My son has no interest in toys actually meant for one-year-olds. Just today, I set out a brand new lego table in our home office, all colorful and shiny with balls that roll and legos that fit together. There were lights and music and a place for square blocks to rush through a tunnel into a holding area below. I whisked him up after nap and set him down into his wonderland of new shiny toddlerness, hoping for five minutes to myself. I should have know better.
The reaction was the same as my husband’s facial expression when we visit Fredericksburg or worse, the mall. The way he sits on the bench outside every store and would rather drive a stake through his heart than look at more dish towels or bracelets bearing the children’s initials or bread mixes at Williams-Sonoma.
“Do you think your folks could use this fish marinade?” I say as I poke my head out the front door.
“I Don’t. Freaking. Care.” He looks like he might be coming down with some sort of migraine. What’s up with his eyes all squinty like that? Is he gritting his teeth?
“You might be right,” I say as I pop back inside. “I’ll get the barbeque sauce instead.”
This is how my son looks at the lego table. It’s not like I handed him a can of peas. It’s a bright shiny table with buttons made for children, for goodness sakes. So far, his interests seem to be focused on tractors, hammers, balls, and electronic devices connected to power sources. The other day, to my surprise, he went directly to an outlet and, with an air of confidence, began peeling off the childproof outlet protectors one by one while looking at me. And then, just to show me he could, he slowly pushed them each back in. He sort-of shrugged and walked away looking for a wooden spoon and something to hit.
My son walks past the lego table like it’s not even there and heads directly for my computer, and with the speed of a special agent begins yanking the cord out of the wall and flipping the switch to the off position on my surge protector. I jumped up to chase him, but he begins sprinting at lightening speed to the printer whereby he starts mashing all the buttons with intense curiosity. What about the legos, for crying out loud? What about the buttons and lights and blocks? He notices me hot on his trail and heads for the shredder, undeterred.
Finally, I sat him down in front of the toy (you’ll darn well like it, boy) while I went back to the computer to check my emails. He pops back up and heads to the desk where he yanked down the pencil holder, found a small blue bead, and stuck it in his mouth. I finally had enough. I set the new table in the middle of what we shall refer to as his “toddler play yard” (it’s really more of a torture device since he just sits in it and screams). “I just want five minutes, buddy,” I said as I lifted him into the play yard, complete with a wall of more buttons and toys and the new table now within easy reach. As if trained in such things, he immediately pushed over his new table, climbed on top of it, balanced himself, and tried to use it as leverage to crawl over the top in sweet escape. Finally, he used brut force to simply push over a precarious seam in the yard’s construction whereby he climbed free and headed directly for a pair of scissors. If I can at least prevent this child from dying as a result of an early-childhood flesh wound, I will consider the sum of our childrearing efforts a success.
So far, my son has a limited vocabulary. He can say “mee-yee-um” for his sister and “ball” and “nana” and “hat” and “up.” But mostly, he just likes to hit things and dive bomb off furniture, perplexed that the laws of physics apply. The other day at a play date, he tackled a perfectly innocent three-year-old who happened to want the same ball. He went for the legs. Really put his weight into it. I’m a little worried that if he has a crush on a girl someday, he might just run into her with his car.
He and my daughter are so very different. She’s a thinker. She is a five-year-old trapped inside a grown-up’s body. Just today, she asked me for the name of a vegetable filled with sugar. “You mean a beet?” I asked, remembering saying something about beets in passing at the grocery store. She nodded. “That’s it. I have little places in my brain where I keep these things. I just forgot to remember this one. I’ll put it in one of those little places.” I almost drove into the curb. Who says such things? My son just grunted and kicked my seat.
But it’s so lovely to have children who are different. They get excited at different things. My daughter sings and dances and colors and reads. She uses words like “version” and “dapper” and “violet.” My son likes to run and explore and sweat and feel. I can see the intensity in his little tiny eyes. I can see the independent spirit. He abhors constraint. Don’t make me use those toddler play yards, I’m telling you. I need room. Freedom. It doesn’t matter if he has on shoes or pants or hits his head or starts to bleed. He’ll just keep going. I think he’ll be our outdoor one. The one who likes to stand in the middle of a mountain stream and hike in the Rockies and feel his shoulders breaking wind like a knife when he runs through the storms. Maybe he’ll be good at fixing cars, knowing when it’s the carburetor or when it’s just the battery. He shall someday be a good protector. Strong. Focused. Intense. He resembles my husband that way.
Someday, the whole family will again head to Fredericksburg. I’ll leave my son sitting outside with his father, both of them making air guns motions to their temples while my daughter and I giggle about candle fragrances and tea bags. I’m not intentionally raising my children to be different. I don’t force my daughter to play with dolls or drag my son outside. But God gave them very diverse hearts. They are filled with opposite instincts. I think it’s my job to just encourage what God has intended, to support them however they feel most free, and not try and manufacture their happiness with preconceived ideals I’ve created.
In this vein, I’m giving the lego table to goodwill. It looks like I’ll be buying a lot more hammers.