It has occurred to me that I am the parameter by which my little puppy boy will begin to understand and navigate his world. Lately the boy is all shrieks and smiles and crashing toys together to make as much noise as possible, and I must admit that I delight in this already rough-and-tumble behavior of his. I myself enjoy being loud and shrieking with glee when the moment takes me, which is often (boy mom indeed). And the boy’s getting fairly grabby as well, which means, now that those newborn nails have hardened into baby talons, mama’s face and neck serve as scratching posts and her hair is rope tethered for his climbing convenience. Hilariously painful, these new developments, and fun, especially when I consider that just a few weeks ago the puppy and I were both too tired for much play. But, as I set the boundaries for the kind of play that is appropriate, I find myself often reminding the boy that it is important for him to be gentle.
I went to lunch with a friend whose daughter is about the same age as, and comically smaller than, my son. I held my boy as she held her girl, and the babies flailed, clamoring to reach one another. It was the puppy boy who succeeded first, grabbing a fistful of pink legging while narrowly missing fleshy lower leg. Be gentle, I reminded, calmly laying my hand on Bubba’s until it relaxed. I splayed his little fingers out, chiding myself for those ever untrimmed nails. The boy shrieked, and I laughed, and my friend’s eyes went wide. Oh my goodness, she said, he’s so wild and cute. I hugged that chubby kiddo and kissed the wispy hairs on his baby head, and he lunged forward and grabbed baby girl’s shirt and thrust it into his drooly mouth. Oops, be gentle, my friend said, and she grabbed Bubba boy’s little hand and held it softly until it relaxed. In that instant fierce and unexpected rage radiated from my core to the tips of my fingers, and my palms began to sweat, and I had to avert my eyes. I’m sure my cheeks blushed as I took my boy’s hand from my friend. Not longer after that, I fabricated an excuse to leave our lunch date.
Y’all, I was deeply offended. I was deeply defensive. I was so thoroughly hurt that anyone could ever regard my boy’s behavior as anything but perfect and sweet and funny. Bubba is a baby! Of course he’s going to grab stuff and pull stuff and chew stuff! It’s cute! Bubba doesn’t have much control over his limbs yet! Of course he’s going to be anything but gentle! It is not my friend’s job to correct my son’s behavior by putting her grubby, judgmental paws all over my child. As if her daughter didn’t want to grab Bubba! My son just happens to be bigger and stronger and faster than her diminutive girl, and better than her too! Come here my sweet, cherub boy, mama will hug you and make you feel better…
Bubba doesn’t feel bad. Baby boy doesn’t yet have the ability to understand that his behavior was being corrected, that it needed to be corrected, that the adults in the room were trying to protect the babies in the room (from themselves as well as from each other). And Bubba certainly is not capable of internalizing any behavioral corrections that any adults offer as examples of his inherent goodness or badness, comparatively better or worse than any other 6 month old’s behavior.
If I am hoping to teach Bubba to be gentle, that lunch date was a big, fat fail. I did not think very gentle thoughts. I did not use very gentle language. In fact, I disengaged from any interaction at all as soon as I could find an excuse to do so. My behavior was much worse than the puppy boy’s rough-and-tumble play, and I am an adult. I took offense to my friend correcting my child’s hand thrashing, when the simple fact is, it would have been painful for baby girl if the puppy boy had gotten a fistful of her cheeks rather than her clothes, which was something both the adults present were trying to avoid.
I don’t like people correcting me, it feels to me like judgment. Apparently, someone correcting my child feels much the same. Since Bubba is a tiny baby whose mind will need molding as he grows to adulthood, his behavior will need to be corrected, a lot. Which means I need to rip open my mind and heart and soul to figure out what work I need to do on myself to correct my own mindset. I’d like to become a person who accepts and appreciates constructive criticism and who knows the difference between healthy redirection and petty judgment (and, perhaps more importantly, a person who refrains from passing petty judgment on others). I am hoping to model behavior that I would be proud to see baby boy emulating; I’m hoping to be gentle. This boy mom thing is no easy task.