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Bad Boy! Bad Boy!

My second son’s third kid, three-and-a-half months old, was soon to be christened. Although we couldn’t make it to the baptisms of the older two, we decided we’d trek up to New York for this one. Also, it was the same week as Halloween, so it promised to be a fun time. Because it’s a nine-to-ten-hour trek if traffic is unimpeded and the George Washington Bridge hasn’t had any wrecks on it, we make it there from North Carolina only a few times a year, at best. Our interactions with our almost four-year-old granddaughter and our two-year-old grandson are infrequent and limited. This week would be the longest amount of time we’ve spent with them at their home.

Our grandchildren have more toys than I remember F•A•O Schwarz having when I was young. More festivities, activities, and playdates appear on their social calendars than on ours. The family follows a schedule where two of the kids attend pre-school while a nanny remains home with the baby who has scheduled strolling excursions. My son and his wife have demanding careers, keeping them busy every moment of the day they’re not occupied with kids.

Soon after we arrived, my son warned me his toddler son, also named Henry, has a foot fetish.

“A what?” I asked.

“He likes to bite your toes. If he sees you in socks or without socks, he’ll pretend he’s going to kiss your foot, and then he bites your toes. Hard.”

“Good to know,” I told my son.

“We really have to watch him around the baby! By the way, he also pulls hair.”

“Anything else?”

“He hits.”

“Papa and I will protect our feet, heads, and body parts.”

“He hurls toys.”

“I know where he gets that from! You once hurled a Brio train track at the globe on the rotating Hunter fan and although you were only two, it was a perfect shot. It burst, raining white shards of glass down on me and your brother.”

Henry laughed.

“I spanked you, but your dad was impressed with your throwing arm,” I added.

“We don’t spank,” my son replied.

“Time out?” I asked. “That never worked for me.”

“FYI, we have a pre-school conference tomorrow with his teacher to find out how he’s doing.”

“A conference for a two-year-old? Wow. Things have changed since I had you four kids. Of course, I was a stay-at-home mom, and you were raised by the TV. So, if you didn’t turn out right, I say, ‘Dang you, Mr. Rogers!’”

“That’s right, Ama. Things change,” my son said, using my grandma appellation.

The next day we spent with a well-behaved, cooing baby, alternating holding him, feeding him, and watching him. When my son returned from the preschool conference before he ducked into his study to work remotely, I inquired about the meeting with Henry T.’s teacher.

“Well,” my son said and grimaced. “We learned a new strategy. We are supposed to tell him that an invisible bubble is around each person and that he must learn not to invade another kid’s bubble. He’s not to reach in and pop that invisible bubble – to pull hair, slap, or bite.”

“Oh my! Can’t you just tell him: ‘No?’” I asked knowing I was breaking my number one rule of grandparenting – not to give any unsolicited advice, ever.

My son shook his head.

So, I asked, “Anything else? Did she tell you how smart your boy is? How articulate? How good he is at puzzles that require spatial intelligence? How far he can throw a ball? Or fork? How funny he is? How good-natured he is? Or how easily he can be consoled if he hurts himself?”

My son shook his head no. “She stared at us both hard,” Henry said. “Then, she glared directly at me and asked, ‘Who’s told Henry he’s a bad boy?’”

I blurted out, “What?”

“The teacher went on to say that Henry prances around class telling everyone he is a bad boy and when he hits another kid and she – the teacher – asks him why, he points to his chest proudly and says, ‘I’m a BAD boy! I’m a bad, BAD boy!’”

I laughed. “Yeah, he told me that too when I asked him why he tried to bite my foot. He really emphasizes the word BAD.” I recalled how self-satisfied my two-year-old grandson looked when he told me he was a bad, bad boy, like it was a badge of honor. I’d said to him that he was a big boy, not a bad boy. And he corrected me sternly and looked very cross with me as he announced, “Bad! I’m a BAD boy.”

“So, Son, what did you tell the teacher?” I asked my grown kid.

“I told her the truth! His four-year-old sister tells him he is a BAD boy all the time – after he bites her, pulls her hair, and hits her in the face. She tells him emphatically he is a bad boy.”

I had to laugh.

