Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Being Bad...

We've been talking a lot to Ethan lately about the difference between "being bad" and bad behavior. At an age where the questions about "good guys & bad guys" and Darth Vader and Aniken Skywalker (the same person, no less!) are of the utmost fascination, at least when he isn't asking me questions like, "Momma" (I've recently become 'momma'), do fish have testicles?" and "Momma, what is heaven?" So you know, we've got a wide variety of interests going on here, everything from fish testicles to the after life. Throw "good" and "bad" in there & you've got an epic shit storm party of parental explanatory performances.

The "bad" guy discussion was made easier (or tougher, as the case may be) over the past year by my slowly growing willingness to listen to NPR in the car again. So there have been vague discussions about Osama bin Laden ("He was a really bad guy who hurt a lot of people and the brave people in our military made sure he'll never hurt anyone again), and Jerry Sandusky (hello, lengthy discussions about stranger danger and why its important to scream "FIRE" instead of just screaming and how there are certain times when its okay to jab your thumb into another person's eyeball and twist.)

He has also asked why a bad guy would want to hurt John Lennon. This after someone other than myself or Husband told my then 4 year old that Lennon was shot and killed over 20 years ago. And that George Harrison got really sick and died, too. Yeah. Kind of like taking Santa Claus away from the kid.

Still, thankfully, Ethan's concept of "bad guys" is limited---when he asked about how many bad guys there are in the world, I assured him that there are over 6 billion people in the world (or is it 8 now?!) and that the vast majority of them are indeed good-hearted people. His reply? "So there are like 4 or 5 bad guys?"

Bless his heart.

So I'm really sensitive about how he perceives himself in terms of "good" or "bad." Lately, there's been a lot of testing those boundaries--especially given the Jekyll & Hyde dynamic of his latest obsession--the Darth Vader/Anikin Skywalker juxtoposition. Sweet innocence turned into pure evil?! How is that possible?! Can I be good AND bad?! Is Darth Vader really all bad if he started out as a good Jedi like Aniken?! But....but.....

A couple weeks ago, during a few moments of particularly obnoxious behavior on Ethan's part, someone in our presence asked Ethan "just how bad can you be?!" in awed disbelief that a 5 year old would not always be demonstrating exemplary and angelic behavior. Ethan stopped short, considering the question. Was he bad? Him? Bad?

Sigh. So after removing him from the situation, we sat & talked about how sometimes we behave in ways that are not acceptable, or inappropriate or yes, even bad. But that there's a distinction between the behavior and the person. HE was not bad. He was behaving totally inappropriately for the situation, and he needed to stay in his room for a few minutes and chill out until he could pull it together and be around people again. But that didn't mean he was "bad."

Dont' get me wrong; I have no illusions that my child is some type of infallible cherub, dripping only sweetness and sunshine. Oh lord, no. Since kindergarten started, holy hell, it is one test after another. There are battles about eating, about cleaning up, about what exactly my role, as his mother (read: not his maid or short order cook) is, and the list goes on. And there are consequences for the behaviors that make me want to run screaming from the house like my head is on fire (and for lesser offenses, too). Wanting your child to grow up with a fundamental belief in his own goodness doesn't translate into letting them burn the house down and giving them a gold star for it.

The other evening, after a particularly, erm, challenging day filled with meltdowns and tears and the occasional slamming door and the ensuing consequences, Ethan came to me at bedtime, "cutest kid ever" jammies on & face washed, ready for sleep. He hugged me and said, "sorry I was so bad today, Momma." Oh my heart. And so there was another conversation before bed about the difference between being a bad person versus sometimes behaving badly. After which he trotted off to bed & mentally pummeled husband with 100 questions about the Star Wars galaxy--like if it's "in real life" and is it out there happening right now & how do we know about it? And do fish have testicles? Oh, no, wait---he asked me that this morning during breakfast.

At an age when the concept of "good" and "bad" are just throbbing in the forefront of his busy brain, and he's learning how to view himself and the people around him, it seems worth the extra effort to drive home the distinction between being a bad person and being a good person who occasionally makes poor choices & exhibits bad behavior.

Dont' be fooled by the masks--he's one of the good ones.


Anonymous said...

I needed this today, Sarah. Thanks! Elizabeth

Becca said...

So far five is a lot like two, but stronger and with more sass. Sigh... But at least we begin and end each day snuggling in bed and talking like normal people.

Kim said...

hmmm... I question the "outside" person who dared even comment on Ethan's "badness". That would irk the heck out of me. And I totally agree with the distinction of bad behavior vs. bad person.