As an only child, Owen doesn’t have to defend himself much. At daycare he has peers but they’re all so well-kept there that I can’t imagine them fighting. I want Owen to learn to assert himself but there hasn’t been much of an opportunity.
Anyway, at the park yesterday, Owen was sharing the park equipment with a little boy who was probably 5 or 6, Prianchu (misspelled?). Owen is not quite two, and a bit slow of movement. He can climb a ladder, but it takes a while, and he sometimes needs encouragement (or help). Prianchu, being so much older, was showing off how fast he could do everything, hurtling over and around Owen, who wasn’t really bothered by it. But I guess I was nervous that he would knock Owen off balance and make him fall. So I hovered, trying to explain to this kid that Owen was little and that he needed to be gentle. Prianchu then took Owen’s hat off his head and ran off with it. This was actually funny, because poor Owen looked distressed and said “oh, oh, chapeau (whimper whimper).” Admonished by his mother, Prianchu brought the hat back. Then took it again and threw it on the ground. Then brought it back. By this point, Owen recognized that it was a game and he took off his own hat and threw it on the ground (and Prianchu went to collect it from him several times). Finally, his mother and I exchanged glances and smiles.
I did feel initially like his mother wasn’t monitoring her son quite enough. I was trying to quell my judgmental side – because I believe that children should be free to play and fight their own battles – but I hover over my son. I don’t want to be a helicopter parent. I say to myself that he’s still little and that’s why, but it made me nervous to see this boy play so roughly with mine. Prianchu occasionally overstepped his bounds – he tried to carry Owen around the park (much to Owen’s dismay) and tried to push him up the ladder for the slide – and every time I thought he was going too far, his mother would say something to him – so she was paying attention, though physically, she was on a park bench across the park (did I mention she was also pregnant?) But it also occurred to me that the kind of playing that I was interpreting as rough was exactly the kind of play experienced every day by children with siblings. Prianchu was treating Owen like a little brother – a bit roughly, but kindly. He pushed him on the swings and taught him to climb up the slide, and they said a very friendly goodbye.
Then this morning, I had breakfast with a dear friend and her five-year-old son Jakson, who also acted like a big brother. When Owen toddled over to the escalator, Jakson was the first to run over to him and pull him away. He held Owen’s hand on a walk across the mall. Owen emulated Jakson, too. When Jakson coloured a wooden stir stick with markers, Owen copied him. He knew to model his behavour on the older boy – he could tell Jakson was someone to follow, someone to trust, and that was really nice to see.
Owen is unlikely ever to be a little brother except to friends and acquaintances. Eventually, though, I hope that Owen will be a big brother – that he will be kind, helpful, protective, and adventurous, setting standards for a smaller person to follow.