As a child, I feel like I played plenty of war games. Imaginative games born of hours Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers (here's lookin' at you, Emily K.). Spy games, play fights, pretend weapons of all kinds. I once got chided at recess for making up some version of tag that we called Unabomber. Even looking back on these games now, I feel a sort of visceral satisfaction. At times, I think all kids want to play a little rough.
Knowing this full well, I did not go into raising a little boy with any kind of a pacifist mindset. I still don't consciously have a pacifist mindset, but...I've been thinking a lot about aggression in little boys. I've been thinking about what's acceptable and what's not, what's encouraged and what's not.
Luke is a really gentle little boy. I think some of it is his natural personality, and some of it is choices we've made in how we raise him--like nursing till he weaned on his own (around 22 months), co-sleeping, wearing him as a baby, not physically punishing him, playing gently with him, not really exposing him to shows with fighting. All of those things have seemed like the most loving and developmentally healthy choices we could make; they happened gradually, case by case, not necessarily with any goal to raise a gentle boy. But so far, that is what has happened. Contention of any kind stresses Luke--when he watches Toy Story 2, the infighting about who turns on the TV in Al's apartment makes him really upset. He has implored us to turn off episodes of TV shows where characters are bickering. He was given a toy gun and said, "A trumpet!" He was given a toy sword and persistently held it by the tip instead of the hilt. Any roughness with Renée has thus far been...experimental? Based out of curiosity, and not aggression. It has always been met with severe disapproval from us.
I don't know if it will always be this way. Maybe he'll realize that such things as hitting or shoving in anger actually exist. Maybe he'll experiment with this behavior. I don't know. But I do know that I have come to expect gentleness from him, and it doesn't seem that all mothers of sons expect gentleness.
I have seen Instagram pictures of older brothers shoving and kicking each younger siblings. Pictures are a form of praise. When I see these pictures, I have to wonder...why was a photo being snapped instead of the younger sibling being defended immediately? If Luke ever came close to doing that to Renée I would totally freak out. I know I'm not the only mom who feels this way...but it seems like most other moms who share my chagrin at shoving are moms of older sisters. And when I have a lot of time, my mind starts fixating on socialization of girls and boys, about how men commit radically more violent crime and acts of abuse and terrorism...about how the bombers at the Boston marathon were brothers, darkly united in their aggression. Sigh.
I have talked with another mom of a gentle boy. We discussed how other boys sometimes treat our sons, and how their mothers react. Her son got purposefully clocked on the head with a heavy toy at a church play group. The hitting boy was not corrected by his mother. Last week, Luke was forcefully shoved to the ground by an older boy. Luke was visibly baffled by the encounter; as he stood up, I wondered what he would make of it. He quickly started to say, "Oh I'm just kidding. I'm just kidding," as if he decided the shoving boy had to be joking. In Luke's mind, there could not possibly be another reason someone would shove him like that. He could not even perceive aggression.
I have talked with our friend Patrick, who is the oldest of four children, including two younger brothers, about this issue. He related that people ask him all the time, "Oh, what was it like growing up, did you beat up your brothers a lot?" And he is always really weirded out by the question, and responds with a version of, "No, my brothers actually love me, and I love them. I never beat them up." Patrick is quite tall, and always has been. If he'd wanted to wail on his brothers, he surely could have--but something led him not to. Either Patrick's innate gentleness, or perhaps his parents' encouragement. But regardless, people assume that an older brother=a hitting brother.
I have pondered at length about how it seems to me like moms of rough boys are secretly/subconsciously pleased that their little boys hit, push, or tackle. Sometimes it doesn't really seem like their hearts are in it when/if they correct their boys. There seems to be a sort of pride, as if they're thinking, "Well, sorry my son is rough, he's just the alpha male. He'll clearly grow up to be a leader/quarterback/CEO/the President."
I don't know what Luke will end up doing in the coming months and years. Like I said, he may at some point discover that roughness is a possible choice. But I don't want him to be that way. I don't assume--and by assuming, accept and approve of--all boys' innate aggression. I look at the gentle men in Nick's family and my own--including Nick, his father, my father, my brothers, his uncle, his cousins (a family of 5 boys and 1 girl)--and I hold out hope that gentleness will be genetic. I hope one day, Luke will be just as puzzled as Patrick when asked if he pushed his sibs around.