There is nothing quite like a child to humble one’s soul. Every day of my parenting life there is a new lesson learnt. When I birthed my first son I was determined to raise him with no gender bias, to raise him in a gentle and loving way. I took my cues from him. I wore him in my arms night and day. We put away the cot and bought him to our bed. We didn’t know about ‘natural’ or ‘attachment’ parenting but that is essentially what we did. I kept him away from the TV, we spent our days singing, reading and breastfeeding.
My husband was frequently away and Noah was my constant companion. We loved and thrived in each other’s company. We had regular ‘dates’ together. We picnicked in the park, fed the birds on the foreshore, lay on the blanket and stared dreamily into the sky trying to guess the pictures the other saw in the clouds. It was an endless love affair, an intimacy I had never shared with another individual. Noah was constantly nuzzled at my breast or sleeping in my arms. I looked at the other mothers at the park, screaming in frustration at their children, and snuggled closer to my little boy. We would go places and other children would push Noah, throw toys in his face and he would never retaliate. If he was upset he would run straight to my arms for a little “mummy’s milk” and a cuddle.
“Oh he’s so lovely and gentle” the other mothers would admire. “Such a sweet nature”. “Yes he is a beautiful boy” I would beam proudly. Over and over I heard how other mothers with boys would be struggling against tantrums and violent play, “what’s your secret?” they’d ask. “I am not sure”, I would modestly reply. Though in the secrecy of our home I would quietly boast to my husband, “Noah is so gorgeous and passive because of our amazing parenting. He is the way he is because he’s so secure and all that wonderful breastmilk”. Oh how we loved ourselves sick!
We belonged to the Steiner based playgroup Gaia’s Garden where for a long time Noah was the only regular boy in attendance. It didn’t bother him in the least. We looked forward to our morning’s there each week. Sitting quietly with our treasured friends in a circle, harmonising the “Twinkle, twinkle”, listening intently to the story, sharing our fruit. “Why don’t more parents do this style of parenting?” I would ask myself. The world would be such a different place if there was no competition or aggression, my husband and I spent many a night with our friends dreaming of the Utopia.
Then one day Noah turned two years and ten months and literally overnight there was a change. I remember it vividly. He went to bed singing “I can sing a rainbow” and the next day driving to the park he put his little hands together and pretended to shoot a lady dead that was walking on the side of the road. I nearly rolled the car from the shock! “Who taught you about guns?” I demanded. There are no guns at Gaia’s Garden and no guns on Playschool. My mind raced madly, wait until your father gets home I thought! Michael denied any wrong doings. “He had to have gotten it from somewhere!” I meditated to calm myself. It was a one-off incident, let it go. Don’t make a big deal of it. And so the house returned to its serenity. A few days later when we were driving to Gaia’s Garden for circle Noah announced he didn’t want to go with “just girls”. “Of course we do”, I insisted, “we love Circle”. That day a dark cloud descended, he would not sit for singing. During ‘free’ time he chased the girls with sticks – actually he terrorised them for the entire hour. I practised my non-violent communication, he continued. I tried to take him aside and explain how much the girls did not like his behaviour but he kept running away from me. I felt the pressure. He had recently weaned himself, lost his day time sleep and I was 20 weeks pregnant with our second child. It’s too much change for Noah all at once I consoled myself and explained to anyone who would listen. Noah’s fascination with sticks and swords escalated. The next week at Circle when he threw sand in a child’s face I cried. Who was this child? Where were we going wrong? I went back to the books, I sought advice everywhere I went.
