I have a son.
I still remember how odd it felt, when pregnant, to be carrying a boy. Obviously, boys are born all the time—but it felt instinctively strange to me to go through such an intensely female experience to produce something masculine.
(When we were told Louisette was a girl—again, at the 20 week ultrasound—Chris said to me in the car on the way home, “Don’t die, please, because I have no idea how to raise a girl.” I understood that sentiment a little better when I found out TJ was a boy.)
There’s plenty I still don’t know about boys, but spending every day looking after someone eventually makes a parent feel moderately competent. (Which is probably quite silly, because children are changing constantly, so you’re never an expert on the person that they are at this exact second…. but as a parent you’re the closest thing to an expert that exists.)
TJ was immensely strong from birth, able to lift his head immediately, and scream bloody murder for a good twenty minutes without pause (which is pretty much when we gave up on breastfeeding, although I kept trying for another day or so). As a baby, we marvelled at his ability to amuse himself, without needing anyone else in the room. I was able to shower and go to the bathroom freely.
But if we left the house, he would not leave our arms. He knew who his parents were (and soon learned his grandparents) but anyone else was a Stranger To Be Shunned. He was about 9 months old when he started actually enjoying venturing away from us in public, and the whole world of playgrounds opened up. From that point, we took precautions to make sure he didn’t simply wander away from us (because he was confident enough to do so, and as usual he didn’t need company to have adventures).
For a long, long time he would only sleep either in our arms or with my arm draped over him. We had one of those bassinets that hook onto the side of the parents’ bed, and that was an absolute lifesaver.
TJ was born with an introvert’s disdain for social pressure (from either peers or parents). While Louisette’s automatic answer is “Yes” (“Do you want to go to the playground?” “Do you want to wear this shirt?”), TJ’s automatic answer is “No”, even to questions like, “Do you want some ice cream?”
He’ll often pause and then say, “Actually, yes” but sometimes he’ll stick to his decision no matter how irrational. This trait by itself would make him a strong-willed child but it’s extremely modified by his calm and cheerful nature.
TJ is, in many ways, the perfect little boy. He has SO MANY BEANS and takes so much joy in life, and is so delightfully sure of himself.
He’s also very, very smart academically. He knows all the letter sounds and several words, can count and add and do some multiplication, and he can tell a really good story, invent great imaginary friends (usually superheroes, with an awesome range of powers), and build amazing creations (either following step by step instructions—he can accurately follow incredibly complex lego instructions—or inventing his own things).
He and Louisette both make great engineers, inventors, and storytellers. TJ’s intelligence is much more obvious than Louisette’s, because a lot of Louisette’s ability is hidden behind her ADD. TJ doesn’t seem to have any health issues other than dry skin in Winter, so that’s awesome for him (and us).
TJ is incredibly entertaining. He loves to make sound effects (eg rocket sounds for when he’s running up the hallway), is extremely expressive, and is the class comedian.
When he goes to his regular class, other kids are happy to see him and call out for him to sit with them. There are two girls in particular who come up to him and try to make him laugh. Both girls are very pretty and popular in their own right, but they clearly enjoy TJ’s humour (which mostly consists of nonsense words, silly faces, and falling over). In their interactions I see foreshadowing of TJ’s likely popularity with pretty girls in his teen years. He’s pretty good looking himself, and everyone likes a laugh. He also gets on well with nearly everyone, because he’s very good at backing down over confrontation (eg two kids fighting over a toy). TJ is the main reason our kids mostly get on and play well together.
Having said that, he takes a while to warm up to new people or situations. I generally stay with him quite a while after drop-off, because (a) I get lots of hugs that way, and (b) It means he will eventually let me leave without crying. (Also it means I can observe his classmates a little—I want them to consider me a safe adult/friend in their teens.)
Sometimes, his humour and strong sense of self combine in ways that I don’t like as much. It’s well established that he prefers his dad to me, and he’ll often be quite rude to me. (By “quite rude” I mean things like this picture, which includes his aunt and uncle, cousin, sister, and Dad—but not me. When questioned by Chris, he said, “I didn’t want Mum in this one.” He also almost never hugs me goodnight—although if Chris encourages him to do a “surprise hug” involving a long creep across the floor followed by jumping up and hugging me, that usually works.)
Other times he’ll be sweet and lovely. When I was at IronFest this year, talking to the kids on the phone before they went to bed, he told me, “I love you times a googol.” (Eat that, Iron Man.) But he’s ALWAYS sweet and lovely to Chris, and I’m so jealous! (Which of course puts pressure on TJ, which makes him less likely to show affection…)
He’s also discovered the delightful world of poo-related insults lately. Since I feel a rebel needs something to push against, I always react sternly if he calls someone “poopy pants”. I suspect his humour will always be edgy (calling someone a poo is 100% edgy at age 5), and I hope it never turns truly mean or hurtful.
TJ is, most likely, an able-bodied straight white male (he’s definitely able-bodied, white, and male). That automatically gives him power, and my job as a parent is to teach him to use his power for good and not for evil (or pure selfishness). As the youngest in our family, he has very little power thus far, and I think having a pet is absolutely essential for his development. “Be careful of those smaller, younger, or weaker than you” is such a crucial message (along with consent, which is why I don’t force him to hug me), and TJ’s best practical application is our cat(s).
I have a bazillion photos of TJ with our cats (the fluffy one in the pics above died last year), and at a certain point cats can teach boundaries themselves—if you mess with a well-trained cat, they will show physical signs of distress, then hiss and/or swat you, then scratch you.
Zipper (new cat) likes TJ, but he sometimes yells at/near her, or runs around too much, or teases her—so Zipper prefers Louisette (the person in our house most likely to sit still for a decent amount of time). I keep a sharp eye on TJ’s treatment of Zipper, because it shows any bullying tendencies that I wouldn’t otherwise see.
TJ is so darn full of life and joy and enthusiasm. He’s an absolute delight. He and Louisette both have an issue of shutting down when their emotions are running high, which makes it hard to solve a problem (since it can take a long time to get essential info out of them, like “I hurt my toe” or “I wanted the blue spoon”), so we’ll continue to work on emotional resilience with both of them. They don’t get much good modelling on that score because Chris is extremely calm and I am borderline manic depressive.
Sorry kids :/
TJ turned five last week, which is what inspired these reflections on his character. When Louisette turned five and I was talking on facebook about what a big milestone it is, the Aussie author Pamela Freeman (who writes historical fantasy as Pamela Hart) commented that if they’re a decent person at five years of age they’ll most likely be a fairly similar person as an adult.
I could definitely handle that. They’re pretty great human beings.
To sum up: TJ is smart, funny, happy, introverted/socially independent, energetic, curious, and strong-willed. I hope he finds healthy ways to channel his need to push boundaries. I’m pretty sure he’ll do just fine in life, and will earn more than any other member of his family. Hopefully he’ll look after the rest of us when we need it.
I have many more fun years of TJ’s childhood to come. I suspect I’ll barely see him in his teens, but he’ll come through all right thanks to his strong sense of self. I think he’ll be a lot like his dad when he’s all grown up: largely content, a bit oblivious at times, and a contributing member of society with a small but solid core of nerdy friends.