Benjamin is three-going-on-four, and he is going on four hard. He stands with one hand on baby and another on boy and is pushing hard in either direction. He wants to fit in with the big boys. He bursts with enthusiasm when his brother’s friends include him and howls with frustration when the older children leave him behind. But for all his protestations of maturity, he wiggles deep into babyhood, only to find himself stuck there and screaming to get out.
Much of his anger flies at me. I am the primary caregiver, and he is a middle child, angry that his sister gets babied and his brother gets grown-up time. Of all our children, he is the only one who needs someone to lie down with him at night. He simply cannot bring himself down from the highs and lows of the day without another heartbeat to help him find a steady rhythm. Sometimes he snuggles in, pressing his muscular little body into us, but other times he kicks, fights, and punches.
He does this especially with me. The instinct is to pull away, to show him that violence makes me leave. But, last week, it occurred to me that he was testing to see if I’d walk away, make the other two – the ones who flank him – the priority because they are easier. So, I stayed, pinned him in a bear hug, and told him, “I’m not going away. But I won’t let you hurt me.”
It has worked, and evenings have gotten calmer. But he is a tough cookie, all bluster and bravado on the outside, despite the deeper need and sensitivity. He just wears himself out sometimes, fighting to be a five-and-a-half year old and a nineteen-month-old all at the same time.
Saturday, he needed a nap, although he has long given up a regular naptime. One of his brother’s friends was coming over for dinner, and there was no way Ben was going to make it through the night. I took him upstairs to lie down with me, whereupon he tried every technique he could come up with to avoid falling asleep. Wiggling, hitting, general noisiness. He also tried talking, which is his absolute favorite hobby.
Of course, he talked about his favorite topic – other than weapons and violence – Lucy.
“Lucy is really, really strong,” he told me.
“She’s as strong as a tree. She’s as strong as a grown-up tree,” he went on. And there it was. His very first simile.
That’s my baby.