I know little girls can manipulate with those innocent smiles and conspiratorial whispers that tickle your ear. I’m fully aware. But a couple days ago my six-year-old grandson did a classic male manipulation of my four-year-old granddaughter that I have not been able to get out of my head, not because I wasn’t familiar with it but because I am too familiar with it. I just didn’t know it started so young. It means the job of nurture to smooth out nature is harder than I ever imagined.
This blog may not pertain to, or even make sense, to some of you. If so, think of it as a missive from an alien planet, and consider yourself lucky.
Anyone who know me knows I am smitten by my grandson. I call him “my super nova.” I adore his dreamy math-obsessed mind. He is wry, sensitive, and sometimes completely out of it. Even so . . .
The situation was: both children were in my care, we had arrived to NYC late the night before, it was mid-morning and they were eager to get out into the city. As I hurried to do some unpacking and breakfast clean up, their physical push-and-shove (with age-appropriate giggling) was edging towards getting out of hand. I told them to take it into their bedroom.
The laughter turned to ominous shuffling sounds. Josie started to cry and came out, incoherent with sobs. Ben rushed by without looking back. I heard a door slam.
Me: Where are you hurt?
Josie couldn’t talk.
Me: Point to where it hurts.
Josie shook her head “no.”
Me: What happened?
Sobs and hiccups.
Me: Were you scared?
Josie: He. . . he. . . Ben . . . (incoherent) . . . I couldn’t get up, . . .
Me: Were you under the covers and he held you down and you got scared? (No gramma intuition here, this is classic kid stuff.)
Josie, shaking her head “yes”: But I’m not hurt. Ben didn’t hurt me, I’m not hurt.
Me: You were only scared.
Josie: Ben didn’t hurt me.
Me: I understand. Maybe we should tell him that. . . I look around . . . Where is he?
Josie: He’s in your bedroom. That’s what he does. He walks away and goes into another room and shuts the door.
J: Un-huh . . .
After a few more hiccups, we went to my bedroom door. It was locked.
Me: Ben, you cannot lock me out of my own bedroom.
Josie: I’m okay, Ben, you didn’t hurt me.
There was silence on the other side of the door. Josie repeated herself. I was aghast and annoyed. She was petitioning him at a door he locked against her after he frightened her to tears. That happens when you think you are suffocating.
Ben, clearly realizing locking my bedroom was beyond the limits of acceptability, opened the door and rushed by us to their room, muttering. He took a stance with his back to us and continued to mutter.
Josie and I stood at the doorway. She whispered to me: He’s saying ‘Josie doesn’t like me, nobody likes me. I’m always to blame.’
Me: He is?
Josie: That’s what he always says.
She was perfectly composed, relating a fact. She knows the routine. My six-year-old beloved grandson knows how to turn wounding his little sister into his being wounded. And she accepts that she is to tend and reassure him. She really wants to know he is okay and happy.
Know what? She wins. Her advanced emotional IQ allows her to wrap her head around her feelings and his feelings. It might not change this common male-female dynamic as she grows up but it gives her more knowledge from which to make decisions that care not only for his welfare but for her own.
I don’t imagine for a second that Ben didn’t fully experience his version of events as real, honest, and true. I’m sure he did, and that he felt like he was abandoned and cast to the bottom of a dark well while Josie, the little darling, got all the sympathy.
I accept he was in misery. I just don’t accept that his emotions were based on facts – or that stomping into another room, locking the door, and being silent for an extended period while his sister was petitioning him was necessary or helpful.
But he was successful. He deflected the possibility of being blamed into that he was the wounded party.
HOW FAMILIAR IS THIS? Aaaarrrgh.
And I was suckered in alongside Josie, thinking “Poor Ben. How can we make it better?” My grandson snookered us both.
Okay, many of you reading this will say, it’s only an older and younger child thing – or maybe Josie was a wimp. The girl is not a wimp, she is rock solid. Furthermore, she knows not only where her socks are, she knows where his are. She knows where everything is in my kitchen, bathroom, and closet. She dresses herself in mesh tutus, tights with holes at the knees, and dirty tennis shoes. She knows who she is, and that includes being her brother’s keeper. She adores him.
Ben also adores her. They are emotionally intertwined. Pick on one or the other and you’ll have to contend with both of them.
But, hey, why couldn’t he have come to her, asked if she was okay, and said he was sorry and meant it, maybe even dried her tears? And we could have talked about how to keep rough-housing under control in the future. Why couldn’t he? Why not?
Okay, I have seen him saying “It was an accident, Josie” before leaving the scene. I’m not 100% fair here. I ‘fess up.
And I’ve known of women who are manipulative and take advantage. I’m especially acquainted, secondhand, with mothers who emotionally terrorized their sons from childhood on. These crazy-banana women make it hard for the rest of us.
But to the point, while I’m sure women also do this to men, it is a common male-female dynamic as Ben did it to Josie, and as Josie accepted it. After witnessing this dynamic as an on-site play between little people, I dreamt for the first time that I verbally decimated my third ex-husband. I always could have but even in the worst of it, I chose not too. Finally, after five and a half years I was willing to reduce him to ash. It was a little scary. In real life you cannot reconstructed people who are ash left on the floor. Good thing it was a dream.
The central question is, knowing your skills of coping and forgiveness are larger than those of a beloved person who wounded you, what choices do you make when they blame you? We each find our own answers to that.
Josie is already finding them. Brava, little girl. Keep exploring and embracing, and protecting yourself. Gramma’s got your back.