Thursday, August 9, 2007

Middle Man

All parents imagine their children in the future, what they'll be like as teens, as adults, as parents themselves. It's hard to know if the roles I see my kids settling into will stick as they get older, but I do have a pretty fixed idea of what Owen and Mitch will be like at 16 and 18. As my older sister recently predicted, "Owen will not be cool enough to hang out with Mitch." That basically sums it up. I can imagine Mitch peeling out of the high school parking lot in some sputtering old sports car with Owen riding shotgun, shouting, "Slow DOWN! You're gonna get a TICKET!"

We call Mitch "the blond bombshell" (bombshell more in the "ka-boom " sense than in the "foxy mama" sense). He's high energy and full o' sass, a personality that childcare experts like to call "spirited" and that I like to call "obnoxious." He is fearless, loud, funny, brave, smart, and capable. He is full of confidence and curiosity. In our family, it's not only his bravado that stands out; he also has his own set of physical features: clear blue eyes and blond hair, Malibu bronze skin in the summer. The rest of us have dark hair and eyes, and resemble one another much more closely.One night when we were out for ice cream, Mitch wandered over to a table that held a family of four towheads. I whispered to John, "He's going to be with his own kind."

Mitch is also the middle child. All of these qualities combined have, I fear, created a child at risk of feeling alienated.

Right now, we can add to the mix an older brother who is drawing a lot of attention for starting kindergarten and an adorable baby sister, the only girl, who has just started to crawl and was recently diagnosed with a health problem that requires much doting and numerous doctor visits that leave Mitch at home. It's no wonder his first line of defense against melting into the background is raucous behavior. And he's three. As any seasoned mother can attest, the terrible twos have got nothing on the tear-your-hair-out threes.

Here's a list of SOME of the trouble Mitch has gotten into today:
  • Broke the printer by kicking it while sitting at the computer.
  • Spilled cherry Italian ice on the rug.
  • Bit Owen.
  • Ran into the family room to divebomb the couch, knocking Paige into a table in the process.
  • Ate one bite of a peanut butter sandwich he'd thrown a fit to get, then declared himself full.
  • Hit Owen. And hit Owen again. And again.
  • Woke Paige up from her nap on purpose.
  • Swiped the doctor's stethoscope at Paige's check up, and when asked to give it back said, "No thank you."
  • Erased two of my shows from the DVR.
  • Splashed juice on the screen of daddy's beloved and very fancy TV.
  • Pooped in his #@%^&# pants THREE times!
  • Unplugged the floor fan and plugged it back in elsewhere.
The list could go on if I felt like sitting here recounting all of it, but I'll give the kid (and myself) a break.

Sometimes when I'm reprimanding him, he gets this look of sheer defiance, a "bring it on beyatch" kind of look. But sometimes, especially when I am watching from a more objective place, when John does the fussing, I can see something softer beneath that look. It's a look made of sadness, defeat, anger, and a little bit of love, and it reminds me that he's only been alive three years, that he doesn't mean any harm in all the trouble he gets into. He's just figuring out the world.

So maybe I can't predict with any accuracy what Mitch will be like when he's sixteen, maybe he'll be a mild mannered boy, a devoted student and a disciplined, no nonsense athlete. But no matter what he becomes, I hope he will always know that, blond hair be damned, he's one of us. A vital, significant part. Keeping things interesting in the middle.

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