I finally broke through and learned how to relate to my two male offspring, ages 6 and 4. My empirical research was conducted first and foremost by spending a good 30 minutes sitting quietly, mouth shut, observing their behavior— specifically, the interaction between these two brothers in the “family room laboratory.”
The “eureka” moment came shortly after I put on a “classic” movie for all my children to watch: West Side Story. I had wanted them to “understand” a little more about our culture — namely New York in the fifties and how different cultures of first-generation Americans related to one another. I never really saw the movie as violent per se, at least in comparison to the other “trash” kids watch these days.
However, my boys understood things differently and began imitating the Sharks and the Jets as they sought to re-enact all the brawling that transpired on screen. I watched as they tackled one another playfully — simulating all sorts of martial arts and wrestling techniques, while repeating catchy “one-liners” from the flick’s dialogue.
The only comment I made was:
“Just be careful not to throw your brother into the wall or table corner and remember- you are PLAYING and not REAL fighting.”
“OK Ma’,” they both managed to mumble, panting heavily, tongues hanging out, like two overheated canines.
They went a few rounds, grunting, groaning and bellowing out all sorts of animal-mating-type calls. Then, one got hurt and it was game over. Just like that. Of course, at this point I had to intervene before it came down to “real” blows and bloodshed.
Moments later I see the two at it again– rolling on the floor like two lion cubs frolicking in the savannah.
“Wait.” I thought, weren’t they just about to kill each other a moment ago?”
Then it dawned on me. Precisely, mid-movie, during all their drills and movie takes, it hit me in the head like a BRICK. To truly relate to my sons, I have to modify my approach and regard them as a type of human-puppy mixed breed.
Until I am blue in the face, I can talk, explain, nag, remind, instruct, lecture, demand and philosophize to no avail. But, NONVERBAL communication is what they best relate to t this stage of their development. My four year-old boy is a naïve, sweet, and affectionate child. He is bursting with love and demonstrates his emotions by clinching the object of his affection while simultaneously emitting innocent murmurs of pleasure. The six year-old typically will lunge upon his beloved like a lion on an ambush. Once he makes contact, he rubs his head up and down against his “prey” in silent contentment. This is how he says, “I love you.”
So, in an effort to “bond on their level,” I went savage. I threw myself onto the floor and started to tickle them into submission, while shouting out incomprehensible wrestling-type wails. When we were all drenched with sweat and out of gas, they both looked at me with such admiration and, the older one, mouth gaping wide, exclaimed:
“Mommy, you are so COOL. I didn’t know you could do that!”
“Score!” I thought to myself. Now that I got their attention, maybe I could “slip in” a request to shower, because now they REALLY smell like dogs!
And, guess what? They were more than willing to make Mama happy because now I had “spoken their language.”
(I do hope this stage doesn’t last too long, though because my body takes a long time to “recover” from this type of communication!)