When I was a senior in high school I had a brother who was the same age as my oldest son is now–four. This brother had the habit of always leaving the dinner table to go poop and about five minutes later we’d all hear “I’m done” ring out from the bathroom. I’d always chuckle as one of my younger siblings trudged down the hall to wipe his butt (I never had to as I was the oldest of four brothers and sisters.)
Now, all these years later, at least once a day and usually on my watch, four-year-old B suddenly announces that he has to poop, often with the warning that “it’s about to shoot out.” I help get his pants down and him up on the pot and then a few minutes later the familiar phrase, “I’m done!” I head back into the bathroom and nose held perform the not so pleasant task of wiping my son’s dirty butt.
Two or three years from now baby G will be potty trained and doing the same thing but by then B will be the one on wiping duty. But no longer will I chuckle as I did some 20 years ago. Now it will be just a sigh of relief that I’m not the one performing that unseemly task.
Sometime this summer I started to call my sons “brother,” especially my three-year-old, then adding “I’m your brother from another mother.” I don’t know why really, it was nothing predetermined, but since then I’ve had plenty of time to think about its significance. I’ve decided that part of the reason I say it is that I want my boys to believe that we are all in this together, that we can only be a successful family if we’re all trying our hardest, but there’s another layer. Rather than just a dad, I do want to be a brother of sorts, a brother in arms, their friend and companion who they feel they can talk to about almost anything–their hopes and dreams, fears and insecurities, and just day-to-day events–in a way that I never could with my own father.
So far Toddler B’s rolling with it but it will need to be more than simple semantics (is that the right word?) as we both grow older. In fact, it will be tricky. I’ll have to walk a fine line between authority figure and compatriot. More than anything, I think it will require a deep understanding of who they are and a real honesty with who I am. Easier said than done, especially the latter, as I’ll have to open myself up in a way I’ve never felt comfortable doing, but I’m willing to put in the work, whether it means subjecting myself to therapy, for instance, or Transcendental Meditation–not sure how that would help, but anything to not repeat the same old patterns.
Or maybe I should just get us some boxing gloves. One night this past week, a co-worker started to talk about his two teenage sons after I mentioned I had two little boys. He said that as early as the age of three he had purchased him and his sons boxing gloves and headgear. When they got older and in an argument he would ask them, “Want to settle this with the gloves?” A couple minutes of pummeling each other and the issue would be resolved, he said. Boxing seems like an unorthodox approach–I’d be surprised to see it in any parenting magazines–but I told the co-worker I could see it being effective. “That would get rid of any passive aggression,” I remarked. Later that night, I mentioned the whole thing to the old lady who recoiled at the idea of me and Toddler B battling it out in the ring.
I’m sure B would love to beat me in the head and body but I’m not sure how much that would solve in the long-term. And I don’t see how a combination of the two would work, a pugilistic Freudian system of some sort? So I think I’ll go with the former, trying to crack the nut that is my skull without the aid of fists. I’ll let you know how it goes.