Posts tagged personalities

Alpha Male vs. Housecat

English: Papio hamadryas, alpha male

Image via Wikipedia

If researchers were to place an alpha male wolf and a housecat in the same cage, what do you suppose they would find? Assuming the cat survives the first 24 hours, the researchers would probably find both animals in a severe state of agitation. The notion of placing two such creatures in a shared living environment is ludicrous, of course, which is why I’m scratching my head as to why God chose our family to conduct this little experiment.

 Today as I walked to school I found myself asking God this question. Why on earth would You have chosen to put Teddy and Sammy in the same family? I’m sure those who know our boys will agree that the animal comparisons are surprisingly accurate: our alpha male is the leader of the pack. A very social animal, this lead wolf is anything but a lone wolf. He feels that he bears the responsibility for justice in the family unit, and will enforce it in whatever way he sees fit. He is dedicated, loyal, and ambitious, although often misguided in his efforts to secure justice for all (primarily himself).

 Our housecat is soft and cuddly, often brushing up against us so that we’ll scratch him behind his ears. This is particularly true in the early mornings when he softly slips out of bed and seeks a warm lap to curl up in. When it comes to a sense of duty though, he is no match for the Wolf. He expends as little effort as possible to net the most advantageous result. A solitary animal, he is content to play by himself. He will hide away, occupying himself with paper fish and pouncing on the sneaky kitten that dares to interrupt his play. Luckily for the kitten, the Alpha Male is always on duty, seeking to mete out justice to the oppressed, with predictable results for all concerned. Scratched egos, ear-piercing screams, and teary faces abound.

 It’s been that type of day, I’m afraid. And yet, just when I was starting to despair of parenthood, I was handed some encouragement on a silver platter. First, Teddy’s piano teacher commented that, although he is a challenge to teach in many ways, he is a respectful student. Respect is one thing Daddy and I can do something about, so I will take that as a compliment and pass it on to Daddy when he and I can finally put our feet up tonight.

 Then his school teacher commented that he is very helpful in the classroom; one of the more cooperative children in the group. Although I’m completely perplexed by this elusive “spirit of cooperation,” I am not surprised by his helpfulness. I know my kid to be one to make himself available when he sees a need. Just today he was telling me that he and a friend had given up their recess in order to clean 40 markers. Apparently Teddy has offered his teacher that he will gladly stay inside with her the next time she’s not on yard duty and help her with whatever needs doing inside. That’s saying a lot for a kid whose favourite subject is recess.

 And finally, as we were walking home we passed two older boys: Justin Bieber and his friend, Justin, if I remember correctly. One of the self-assured young men casually tossed his empty pop can into the creek, even as he was standing not 5 feet from a trash can. Teddy looked from the boys to me, almost as if to say, “Alpha female, did you just witness this grave injustice? Because if I saw what I think I saw, integrity compels me to act now.” To my own shame I confess to hesitating. I imagined the conversation with the Justins to go about as well as a confrontation between me and a pair of raccoons: those cantankerous creatures know that there’s no gumption behind that club I’m pointing at their noses, and it’s mostly because I know I’d get in trouble with the Humane Society if I actually used it.

Teddy doesn’t know about ornery raccoons or the Humane Society. All he knows is that his Mama taught him that metal is not compost and someone, somewhere has to clean up this mess, so with all his 7-year-old bravado he stood up and said, “Why’d you do that?” At which point the boys turned around, surprised, and Teddy’s Mama was shocked out of her silence and gave them the what-fer. Kudos to my young alpha male. As difficult as he is to parent, this kid is going to make a great man.

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An Altered State of Mind

This is your 7-year-old’s brain:


This is your 7-year-old’s brain on drugs:


Ok, maybe not on drugs, but how else would one describe this altered state of mind? As I’ve noted in my previous post, 2012 is the year I try to figure out our 7-year-old. He is a boy who, quite literally, colours outside the lines. I have spent 7 years misunderstanding and being misunderstood, loving passionately and being passionately angry, being amazed at how his mind works and then being utterly perplexed by how his mind works.

