Nat stood in just his white underwear and began to dress. First, he pulled on his tights that were pink because his mother could not find red at Montgomery Ward’s. The four-year-old looked in the mirror, they were snug like the costume was supposed to be. Next were red-striped tube socks he yanked up close to his knees.
He looked at his reflection again, then grabbed a white t-shirt. On the chest, he’d drawn a black oval with four black lines on each side with a magic marker that he’d executed perfectly. Lastly, Nat opened his sock drawer and slipped another pair over each hand and arm and tugged them as far past the elbow as they’d go.
Staring into the vanity atop his dresser, he stepped back with his left leg, his right bent at the knee, and extended both arms with palms upward, pinky and index pointed straight forward. “Fftt, fftt,” he said.
“Nat? Natty?” His mom called from the living room. “Let’s see.”
He stuck his head out and looked right and left before pouncing into the corridor. “Nat,” Carrie started to yell again when her little boy bounded into view. “Fftt, fftt,” he went as he sprayed her with invisible strands. “Wow, you look awesome, buddy,” she said, even though his costume was ridiculous. The kid beamed.
“Here, let me get a picture,” his mom said. Natty dropped down into his Spider-man pose while she clicked away. She tried not to laugh–knew she shouldn’t–but couldn’t resist. Nat stood up straight and furrowed his brow.
As his mother stifled her chuckle he imagined a different scenario. There was a giant web, his mom in the middle of it struggling, in the far right corner was a little boy’s head with blonde bangs on a fat spider body. His mother writhed as he neared, sharpened teeth at the corners of his drooling mouth, a menacing leer. “Who’s laughing now?” the spider said to his prey.
“Nat. Nat?” Carrie asked. “Nat!” The boy broke out of his daydream and looked at his mom. She was still smiling at him. “Come here and give me a hug.” The web crawler slumped his shoulders and skulked over to her open arms. “You are so cute,” she said, as the spider devoured the bug.
My oldest son–at four and a half–walked into the living room this morning and I was momentarily jarred by how tall he looks. “B is getting so big,” I told my wife. “Yeah,” she said, “does that make you sad?” “No,” I replied, which is the truth. I’ve enjoyed watching both of my boys as they advance through life and each new stage has brought new joys to experience with them. “I don’t know how it makes me feel,” I said. B is already so articulate and thoughtful that all I could think about was him a year from now, that much bigger and wiser to our half-baked ways of raising him and the lame explanations we give to his whys, for instance. This time next year I can imagine him really putting me in my place.
“Well, at least you can’t ever say that you didn’t spend enough time with him,” Mama said, breaking my concentration on my parenting foibles. “That’s true,” I said, and nothing truer has ever been said. For the last four or so years I have been at B’s side, and I’m truly grateful for that chance, grateful to the old lady that she went along with the idea of me staying at home with our son.
In reality, she would have been so much better at this than me. The house would be cleaner, and our children more balanced. Most importantly, B would be less like me, which would be better for him, but not as fun for me. It’s a blast having a miniature version of yourself, who nonetheless is better looking and already better at things that I’ve done for 40 years.
I don’t know where I’m going with this, except to say that although it’s been really trying at times, I wouldn’t trade staying home with my progeny for anything, even if my children someday might wish I had.
This June will mark the third year since my mother suddenly passed away, depriving me not only of my mom but my children a grandmother. She lived locally and loved her some babies–she had five of her own!–so it stood to reason that she would have played a large role in my children’s lives. As a result, her death was a huge blow not only to the living but the yet-to-be.
Into the void stepped Nana, my wife’s mother. Although she lives in Huntington, WV (a five-hour drive from here) she visits almost once a month, and it’s like the clouds part when she comes in the door. My three-year-old B runs to her and for the next three days I might as well not exist to him, and I don’t mind at all. She’s so good with him, so loving and cheerful, and honestly it makes my life so much easier, if just for a little while.
Nana is here right now, and when she arrived last night Baby G just stared at her. He’s still too young to really know who she is but give him a few more months and I’m sure he will be Nana crazy, too. I know I am.
About two weeks ago, baby G decided that he wanted his mother all the time. If she was in the room she had to hold him and if she left the room he started to cry, even if he was in my arms. I’ve never taken it personally when either of my sons have shown a preference for their mother. That’s the way it should be. Every son should be a “mama’s boy” in my opinion (within certain limits of course). Still, I wasn’t completely immune from being so blatantly dropped by my baby. If anything, my competitive urges kicked in (I was being trounced by Mama).
Then on Sunday I got a voice mail that swung things back in my direction. It was from Mama and concerned our three-year-old who she’d just left home to go see a movie with. “B just informed me that I’m not as cool as you are and that he loves you more,” she said. “He loves you 15 and he loves me 7. Bye.” It’s still early in the contest, I know, and even though I’d probably fall behind by Monday (or quite possibly by the end of that day) it was nice to hear. For a few brief moments, I was in the lead.
I saw one of the sweeter–if slightly weird–things I’ve ever seen last night. I was watching TV when I peripherally noticed–or thought I did–Mama chewing her fingernails on the other end of the couch. It’s one of my pet peeves so I turned to tell her to stop when I saw that she had our sleeping baby’s fingers in her mouth. “What are you doing?” I asked incredulously. “I’m trimming G’s fingernails,” she said and kept gnawing.
I was blown away a little–what a selfless act–and it seemed like the kind of thing only a mother would do (I would never think of that). It also seemed primal and wild, perhaps the sort of thing you might see on a nature special, like a mother Chimpanzee picking the bugs off her little baby chimp.
Another five minutes Mama was done and Baby G’s fingernails were safe for use. A good thing–in the past few days he’d scratched not only his own cheek but also mine, as well as my nose. More than that I had a new appreciation for G’s mama, and mine, too, maybe all mothers. They do all these things that never get noticed. This is an exception.
“Three is a conforming age. Three-and-a-half is just the opposite. Refusing to obey is perhaps the key aspect of this turbulent, troubled period in the life of the young child. It sometimes seems to his mother that his main concern is to strengthen his will, and he strengthens this will by going against whatever is demanded of him by that still most important person in his life, his mother.”
This quote is found on page 5 of Your Three Year Old: Friend or Enemy, published in 1976 and written by two old biddies named Frances L. Ilg and Louise Bates Ames. Recommended to me by a friend who is an educator, I have only made it this far and that may be as far as I will, but when I read this paragraph I had to put it down. My first reaction was reassurance that my three-and-a-half year old is just following a recognized pattern. It’s good to know that B is not especially malevolent.
Secondly, if his mother is the most important figure in his life, then he’s in a little trouble because he spends a big chunk of his days with me, his father. Thirdly, this book is dated and obviously composed by people who did not and could not anticipate a wave of fathers who would assume the mother’s place in the home. As a result, have us stay-at-home dads replaced the mother as the seminal figure in the toddler’s life? I don’t think so. Although I’m an authority figure I’m a playmate just as much. Mama is there for emotional support and as a result receives more of his anger and love (although I still get plenty of both, particularly the former).
So is my three-and-a-half year old my enemy? It can feel that way when B walks over and karate chops me in the groin or yells at me for accidentally knocking over one of his action figures, as he did yesterday. Yet, he’s also my friend, like when he pretended to help me clean out the gutters or when we colored Wolverine and Hawkeye in one of his coloring books (although we argued over what crayons to use). Perhaps it would be more accurate to call him my frenemy.