That week I watched the two older ones play and most of the time they were compatible and happily played together, but sometimes his sister would snatch his truck from his hand which he was playing with. She’d not give it back, even when he begged her for his toy. Then he’d grab Georgia’s curly hair ensnaring her in a vise-like grip and whack her with the other hand. She’d cry to her dad or mom about what Henry T. had done, and they’d lecture her two-year-old brother about hitting and hair-pulling. When Henry T. got scolded, little Georgia seemed pleased.

After witnessing this behavior over a few days, I took my little granddaughter to the side and said, “Honey, Henry’s only two. He’s not four like you. He doesn’t understand when you take his toy from him to play with. If you don’t want him to get mad and pull your hair or hit you, don’t take his toy. O.K.? You understand me, Sweetheart?”

Georgia looked up sweetly and innocently at me and then she explained with conviction, “But, Ama, don’t you know Sharing is Caring.”

The things they learn at pre-school!


  1. That’s great!! I can’t wait to share it with others! Parenting has changed and as grandparents it’s often a narrow road we travel! Thanks for sharing a good story!

  2. the path of child psychology has sure taken a detour from the course of past generations, hasn’t it?!
    that may explain the direction this world is headed toward.
    hope we’re all around to see how it turns out.

  3. Funny to think a grown-up can outwit a 4 year old! Good story. Coming from the old, old, school, i wonder how the adult child will tell her childhood stories. And toys! My granddaughter, too! It was impossible to step into her room without stepping on a toy or one of her gazillion dolls!

  4. Another great story from Ama Hoffman! Love her wit and wisdom and admire her willingness to remain relevant in her children and grandchildren’s lives by driving hours on end only to have her toes bitten.

  5. AMA, I absolutely loved your story! Obviously, Henry T took his older sisters words to heart and transferred them to be excuse for hurting others! Again, he’s only two and the third child wanting attention good or bad! Glad you took Georgia aside and gently spoke to her! Henry T sounds like a character full of imagination and energy! My grand children are almost all teens now and they’ve all turned out great and yours will too! This story was a hoot!

  6. Thank you for this tale of adventures in grandparenting!
    Looking forward to tales of Henry as he grows!

  7. Very funny! It is interesting how much parenting has changed with this next generation. Love the story!

  8. I really enjoyed this story, and others that you have written. I’m old fashioned in the sense that it says in the bible to disipline your children as they grow up. If you love your child. To train your children up right. The little child needs to know that he can’t go around hitting someone in the face, pulling hair or biting, before it gets too out of hand. We have grandchildren that are in another state, too far to visit right now, wished we could see them in person to give them hugs. I’m glad you and your husband are able to go visit them when you can. Great story.

  9. That was so funny and true. Being a grandmother today is like going back to school to learn the new rules. Luckily knowing the kids all made it gives us wisdom to know even bad boy is a phase and especially nice when you can kiss them and go home

  10. Erika, this is comical and delightful. You’ve had so many experiences with children of every age so you’re a pro. Your comments to your son are right on. I’m laughing at the expense of everyone fielding antics from “bad boy.” Thanks for writing.

  11. This is a great story. You made me laugh. It’s entertaining and makes me want to be a better G-Ma to my two grandkids. Thanks for sharing the story.

  12. Ain’t it the truth that it is getting more complicated to raise little ones.

  13. That is so funny I can so see that happening with my grandkids. Good you can love them and leave them!

  14. What a fun story Erika, aka Ama. We as grandparents see things that parents are too busy to notice. So it behooves us to take matters into our own hands!! Ah! just kidding! Not if we want to be invited again. After all, we’ve had our turn as parents and it’s now time to sit back and enjoy history repeating itself!

  15. Love this story. Newlyweds should read it, perhaps it’s an alternative to birth control! Raising kids is certainly trying and in today’s world it seems the kids rule the roost. You guys are wonderful grandparents making the effort several times a year to visit your family. My grandkids are older and thank goodness they visit me. Erika it’s a great read. Thank you.

  16. Kids are so unique, funny and smart. Sharing your grandparenting moments are entertaining. Your stories help us to feel that our families are “normal”. Thank you!

  17. Thank you, once again, for sharing your true life stories in a creative and funny way. You always make me feel like my family is “normal”. I will continue to look forward to grandparenting with the knowledge that apparently raising children continues to change.

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