 Take the two pieces of art above. Picture #1 was created by the very same child who created picture #2, except that the contexts in which they were created were vastly different. Picture #1 was done in school during art class, while picture #2 was done at Kids’ Club, a fun extracurricular program which includes gym-time and snacks. I’m pretty sure there are other activities, but they are completely irrelevant to our son. If I understand correctly, picture #2 was created after a rip-roaring time in the gym and a snack of gingerbread men, black icing, and 5 M&Ms (to represent the 5 smooth stones that took down Goliath. Look closely at the picture and you may recognize the notorious ogre).

 I used to think that art therapy and the like was a bit hokey, but after seeing this I’ve been converted. If this doesn’t describe the brain of a kid who’s mastered by his boundless energy, then I don’t know what does.

There are basically two types of people in the world: those who need some down-time after running around all day, and those whose energy levels sky-rocket as a result. I don’t need a shrink to tell me which kind of child we’re looking at every morning.

Getting him out of the building after Kid’s Club is the first challenge, because he spends his time running around the place like an excited puppy who can’t believe his owner has returned home. The difference is that our excited puppy doesn’t want to return home, because we have no regulation-sized basketball court in the basement.

Once home, it takes us a full 45 minutes to complete the non-story version of the bedtime routine, a routine that could be completed during a commercial break. Trying to talk him down from this frenzied state is like trying to reason with an agitated wolverine. You can try talking, but you’re probably better off getting out the tranquilizer darts.

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Living on the Wild Side

“Sammy, do you love your little brother?” I asked Sammy after reading a touchy-feely book about a big brother welcoming his little sister into the family.
“Not really,” Sammy answered after a few moments’ thought.

“Would you have been happier with a sister?” I asked, curious.

“No,” he mused. “That would be a She,” he concluded, as though that were explanation enough.

“And you don’t like She’s?” I prodded.

“No.” A three-year-old’s favourite word.

“But you just played with some girls this morning. Wasn’t that fun?”

“No. They’re only fun at their house.”

“You mean when you play with them at their house, or when they play with other girls at their house?” I asked.

“When they play at their house with other girls,” Sammy answered without any hesitation.

When I consider the daughters of my friends, I have to wonder whether our boys’ disinterest in the gentler sex is actually to their benefit. I have an inkling that the mothers of those sweet little princesses would have their reservations about our sons’ most recent imaginative play: pretending to be top carnivores, or worse, scavengers.

Their fascination with the intricacies of the food chain stems from their love of non-fiction books (Teddy just received the “Student of the Month” award for his independent animal research at school) and Sammy’s favourite animal show, “Zaboomafoo.” They are also enamoured with dinosaurs and their classification as herbivores, carnivores, or omnivores. (As it turns out, there are even “insectivores”. Who knew?)

A few weeks ago they were playing with play-dough. I had recently made a big batch of brightly-coloured blue play-dough to inspire our boys to sculpt whatever they could dream up: cinnamon buns, bunnies, eggs, stamps of flowers…the opportunities are endless with play-dough. As it turns out though, I obviously still think like a girl, because what my boys ended up using the big lump of dough for was to represent a big hunk of carrion (a dead animal, for those of you who don’t know) which was being eaten by a plastic hippo and a plastic fish (the two animals they have in their play-dough collection). At one point the fish was “stuck” in the heap of deceased animal flesh, calling out to the hippo to “come and save me! I’m stuck! Start eating right here!” Yum.

One of the most common questions from the boys for a while was, “is _____ meat?” (fill in the blank with an animal name.) Now they will make statements about animals being “meat”. They discuss which animal is meat for which other animal, and even wonder whether we humans are meat. I’m still not sure how to field that one. Grizzlies are of particular concern to them, and they often want to know how far away we live from the bears.

