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.”
“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.”
“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!