We welcomed our second little boy and things got worse. Grandma came to visit to give him more attention. I tried to put Noah back to the breast but he just looked at my nipple, said “gross” and walked indignantly away. His third birthday was fast approaching and he begged me day and night for a gun or a sword. I gently explained to him again and again that guns and swords were violent and could hurt people. That he needed to “give peace a chance”. “Fine” he’d say and soon everything was a sword or a gun – sticks, leaves, toilet rolls, wooden spoons, a carrot, a finger. Soon our world was one giant arsenal. For his birthday we gave him some beautiful wooden dolls, wooden blocks and a lovely CD to dance too. Noah was bitterly disappointed and cried. The day was quite disheartening. My husband asked if we could get Noah something he wanted for Christmas, and I felt depressed. The next Circle morning I was late as I had spent an hour requesting he come to the car, I had struggled to hear the “yes in his no” because in hindsight he really no longer wanted to go. When we got there he was unco-operative and loud. The girls had found a butcher bird hanging from a rope upside down. All the children ran to look at it, as did the adults. “It must be collecting the rope for its nest” one little girl contributed. “I wonder if it has babies?” another little girl pondered. “Let’s get rocks and throw them at it” said Noah. With tears in my eyes I realised that maybe our days at Circle were numbered.
I went back and re-read “Buddhism for Mothers”. I rang my closest friends searching for an answer. I spent all my energy each day trying to persuade Noah to “put down that weapon” and read a book, climb a tree, build a tower, play cards – anything that did not involve violence. It was to no avail. Then one day I had an epiphany! Isn’t the whole concept of attachment parenting to accept the child you have and work from their needs and foundations? So Noah and I built two swords and played Peter Pan and Hook for the rest of the afternoon. It was the most wonderful time we had spent together in months. When I stopped trying to make him be what I thought a “naturally” parented child should be we could start celebrating who he actually was! I also went to the shop and got him a $2.00 plastic gun. (Yes plastic) He almost wept with joy, while I wept with disillusionment. That night, our wonderful little boy who had never had any sort of formal ‘comforter’ in his life except the breast or his loving parents slept between us and his baby brother with a gun tucked firmly in his fingers. Within 48 hours of joining with him in his love of artillery, the obsession lessened somewhat and he began to show a little interest in other things. To this day though he continues to gravitate towards more ‘masculine’ style toys that by Steiner standards are overstimulating and often plastic and we as his parents have surrendered to this with peace in our mind and love in our heart.
I have since learnt that between the age of two and a half and three and a half years that boys will get as much testosterone as they will in adolescence. I continue to love the philosophy of Steiner education, natural toys and playing in accordance to the seasons but I now believe it won’t work for all children. I still firmly believe in long term breastfeeding, co-sleeping, gentle discipline, wholesome foods, no or little television. Though in listening to my two boys I have relaxed on the whole issue of toys and play. The boys love to wrestle, with each other, with others, with balls, and swords, and blocks and basically anything. I do try to keep them ‘safe’ and harness their energy in a positive way by directing them outside, in open spaces and places they can climb, though this does not always work. We still read and dance a lot but we combine this with lots of physical exercise and contact play. Not all boys or children will need this type of play but my boys do. I now believe that if your child is robust (as opposed to rough or violent), tactile ( as opposed to physical) and competitive it may have more to do with their personality and hormones than the style of parenting.
I continue to treasure every day with my two boys though it can be exhausting. Our youngest son Aiden, now 22 months has been into robust play since about six months and I think his fourth word was “sword”, which still makes me cringe a little. I now look to the future and know there is a fair chance that it may include weekends at something like rugby or soccer though I continue to talk about dancing, and music and free play. I can not help but pray it doesn’t include boxing or a career in the armed forces, but if it does than I will be there cheering them on and supporting their life choices what ever they may be. Because I love the children unconditionally, and what ever their journey or path in life, its one I want to share. Despite their choice of toys and play their hearts remain gentle and open. They continue to ‘breastfeed’ their teddies and dolls on occasion and they are the first children often to have a sense of social justice and generosity in public. I no longer feel a sense of failure about these choices as they are right for our family, for our children. It is with pride that I came to realise that Noah was confident enough to continue to forge his own path despite my initial resistance because of the way he was parented after all!