Sammy, who has a particular fascination with animals, role-plays animal personas all the time. When he is alone he is often a peace-loving species, high-lighting the animal’s qualities by describing it as an animal that “is quiet” or “is a good listener.” When Teddy gets home from school though, be prepared for some serious stalking of prey, growling, and pouncing. The two of them set to attacking toy horses or pillows, taking them down with their “sharp claws,” and chasing away the competing carnivore who would threaten to steal their kill. I’ll leave it to your imagination as to which boy secures the most kill and which one is chased away most often.

Some people may consider the boys’ pastime reflective of a morbid fascination with death. I disagree: Oliver and I feel like we’re watching a nature flick in which the young animals learn to hunt and fight at a young age by wrangling with their fellow yearlings. Our gentler Sammy is receiving an education in being more assertive in the face of a very dominant alpha male, which will no doubt stand him in good stead as he begins kindergarten next year. We have seen that boys tend to gravitate towards games that involve hunting or killing, and I confess to preferring this game over the imaginary killing of people using light-sabers or worse. If nothing else, it has certainly reinforced the timeless truth once again that kids will act out what they see, read, and hear!

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Love at First Sight II

As the weather warms up, so does Sammy’s love affair with the worms. Saturday was the first real spring day here in Southern Ontario, and while we spent the day outside gardening, Sammy spent the day tending to his worms. As I dug up a new patch of dirt to plant my onions, Sammy discovered earthworms in abundance, and collected a handful which he proceeded to carry around with him for the morning.

First he found a small one, which was a baby worm, he said. Then he found a fat juicy one, which was obviously the Daddy. He happily reunited the two who had, it seemed, somehow become separated in different patches of earth. Whether they liked it or not, the two worms spent the whole morning getting reacquainted in Sammy’s little hand.

There came the time when he had to go to the bathroom, so he carefully placed the worms back on the soil and covered them with a leaf. He was in and out of the house in a flash, fearing presumably that his little friends would crawl away. Thankfully the worms were right where he had left them and the game continued. (Let’s remember that earthworms aren’t exactly known for speedy getaways. That’s their big downfall; probably the reason why their species has remained where it is on the food chain.)

At one point the neighbour began washing his car with a high-pressure hose attachment. This generated some noise as the water connected with the car’s metal exterior, which simultaneously generated some concern for our little Patron of Worms.

“Mommy, the wormth are getting thcared,” he worried out loud in his endearing lisp. I notified the neighbour (who was amused) and assured our little boy that the neighbour would be done soon.

One comment he made during the course of the morning revealed why he’s so enamoured with worms. As he spoke to his squirming handful in reassuring tones, I overheard him calling them his “gentle friends.” All of a sudden it all made sense. Sammy doesn’t love flighty grasshoppers. He doesn’t love “in-your-face” and energetic dogs. He loves fish. He loves worms. He loves gentle creatures – just like himself.

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Love at First Sight

When was the last time you noticed a displaced earthworm (perhaps on the concrete sidewalk) and felt the need to gently re-locate it? Now that the warmer weather is upon us it happens daily at our house. Yes, the worms have an advocate in the Trefz household, and his name is Sammy.

Sammy has been a friend of worms ever since he made their acquaintance. What’s odd is that, while most of his interests at this stage of his life reflect those of his older brother, his love of worms is all his own. Though Teddy would love to take credit for introducing Sammy to the worms and vice-versa, everybody knows that Teddy will not touch the things and has no interest in them whatsoever. Sammy’s wormoré is a great illustration of that irrepressible nurturing spirit that lives in him.

It all began just after he turned 3 last year. It was the beginning of summer, and time for Daddy to harvest some compost from the bin in the backyard. It’s a painstaking process that involves shoveling the rotted compost into a large sieve that strains out the finished compost from the larger parts that need to break down further. Sammy quickly discovered that earthworms and compost go together like bread and butter, and he couldn’t have been happier. It was like he had discovered a gold mine. Worms were everywhere: in the wheelbarrow, in the sieve, on the compost heap, in the grass…and one by one Sammy took his little friends (actually they were really fat and well-fed) and transported them to the vegetable garden. He remembered that we had told him that the worms are beneficial for the soil, and so the Great Worm Re-location began.

