Whenever we go out to Elmo's (a wonderful local diner that has nothing to do with Sesame Street) my family gets crayons and paper. The wait staff hands out pictures of their mascot, Dillon Duck, which children are encouraged to color in. Usually I just turn the page over and draw something else to entertain our squirmy brood. "What are you gonna draw?" Aidan asked one night. "I think I'll draw . . . you!" And I drew my first impression of my oldest son:
He laughed, with an unmistakable "Yup, that's me!" glee. Malcolm laughed, too.
"Draw me!" said Malcolm. So I drew the first image of Malcolm that comes into my head:
Malcolm laughed at that, too. "He's . . . " (pointing at the Aidan-picture), "... going 'ARRGGG!', and he's . . ." (pointing to the Malcolm picture) ". . . going 'WAAAAA!' " And both boys cracked up.
I hung on to those pictures, because they represent a koan to me. These boys do love each other, and care for each other, and yet the overriding impression in my mind is Aidan the Terrible trying his best to torture his little brother, and generally succeeding. Aidan is a sensitive boy who plays music on his recorder and makes amazing hand crafts and delights in making tiny presents for his baby cousin. He also seems to derive endless pleasure from provoking his brother. Several times a day I hear some new brouhaha, and I come out of my office and say, "Aidan, I see you laughing, and Malcolm crying . . . what's wrong with this picture?"
I swear I was never like this. I argued plenty with my brothers, but I never took such delight in seeing them upset.
The situation is complicated by the fact that they both embrace these victim/victimizer roles. Sometimes Aidan is perfectly innocent, but Malcolm is "drawing the foul," shrieking bloody murder the moment Aidan suggests something he doesn't like. And Malcolm has learned how to play the game, too . . . if he chances upon some behavior that annoys Aidan (say, clicking his tongue) he will repeat it endlessly until Aidan is in a towering fury, will Mal just sits there with an innocent, "What? I'm not doing anything" look on his face.
It terrifies me to think of my sons becoming bullies. Yet I see their relationship circling around an endless cycle of trying to inflict pain on each other. It was with that in mind that I went to see Kim John Payne, and expert on bullying, give a lecture at our school. (...to be continued)