A few weeks ago, my one-year-old son spent more time than usual with other children his own age. Being a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom, most of Mateo’s days are spent (relatively peacefully) with his parents and his three older sisters. On this particular week, however, he spent much more (and much less peaceful) time with other one year olds.
On most Mondays throughout this past school year, Nadia (5yo) has gone to the atrium, her Montessori-based religion class called Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. While the children aged three to six are in the atrium, the parents and their other children hang out in the waiting room. Among the kids in the waiting room are three one-year-olds. Most of this year, a certain percentage of the parents’ time has been spent refereeing the one-year-olds’ fights with each other. One of them will rip another’s toy out of his or her hands and scream “Mine!” Then the other will cry. Or perhaps they will both hold a strong grip on the coveted toy, seemingly prepared to engage in a fight to the death over said toy, and so we parents intervene with a (probably pointless) exhortation that they need to share (but, you know, they’re one. So I’m not sure how great they’ll be at that for at least the next year or so). That is, more or less, how I spend my Monday afternoons.
I noticed however, that when it comes to the babies in the waiting room, Mateo is very gentle with them. I’ve found him gently rocking a baby in her infant carrier. He’ll crouch low and observe them, and, understanding in some way that they are younger, he’ll try to bring them toys to play with. The children that are older than Mateo, will typically defer to him, recognizing that he is “just a baby.” It’s with those his same age with which he duels constantly.
On this particular week, in addition to Monday’s atrium visit, I babysat a friend’s one-year-old son, William, for a morning. Mateo seemed to be okay with William for the most part, that is, until William would touch any of Mateo’s toys. Not simply sitting quietly in our home, but actually trying to explore it and play with the toys in it seemed to go against one-year-old etiquette and Mateo was obviously highly offended. He would run over, shout “Mine!” and try to rip the toy from William’s hands. As on Mondays, I played referee and would mumble the obligatory mandate on sharing.
The following day, on Friday, I made the trek to catch up with a friend who lives an hour away. It was great to catch up with her. She, however, also has a one year old. Like Mateo was the previous day, one-year-old Mariana was fine with Mateo being in her house as long as he didn’t try to play with any of the toys in it. Once he did, the “Mine” fight would ensue, with the parents refereeing. At one point in the afternoon, Mariana was happily sitting on her mother’s lap in the dining room with the rest of us while Mateo was playing quietly in the next room over. Mateo, holding a toy, came into the dining room and shouted an authoritative “HEY!” We all looked over at him, including Mariana. Mateo looked at Mariana right in the eye and said, with particular emphasis, “Mine.” That, of course, ended Mariana’s contentment and with cries and screams she tried to scramble off her mother’s lap to recover the toy that rightfully belonged to her.
All this has me wondering though, who decided that children should spend their childhoods with other kids their exact same age? I think I prefer more natural communities for myself and my children. In other places on the globe, children spend time with kids that are younger, kids that are older, adults, the elderly, the typical, and those with disabilities. In such settings they learn how to defer to those weaker or younger, be proud of their own abilities but still be inspired by those who can do more than they can.
At some point though, he’ll need to learn how to get along with kids his own age too. Until that happens, I guess I’ll keep playing referee and mumbling the obligatory statements on sharing.