Wednesday, January 28, 2009

1/28/09 Animal Babies

Dave had a business dinner tonight, so I was on my own with all three.

When left to my own devices, I can run a super-tight ship. I had dinner done, cleaned up, lunches made, Gabriel's homework plus extras done, Gabriel's new daily chore (sweep the floor) done, a load of laundry, and everyone's clothes set out, and baths started before 8pm. Things were going well.

But my tight ship hit an iceberg right as it was time to read the boys a bedtime story. Julian burst into a crying whining fit about a book of his, called "Animal Babies," that Gabriel said he wanted to read for a bedtime story. "IT'S MINE! IT'S MY SECRET!!" he screamed.

On the whole, I have a "all books are shared" policy, partly on principle, and partly because it's not practical to get three copies of every book. But I recognize that books are often gifts, and kids have a very strong sense of ownership and possession, so I try to honor that too. I tried to tell Julian that it is his book, but if he doesn't want to share it, then he'll have to read it alone, and Gabriel and I would find another book. I tried soothing him by saying we'd read it together in my room, but he was beside himself. He was so out of control that I couldn't talk to him at all.

So I took Gabriel into the family room and he picked another book, and I tried to start it, but Julian was putting up such a racket, I finally made him sit outside until he stopped screaming. "IT'S MY SECRET LEARNING! IT'S MY BOOK!!" he'd cry in frustration and throw himself on the floor.

Finally he let me get a word in edgewise and I offered him the ultimatum again: we read Animal Babies together now in the boys' room, or I read a book to Gabriel outside the room. Julian "agreed," if snapping a loud "Oh-KAAY!!!!" counts.

Meantime, Gabriel was being angelic, being very cooperative and agreeable about all these changes. He happily picked another book, and read it on his own while I was dealing with Julian, until finally I called him into his room and said we'd read Animal Babies all together.

I sat down and opened the book, and Gabriel said, "Yay! I want to learn about animal babies!" in a light-hearted cheerful voice.

Too light-hearted. Since when did Gabriel have such an interest in animal babies?

I knew right then: I'd been suckered into a power struggle between them, and used as an ignorant battering ram. This was Gabriel's war, a chosen conflict, a demonstration of power. He wanted to win a possession battle, to force Julian to give up something that Julian felt was his. Julian usually wouldn't mind sharing a book, but it had become a point of contention between them, and I got roped into it. Gabriel was only rubbing it in with his seemingly innocent desire to "learn" about animal babies. That was a hot-button word for Julian, as the boys often compete about who knows more about things.

Julian calmed down enough to read the book, and I invited him into my lap and held him close while we read it. But he broke down into soft tears, frustrated at his loss, both of the competition that I played into, and the one-up-ness he must have felt he got from the book.

I read another book too, then spent a few minutes alone with Julian, holding him and telling him that knowledge is something that everyone shares -- and to hide his book if he really doesn't want to share it. I felt bad, I really understood how he felt now that I knew what was going on. And I'm keenly aware that his childhood will always be marked by being in his brother's powerful shadow.

But don't feel too sorry for Julian. He was already in trouble for taking Katrina's beloved Mimi and hiding it from her.



Louise said...

It wouldn't surprise me if Gabriel worries that Julian is "smarter." Why start a power struggle unless you have something at stake?

As the younger of two, I was always frustrated because my brother lorded it over me that he "knew more stuff." Of course he did, he was 3 years older! Years later, I found out that he always thought I was brighter. While I was racing to keep up, he was carefully tabulating that he learned X at age 9, while I mastered it at age 8. Sure, he was 11 by then, but his childhood was spent looking over his shoulder as I "caught up."

The fact that they are competing about learning is a great indicator of your family's values. Aren't you glad that it isn't about who can hit harder? :-)

mommieN. said...

>Why start a power struggle unless >you have something at stake?

Defies logic, doesn't it. But that's Gabriel. He has always tackled conflict JUST FOR THE HELL OF IT. He's completely confident that he's faster, stronger, smarter and everything-er than Julian, yet he has to rub it in.

I've always thought that someday when they're older, Julian will beat the cr*p out of Gabriel (with me silently cheering him on) and they'll be even after that!

It's also very often about who can hit (and kick, punch, pull, stomp) harder -- they're brothers after all. And Julian always loses there too.

But maybe Julian knows that the one place where he can be better than his brother is broad knowledge of the world (planets, animals, anatomy), and that's why letting on the secrets of what rabbit babies are called hurt him so much.

Good insight about you and your brother though -- thanks, I'll keep an eye out for that between Julian and Katrina. Poor Julian is sandwiched by two very strong personalities!