Being a bit of a neat-freak, I must admit to being slightly horrified initially. Seeing your toddler knee-deep in compost playing with fat, juicy, 6-inch-long earthworms is probably a stretch for even the most easy-going of mothers (which I am certainly not), but there was no way I was going to spoil his fun either. This day of playing with earthworms cemented their relationship, and though I had forgotten all about earthworms throughout the winter, Sammy most certainly had not.

Sammy has an earthworm radar. It’s a default setting on his motherboard, and it results in him seeing every worm on the ground, no matter its size, and feeling the need to pick it up and care for it. We had a warm spell during the winter, and didn’t he spot a live worm on a patch of bare ground somewhere. After carrying it around he made sure to deposit it in that same patch of soil, because that was its home. He told anyone who would listen about his most unusual find in the middle of winter.

Now that spring has officially arrived and the snow is gone for good (we hope), Sammy is finding earthworms everywhere. There’s a veritable worm-rush at our house: they’re on bare soil, underneath buckets or stumps, even under the carport after a good rain. He knows the worms don’t belong on concrete, so he will take the time before we head out to school (already in a rush, I might add) to gingerly pick up the worm that’s lying too close to the van’s tires and move it onto soil, where it belongs.

I recently moved a large stump to make room for the boys to swing, and lo and behold, there lay a good-sized earthen friend. Sammy forgot all about swinging as he played with his new pet. That poor worm was placed on the back of Sam’s little tricycle and given a ride, he was placed on a swing and given a push (this worm had already lived more than any of his tunneling brethren, I would think), and was played with until I’m sure he was on the brink of drying out or suffocating from lack of exposure to soil. Finally Sammy knew the worm had to go home, and placed him gently next to a little hole in the ground, willing him to go in. I’m happy to report that the worm survived – at least until the next hungry Robin finds him.

Thankfully Sam has not witnessed the carnage of a Robin-feed. I’m sure the day will come when we have to field that question and attempt to absorb the rush of emotion that is sure to ensue. Oh, the evils from which we have to shield our children.

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For the Love of Brothers

I have recently asked myself the question, “what must have gone through Eve’s mind when she brought Abel home from the…wherever babies were born at the dawn of time?” As the first sibling in the history of the world, it was anyone’s guess as to how this would play out. Eve probably knelt down, took little Cain in her arms, and said with great feeling, “look honey, it’s a baby brother for you! He’ll be your best friend and you’ll play together all the time and maybe, when you’re older, Daddy will build you bunk beds!”

Not having grown up with any siblings (not having “grown up” at all, I suppose) Adam and Eve must have been left scratching their heads more than once about why on earth their two boys just couldn’t get along. When exactly did it dawn on them that there was a problem between their boys? Was it the first time Cain grabbed baby Abel and dragged him around the house by his head? Perhaps it was when Abel was 3 ½ and Cain was 6, and Abel would argue every single point Cain made, insisting that the blue sky was actually red, and a helium balloon floats down, not up. At least there were no relatives who gave the boys non-identical gifts, otherwise Cain and Abel would have been fighting about who got to play with which jeep too.

Some of my readers will think all this conjecture a stretch, no doubt, but look at how that relationship ended. Don’t tell me those boys didn’t have a history before Cain finally did in his younger brother.

After two weeks of Christmas holidays, Oli and I found ourselves desperately wishing for a four-bedroom house where we could sequester the boys at regular intervals.  Our new parenting motto is “divide and conquer.” I highly recommend this motto to anyone who feels like they’re kept busy just trying to put out fires as they erupt between their children. (It’s also very useful when you’re trying to get two of your children to complete a simple task like putting on their pj’s while you’re putting the baby to sleep. The division will decrease the temptation for the children to run around naked in their bedroom, waving their pajamas like a cowboy lassoing a heffer, and shouting and laughing loudly about jokes involving poo, pee, and farts.) Alas, we remain in our three-bedroom home, which brings with it some unique problems beginning at 7:00am and usually ending 13 hours later.

