It’s funny, Theo is now the middle child, but perhaps because he is my youngest boy or perhaps because he came into this world three weeks before I expected him, weighing only five and a half pounds, I still think of him as the baby. I think that, to some extent, I always will.
Theodore turned three a little over a week ago. Per his requests we threw him a “dance party” and served a birthday dessert of brownies topped with ice cream, m and m’s, and whipped cream. Despite the party occurring during a three hour downpour, it was a perfect afternoon. It made me so happy to see Theo’s realization that it was his special day; that we will all there to celebrate him. I woke him from his afternoon nap just before the party started; his eyes fluttered open and a smile spread across his face as thoughts of his party danced in his head.
My baby is now obsessed with cars. We walk down the street and he yells “Acura”, “Mitsubishi” and “Toyota” with glee – thrilled when we come across a type of car he’s never seen before. He is particularly fond of Volkswagen Bugs and Hondas. Our neighbors have two Hondas and he stands in front of our bay window and gazes at them longingly. We were walking across a parking lot last week and he started to break away from us shouting “Honda!!!” after a blue Civic. Jeff grabbed him and then turned to me and said, “Well, we know what his last words will be.” I suppose I shouldn’t find the potential demise of my son funny, but I could not stop laughing.
Lately I have been feeling both closer to and more confounded by Theo than ever before; he alternates between delighting me and utterly frustrating me. Nearly every day he asks, hopefully, “bake with Mama?” I am sure that some of that has to do with me letting him lick the beater, and the spoon, and the bowl (what can I say, I’m a pushover when it comes to sampling desserts) but I also think some of it is that he truly enjoys being in the warm kitchen with me laughing over spilled flour; bonding over a bowl of dough.
And every day I spend most of the time while he and Anna are awake together trying to protect her from him. Theodore has had a hard time with the arrival of his baby sister. I don’t know that he has found natural sibling jealousy any more difficult than Thomas did, when Theo himself was born. But the way that Theodore expresses his emotions is much more challenging for me to deal with. Thomas used to ask me if it was ok to “break Theo’s head?” when he was feeling frustrated with Baby Theo, but those questions led me to quickly defuse the moment of jealous passion. I actually can’t recall any instances of Thomas being physically rough with Baby Theo (now on the other hand…). But Theo acts first and asks questions later. True to his typical form, he is incredibly physical with Anna – insisting “Baby want to hold my finger!” while it appears to me he is trying to rip her little index finger off, “teaching” her how to roll over by shoving her across the blanket. He is constantly testing his limits with her; taking a flying leap out of nowhere to land an inch from her head (thankfully he is coordinated and lands where he intends to) or throwing a ball across the room so that it grazes the top of her head. We’ve tried time-outs, time-ins (snuggling with Mama), taking away privileges – but I just don’t think at barely three years old he has developed the impulse control not to act on his urges. Right now I just insert myself between Anna and Theo to provide as much of a physical barrier as possible but I am getting really frustrated because such a position doesn’t allow me interact well with either child. I want to be a mother, not a goalie. I hope that as Annie grows and become more mobile and robust they can work out some of their issues with Theodore’s preferred puppy-like method – roughhousing and then sharing a treat.
Theodore’s physical nature has a positive side to it as well. He is incredibly snuggly and can melt his 27 pound frame against me so that he feels much younger than his three years. Theodore is also a sight to behold when it comes to physical feats. He can execute a perfect forward roll, do a back roll off of a chair, do a bridge, hop on one foot, jump off of surfaces taller than him and land on two feet. And if you ever run into him ask him the difference between an arabesque and an attitude. He’s got style and grace. I washed his feet before bedtime one night last week (we were out late with no time for a bath and the kids needed to go to bed now, but I could not, in good conscience let him sleep with feet that dirty) and I was amazed looking at his feet and legs how beat up they were. His shins were a rainbow of bruises. His feet looked like he never even wore shoes. I wonder what happened to that beautiful baby skin – I can’t recall when it turned from baby into boy.
It was clear early on that Theo and I looked rather alike with our long faces and dark eyes. It was also clear that in some of the fundamentals of his personality he did not take after me. Theo has always been a stellar sleeper, a morning person, an intrepid explorer, comfortable around people. I, on the other hand, am a chronic insomniac, a night owl, risk-averse, and finally felt comfortable in social situations somewhere around age 30. I find myself noticing more subtle aspects of Theo’s personality now and I see myself in him like I never have before. I really sympathize with him when he claps his hands over his ears, scowls, and tells us “too loud”. I understand completely his need to put some sort of spread or dip on his bread and crackers and chips (plain carbs = blah, carbs + dairy = good). And it makes me more than a little happy to walk into a room and find that he has taken out the art supplies or pastry tips or diapers and is anally stacking and lining everything up by size and color.
It is all too easy for us to put people in a box, saying “the adventurous one” or “the artistic one” or “just like Daddy”. I don’t care if my children grow up to be a doctor, a farmer, a stay-at-home parent, or what have you. I do care, deeply, that my children are allowed to be themselves. Kids receive so many messages from their families and society about who they should be and how they should act. I’ve noticed that Theo seems to get more of these messages than Thomas and Anna. His physical behavior is challenging in a school setting or around siblings and friends and he is spends a lot of time being redirected from rough play. It breaks my heart to hear Theo think of himself as “bad” based on really just needing an incredible amount of physical activity. And for some reason people tend to comment often on his middle child status and his resemblance (both personality-wise and physically) to other family members far more than they do for Anna or for Thomas. I’ve been guilty of it too; thinking of him as “my looks with Jeff’s personality”. Thankfully Theo is an independent, charismatic little guy and is more likely to lead than to follow. But I want to make sure that he always knows that he is loved for who he is and I am so happy that I have him as a son.