Growing up I recall being interested in the things my brothers were interested by mere default that I had access to something I otherwise cared nothing about, but they sure did and that made the subject interesting. Falling into this category were Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Sir MixaLot, computer games, guitar playing, jumping off cliffs into the water, bike riding, tree climbing, melting cheese on the glass fireplace screen…many enriching activities I’d never have come up with on my own.
It also seems to have a trickle down effect. A kid’s drive to be bigger, be stronger and do what the bigger kids are doing is built in. Watching an older brother and teaching a younger brother are dynamics I never thought about until this week watching my own kids. Watching the Littlest sling a baby-doll while his brother patiently explained facial anatomy, and then Little Boy teaching the baby how to operate trains and “properly” play with them got me thinking.
Typically, a child at 14 months does not have a worldly stash of Cars characters, helicopters, battery operated trains, Lincoln Logs, or otherwise “Not suitable for children under 3” toys at home unless they have been born a younger sibling. And likewise, the toys that were written off as uninteresting or unsuitable for play by the first take on new life with a siblings new interest.
The thing that struck me as simple but profound today was that the reciprocity really means something to our kids. I have fond memories of Rafael (TMNT) being my favorite, and the singular feeling of free fall before hitting the water is awesome if not also terrifying at the same time. Never would I have those if not for my brothers.
If let to his own devices, Little Boy would be content with a stunning collection of cars, augmented with an occasional plane or train, a box of blocks, rocks, and his bike. Everything else is entertaining in small, fleeting bits and only when brought out of the closet once every couple of months. It’s a shift as a parent to have a vision of building this wonderfully rich environment for my child to discover but then realizing that he really only wants to discover…another car.
This means that the motivation as a parent to spend money on any item that falls into the not-a-car category, because it is met with ten minutes of interest every four months when it gets drug out, is low. This also means we have many cars, trains and planes. But we’re busting the stash of animals and puzzles out of the closet.
Because toss a brother into the mix and suddenly the interest base expands! Now the puzzles, dolls, stuffed animals and bristle blocks are getting drug around the house, prompting a new slew of teaching and creation. The boy who scoffs at dolls now wants to wear one when he sees his brother doing it. And, he even gets the feel-good experience of teaching an eager student. And who are we kidding, aren’t most people eager to talk about things that they are knowledgeable about and find interesting? I know the Littlest eats up his “lessons” too.
“Hey Gabe, hey Gabe! Look Gabe, look, the baaaaby has an eeear….
…and Gaaaaabe has an eeear! Yeah, Gabe! Yeah! That’s your ear. You have one too!”
And….back to the cars.