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Thursday, June 12, 2014

The B Word

You can I can probably think of some pretty good insulting names that start with the letter B. But in the minds of children, those words don't exist, and even more importantly, their B word is MORE of an insult than the ones adults choose to use.

How could this word exist in their language and view of the world? Where do they hear it and why is it so debilitating? What exactly is this word that brings children age two to eight to tears when they are called it?

Baby.


I remember a few months ago when our oldest son was called "baby" by some of his classmates. He was angry, upset and didn't know how to respond except to start calling them a baby back. His teacher stepped in and got him to calm down and insisted he wasn't a baby at all. Later that day, we discussed the word and what it meant to be an actual baby, and why someone might call you that as something mean. Hank insisted he wasn't acting like a baby when he was called that word, and he vowed to not call others that word because it would make them feel sad, just like he was. Seems like problem solved, right?

Wrong.

This incident happened before he turned four, and as the last child to turn four in his class it was easy to use this word to insult kids who are always comparing and competing against each other. But that's not all, it was so insulting and frustrating to Henrik because as an almost four year old he was striving each day to be bigger, do more, to do things for himself, to grow taller, and to be four. Three year olds have this challenge, they have a pass for the first half of the year, they just turned three, you know. But at their three and a half mark, they are striving for more, and should be; cognitively, mentally and physically the three and a  half year old body starts to change. Four means you aren't a baby. You are no longer a toddler, you probably don't wear diapers or pull-ups full time, you become a pre-schooler, you can start to have more freedom and more responsibility.

But, in this toddler/pre-school world of day care, staying home with mom, play dates and outings, these children are still in a world that heavily revolves around actual babies. Pregnant women surround them. Newborns and older siblings are a common sighting. Their days are filled with comments like, "Look! There's baby Dillon" or "Say hi to baby Amelia" or, "Be careful around the baby". But the problem worsens when you have a youngest child in the family who was refereed to as "Baby Theo" for most of the older child's ability to recall and remember. When that "baby" in the family turns two, the family dynamic changes drastically.

The youngest child has no desire to be the baby any more. They strive to be like their older sibling and their peers. In our case, our baby never wanted to be a baby. He insists that he's three even though he's not quite two and a half. He rides bikes and plays with older kids, and of course, now that he's been potty training heavily for the last month and a half, he doesn't want to wear a pull-up for a nap or an outing. He insists he is big and NOT a baby. He wants undies. Always. Like a big kid.

Just the other day, I was snuggling my boys and having a nice cuddle with them when I said to Theo, "I love you, baby".  "I'M NOT A BABY" he angrily replied. His face turned red, he gritted his teeth and clenched his fists, "I'M A BIG BOY. I WEAR UNDIES AND I POOPED ON THE POTTY!" I quickly realized my mistake. "You're right, Theo. You ARE a big boy. You do some amazing big boy things and I am SO proud of you for using the potty and wearing undies. You are NOT a baby, but you are my baby." I thought I made it clear, but no. He looked at me stunned like, "you just said I wasn't a baby and now you're telling me I am a baby again". Again, I realized my mistake. I took a deep breath and tried again. "A long time ago, you were in my tummy, you were a baby. And once you came out, you started to grow. And grow, and grow, and grow." Both boys started to smile. They were making the connection. "When you guys turned two, you started turning into boys and now, here you are! Big! Doing wonderful things. And when our new baby comes, it will be the baby and you two will be the Big and Biggest Brothers".

They seemed to relax now as they started to talk about all of the things they were going to do for the new baby.  I let out a mental sigh of relief. I couldn't believe how big of a mistake I'd made. I knew that Theo got upset when his brother said that he wasn't big enough to do something like play with little Legos, or stay up instead of take a nap. But I didn't want to be the cause of his anger. And, when I use the word baby, I purely mean it out of love and affection, and probably some nostalgic part of me wants to keep them babies forever. I never mean it like the insult they believe it is.

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