You may have noticed I do not write as much about Benjamin as I do about his brother. This is because the type of mental punishment that Zach inflicts upon us is more conducive to written expression. Make no mistake about it, his brother is getting more and more adept at physical types of tribulation.
I noticed the other day that, in fact, we all spend most of our time trying to avoid some sort of physical damage at the hands of our sixteen-month-old. Whenever he gets his hands on an object – any object – we all instinctively recoil, grabbing all breakable items as we retreat. We also tell him “no” quite a bit. We try to reserve “no” for more serious transgressions. Unfortunately, these are every three or four minutes with Benjamin in the house.
“No hitting me, Benjamin.”
“No banging your brother on the head with a fire truck, Benjamin.”
“No grabbing eyeglasses and testing their flexibility, Benjamin.”
And, most importantly, “No stealing your brother’s Taggie, Benjamin.”
When Zach was a toddler, he took “no” seriously. He never wanted to let us down. Ben, on the other hand, thinks it is hysterical to find new and creative ways to get us to look him in the eye and admonish. Nothing throws him into a fit of cackling faster than smacking Zach with a helicopter, stealing his Taggie, and taking off with a parent running behind him.
Something must be done. It just is not fair for Zachary to live in terror of his baby brother. And Zach usually does not hit back. Why? Because we told him not to, of course. It is our job, then, to defend him. The only thing that actually seems to upset Ben is to take away all toys-doubling-as-weapons and then remove him to another room, leaving him alone in the playpen to ponder the error of his ways. This we have begun to do, and let me tell you, it is working. Boy does that kid dislike time-out.
The biggest worry with Benjamin is that he is going to land himself in the hospital. The other day we were in a store and he found a big box of those metal rods they use to attach merchandise to peg board. It was several minutes before the threat even registered with me. I am just getting way too used to all measure of potential physical harm.
Yesterday, I actually let him fall down the steps intentionally. He was two steps from the bottom and it was clear, from the completely reckless way he was approaching the descent, that he was going to topple down those last two steps. I could have saved him, but I wanted to let him get a little hurt. I knew it would be just a minor bump. Maybe if he falls down two steps more often, he’ll be less likely to try to throw himself down 13 all at once. (Note: I do not actually encourage him to hurt himself, so don’t go getting all anxious. I just sometimes let himself inflict his own minor injuries upon himself. Like when he climbs on the furniture.)
Sometimes Benjamin seems intent upon even greater risk. These are the moments we are grateful Zachary came first. Like a few weeks ago, when I was loading the dishwasher. Ben was across the room, but Zachary was right next to me, awaiting his big chance to close the door. I turned away to pick up a dish, and suddenly I heard Zach shouting “NO!” I turned quickly, only to find that Benjamin had somehow magically transported across the room, grabbed a steak knife out of the dishwasher, and was brandishing it about. Good thing my little three-year-old alarm system was on the job.
The next day, Zach kept his brother from perishing all over again. “Mommy,” he said, “I think Benjamin is going to choke on those stones.” Oh, right. Must keep one-year-old from eating pebbles.
If Zachary were not here, I am pretty sure Benjamin would have little chance of making it to kindergarten. He is quite lucky to have such an older brother (and, believe me, I know from difficult older siblings). Much as Ben feels perpetually left behind by his older brother, Zachary seems invested in keeping his little brother alive.
But, it was not till last week that I saw how much Zach must love the little guy. He was sitting in front of the television, a privilege he gets for only 20 minutes a day. He chooses to spend his television allotment on Thomas and Friends, as any wise pre-schooler would. When Thomas is on, he brooks no disturbance, entering a trance-like state during which I really believe he is transported to the Island of Sodor.
Benjamin, who finds television entirely too safe and passive, was in the room with me, playing a brand-new game in which he took all the plastic kids’ plates off the shelf – one by one – and scattered them about the floor. Eventually, as he always does, he hurt himself, this time by slipping on one of the plates, falling backwards, and banging his head on the floor. It was Three Stooges goes toddler.
As I gathered him up for a cuddle, I heard the thump of Zachary’s feet hitting the floor, then patter, patter, patter. Zachary came bursting into the room, ran over, kissed Benjamin on the head, then spun on his heel and ran back out. Patter, patter, patter.
No sense in missing more of Thomas and Friends than is absolutely necessary.