks IF they could manage to attempt to be good as gold for the next two days.
Good. As. Gold.
Is that a clear message?
Sorry for the profanity, but it’s the holiday season.
I do not remember fighting with my sisters like this. The fun-style wrestling, both boys cracking up when suddenly it ends with one or the other poking one’s eye out or squeezing a bit too hard. Their unmitigated physicality and arrant need to touch, spar, and scoot closer and closer until one either laughs or yells or both is often overwhelming (for me) in a confined indoor area. Despite spending hours and hours outdoors at the park, in the swimming pool and on the soccer field, their need for tease and touch is bottomless.
I’m not totally against their need to play rough. That’s not it. Often their father and I chase our boys around and pretend that the loft is a lucha libre ring and they absolutely love it. They like being swung around like monkeys. For heaven’s sake, we had a small trampoline in our living room for months.
Often new bruises are revealed in the bathtub. The littlest bumps into chairs he doesn’t see because he walks around with a blanket over his head and pretends he is a ghost. I remember the first time I sent our oldest into daycare with a bruise. Seriously, it was the first blemish on his baby soft skin. He was around one and standing up in the tub. Slipping before I could catch him, he crashed into the water and bumped his head on the side of the tub. I remember earnestly explaining to the teacher what had happened, half convinced she would call CPS. Instead, she nodded and smiled. She’d seen a lot of bruises in the under-five crowd.
Evidently, our bruised and skinned knees boys aren’t that unique.
The other day I wrote about peace talk and weapon play. Today I consider the way boys play. There is a need for control and a healthy dose of competition in their games. What I want to be sure of is their ability to control the behavior. In taking away something, I’m practicing negative punishment. B.F. Skinner, psychologist, says that negative punishment is most effective when:
- It immediately follows a response
- It is applied consistently
I actually think we’re doing pretty well here. But research shows that positive consequences are more powerful than negative consequences for improving behavior, and we incorporate praise, too, and lots and lots of hugs. My youngest told me tonight before bed that I’m a “kissy mama”. I asked if that was okay and he smacked me on the lips. Love.
After the Lego incident, I dropped the first grader at school and spent the morning with the 3.5 years old. He frequently impersonates a moody, charming adolescent, but he was in good spirits and conceded to good behavior. We had a lovely time as we walked a half mile by the river and checked out the boats as the fog lifted. After a few hours at the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry, we made a quick stop at a local running store where the clerks watched my boy run circles on the indoor track wearing a cute peach woman’s running hat. We left, went home, he refused to nap and an hour later we picked up his big brother.
The evening proceeded more or less normally, with a few barely veiled threats about Christmas, Legos and other incentives. We enjoyed unspicy Thai food and snuggles with the dog. A showing of the classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer made everyone happy. Not long afterward, our sweet, sensitive, smart, demanding, defiant boys fell asleep.
Let there be Peace on Earth, and let it begin with Me.