Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Love Bites

I'm looking at my holiday card from Charlie and Marcus featuring the brothers wrapped in tinsel, arms around one another's shoulders, beaming for the camera.

There's never been a 2-year-old with a bigger smile than Charlie, nor has there ever been a more diligent social scientist. While most of his classmates seemed only vaguely aware of the other children, he was all about them. His typical approach, especially early in the year, was to give them a good hard shove or perhaps slug them in the chest, then to stand there beaming that million toothed grin of his as if to say, "I like you! Let's play!"

The adults in the room repeated our various no-hitting mantras -- "Hitting people hurts," "We touch our friends with gentle hands," "I can't let you push people" -- until we were blue in the face, but it was clear he wasn't ready to hear it, often turning on us with a shove or hit that when accompanied by his smile could really only be interpreted as an overture of friendship. And that's clearly what he was doing: trying to make friends. There wasn't an ounce of malice in his actions: the best of intentions coupled with actions that succeeded like nothing else in getting everyone's attention. Eureka!

Circle time was one of the few parts of the day when we knew we could count on him to keep his hands to himself. That's because he was busy biting me. The moment we began to sing, Charlie would be on his feet, coming toward me, smiling of course, those teeth telegraphing their intent. My thighs were his main targets, although I took a few on the arms, and a couple times he got around behind me and bit my back. At first, adults would swarm forward to protect me, but after awhile we just let it go. I got pretty good at gently holding him at arm's length while continuing about our circle time business.

At some point during the year he got the message. I'm glad that we adults managed to remain calm about it, agreeing amongst ourselves that we just needed to protect the other children, while allowing Charlie the space and time to work his way through to appropriate ways to show his good intentions. We could have probably squelched the hitting and shoving in a typically heavy-handed way, but had we done that we might well have squelched some piece of his passion for people along with it. I can't remember if it happened suddenly or gradually, but thankfully his desire to engage the other people didn't disappear with the love bites. By the time he graduated from Woodland Park 3 years later, he was at the center of a group of friends that were as tight as any I've ever seen in a preschool: buddies for life.

At one of our recent parent meetings we were talking about biting and it reminded me of Charlie's love bites. It suddenly clicked for me that my wife will often say about a newborn, "She's so juicy, I just want to bite her!" I mentioned this, and Meyra's mom Funda, from a family of Turkish heritage, said, "Oh yeah, in Turkey everyone bites babies. It's really common." Then several people nodded that they too have that urge. Reflecting on this, I was briefly overwhelmed by how much love Charlie must have felt for me and his friends: so filled up he wanted to bite us.

Charlie's brother Marcus is now in our Pre-3 class. Although I've known him his whole life, it wasn't until this summer that I got to know him as a student. He's a scientist too, although his focus right now is much more on stuff -- "real" stuff like car keys, vacuum cleaners, tools -- than on the other people. But he's his brother's brother, there's no question about that. As we began singing songs at our first circle time together, from the corner of my eye, I saw him rise to his feet, then start coming toward me with a grin almost as big as Charlie's. The boys' mom Shelly said she saw me flinch as he went for my thigh, but instead of a bite, I got a warm, wet kiss on my bare leg.

I got many kisses during those summer circle times, flinching a little each time he approached, but what good stuff. I like to think Charlie taught him that.

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Saya said...

Love Bites...

Thanks for this post :)

Shelly said...

Wow. This one is going in the scrapbook. Thanks for capturing this time in such an endearing blog entry, Tom. Marcus wanted to invite you to his rainbow-themed birthday party, by the way. Pure love right there.

Teacher Tom said...

@Shelly . . . I'm still flinching a little looking at this Christmas card which has been here by the computer since Friday. =)

CARRIE said...

Interesting about the biting from a cultural perspective. I always say things like, "I could just eat 'em up," (the cute baby).

ACIC said...

The hitting and biting is definitely interesting. It's a "phase" that children go through while learning their fundamental socialization skills. It's so often that I see children here in Chinese kindergartens hit, punch, smack, pinch, bite and, yes, headbutt everyone around them! It's all out of love though.

Twitter @acinvests

Alex C. said...

Reminds me of 'Where the Wild Things Are': "We'll eat you up we love you so!"