Today my doe-eyed, almost five-year-old boy was compared to Luca Brasi. You know, the Godfather’s enforcer, the one who only takes orders from Don Corleone, and who ends up sleeping with the fishes. Yeah, that guy.
True, Caleb has not yet capped anyone, and as far as I know, he’s left no horse parts in anyone’s cubby, but apparently, according to the head teacher at Caleb’s day camp, Caleb seems to go along with whichever strong-willed boy is currently calling the shots. This teacher noticed that Caleb is sought after by these bossier classmates, in part because he seems willing to play the role of second banana. “You know,” she said, “sort of like Ed McMahon.”
Great. So it’s 9:15 in the morning and my child is being compared to a guy whose success in life was knowing when to laugh at someone else’s jokes.
This completely unsolicited conversation happened just after I’d said good-bye to Caleb at the door of the art room. I’m soaking wet because it’s raining as if it’s the second coming of Noah; Liam isn’t at soccer camp because he’s got a doctor’s appointment, so he’s home alone, hopefully not setting fires or downloading porn; Husband is on day six of an eight-day business trip, and did I mention that it’s pouring?
(Full disclosure: when Husband decided to go to this conference in London, his charming wife suggested that he go for a few extra days to visit with his elderly aunt who lives in London, and to see a long-time friend, who also lives there. “We’ll be fine,” I said, “don’t worry about it.” This was before I realized that my younger son was a Made Guy and before I fully understood what it meant to be a solo parent for more than a week. I bow down before all single parents, who never have the chance to say “not right now, let Other Parent get your milk/read your story/ wash your hair/find that goddamn lego.” But I digress.)
In short, on this particular morning, I am in no way equipped to hear that my second child seems to have fully internalized his second-childness and delightedly abdicates his own (nascent) moral compass in favor of Being Told What To Do. Keep in mind, however, that when his older brother tells him what to do, the accusations of BOSSY and UNFAIR ring through the apartment with clarion clarity.
I asked Teacher if following these other boys ever got Caleb into trouble – and that’s where Luca Brasi came in. Caleb gets caught up in whatever turf battle is being waged between other boys, it seems, just like Luca did, resulting in the kindergartner’s version of swims with fishes: A Talking To By The Teacher.
The other day, for example, Caleb, following the lead of G., was teasing E. about something they had that he didn’t. E. had a complete meltdown (thus rendering him unfit to serve on the Supreme Court, but again, I digress). Teacher takes G. and Caleb aside, tells them they weren’t being very nice, and that both of them are smart enough to know that what they did would upset E. Caleb looks at her and said, “I’m not that smart.”
His answer cracks me up because it’s so smart: after all, you can’t blame him for doing something on purpose if he’s telling you that he’s not smart enough to have done it on purpose. And his answer makes me sad because he so readily described himself as inadequate.
After delivering her commentary, Teacher gave me a hug (she’s that kind of person) and I trudged home through the rain. What do you do with conversations like this? I mean, this isn’t the crazy lady at the bus stop muttering that your kid should be wearing a hat. This is a woman who has seen my kid five days a week, six hours a day, for about a month. She knows Caleb in ways that I don’t, so as I splashed home, I wondered if when she looked at me, she was all, “oh, wow, you’ve totally done a number on this one, lady.”
Is Caleb doomed to be second fiddle, second banana, second string? Does he already assume that he never gets shotgun when he’s old enough to sit in the front seat? Does he let other kids tell him what to do because we’ve failed him in some essential way, already? I mean, I am completely willing to admit that I might have failed as a parent; I was just hoping not to have to reach that verdict until the kids were, you know, maybe sixteen or seventeen.
Birth order’s a bitch, I guess: I’m the oldest, so I think of myself as having been replaced not once but twice (first by a brother, then a sister). My brother is the only boy – both a blessing and a curse – and my sister grew up in two very long shadows. As a friend once said to me, siblings don’t actually grow up in the same family. Which is why, of course, belonging to a family is enough to drive anyone crazy.
I guess the question for me is how keep the second son from feeling like he’s always in second place.
Clearly this is where Mamma Brasi went wrong with little Luca.