We have been blessed with a bossy and pious 6-year-old parent and a 3 ½ year-old dissenter with the emotional constitution of a stick of butter. Here is the typical 6:45am interchange for these two who, for better or worse, share a bedroom: One of the boys wakes up and cannot stand being awake alone, so he wakes up the other boy. Since it’s still dark and neither one likes the dark (besides, it’s lights-out until 7:00am) they are completely co-dependant until the lights are on. If Teddy has to go pee and heads out the door too quickly, Sammy panics and begins to cry as he quickly runs after him to the bathroom.

Once in the bathroom they begin to discuss, which is dangerous when one of the boys feels compelled to argue every point that his brother makes, and the other has the patience quotient of a Tazmanian Devil. Teddy, who usually begins any conversation, will make a statement like, “Sammy, when we’re done peeing we have to go back into our beds until the clock says 7:00.” At age 3 ½ (at least I attribute this to his age… it’s my only hope) Sammy will inevitably say, “No we don’t,” in that sing-song way that annoys Teddy more than anything else in the world. Instantly furious, Teddy reiterates the validity of his statement by angrily pointing out that, “yes we do, because Mom said so!” Using the broken-record tactic that drives even the most expert debater to the brink of madness, Sam simply re-uses his initial response: “No she didn’t” (imagine the sing-song voice here). In Teddy’s world it’s two strikes and you’re out, and so he comes out swinging at his annoying younger brother, who immediately bursts into heart-wrenching sobs and comes running out of the bathroom blubbering about how Teddy’s angry and he hit him. Go figure. Repeat this interchange with slight variations throughout the day and take away separate rooms, and you might see why I desire a four-bedroom house.

18 months ago we were also entrusted with a highly intelligent, mischievous little boy whose idea of a good time is incessantly bothering his older brother Sam with things like repeatedly touching his arm while we’re driving (yes, that is a grievous sin), or pressing in really closely next to him to get a look at the book Sam’s looking at. When Sam – who, deep down, is really a peaceful little boy – takes his book and moves away, Caleb will wait for only a second or two before following him to press against his side once again. (It doesn’t help the situation that Caleb is really near-sighted and needs to see things up close.) When Sam says, “No Caleb!” our pre-verbal baby can often be heard responding with “ehh!” which Sam correctly interprets as a “yes,” which results in those two phrases being volleyed back and forth between the two.  As Sammy’s ire rises, so too does Caleb’s enjoyment of the interchange. If Sammy has barricaded himself in his room to get some peace and quiet from the onslaught on two fronts, Caleb sets out to find Teddy. Surprisingly, Teddy has much more patience for him, although even Teddy has his limits. It’s just a plain fact that 18-month-old little boys get in the way of a good game of cars, and cannot be tolerated. Their peaceful play usually ends when I hear, “Caleb, NO! Mom, could you come take Caleb please?” So much for dinner preparations.

It was with much delight and surprise, therefore, that Oli and I commented to each other just a few days ago about how peacefully the boys were playing downstairs. By the sounds of it they were playing with their toy kitchen, and were obviously engrossed in their meal preparations, which allowed me to complete mine. Anybody who’s a parent knows that you do not pick that moment to go check on the kids, because that will automatically break the spell, so we stayed upstairs, enjoying the rare moment of peace. After a while, Teddy invited me downstairs to see what they had been cooking. Expecting dinner at their restaurant, I made my way downstairs to see what they had been up to. When I arrived at the bottom of the stairs, Teddy excitedly proclaimed that they were giants, and that the little Playmobile people in the pots and pans were the people they were eating for breakfast. Too much Jack and the Beanstalk, perhaps? The scenario left me essentially speechless, so I turned around and went back upstairs. Pick your battles, right? That night, dinner on the table won.

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