Dirk Knemeyer

Soren 3.0

My youngest son turned three years old on Monday. It goes so quickly, which is trite to say yet so pointedly true.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about watching Soren develop are the behaviours that seem firmly rooted in birth order. Well over 90% of what comes out of Soren’s mouth is rote copying of what someone else in the environment – primarily his sister Elena, sometimes the rest of us – says. And more than what they say: how they act. The emotion they express. What they do with their bodies. The facial expressions. The gestures. It is a near-literal apeing of what the older person said and did – but always including the “said” part. How much of that is something about Soren’s specific unique-to-him personality and how much is a second child modeling after the more developed older child I have no idea. But it is certainly central to my experience of Soren over the last six months or so.

Much of what I have written about Soren in the past bemoans how attached he is to his mother, at the expense of a greater connection with me. While that remains true it is decidedly less total than it was a year ago. In August Sigrid left for two weeks to attend a conference in Greece. During that time I, along with my mother for part of the time, were left to take care of Soren with no “mommy security blanket” left for him to latch on to. By the end of that trip he had more tolerance for and openness to me. But not always. And never to the sort of complete, trusting, comfortable degree that he has with his mother. I hope it continues to evolve, as the moments where he wants nothing to do with me and ONLY wants his mommy put strain on my relationship with him despite my best efforts to excuse it as a product of his just being a baby. I don’t, actually, know if that is the case or not. Hopefully as he gets older that all untangles more.

Soren shows unusual talents in both the mental and physical realms. Mentally he seems appears to be smarter than his older sister, with a natural problem solving instinct that combines with a comfort in getting his hands dirty that sees him move beyond and through things while Elena is left asking us for help. Physically he takes the soccer ball and runs circles around his classmates and even older kids, displaying an intuitive skill for keeping control of the ball while moving at a fast speed. How these things translate as he ages who is to say, but he seems to have some definite skill advantages over his sister, particularly on the physical side.

Soren’s speech increasingly gets better and better but many or even most words are not said quite correctly. Of particular confusion is how he says “Yes” or “Yeah” – sounding like “Nnnn-es” or “Nnnn-eah”. You have to listen pretty closely to figure out what the little guys desires actually are.

In some ways Soren is much easier than Elena. Whereas she is picky and particular about many things, Soren is for example a human vacuum cleaner when it comes to eating: he will have whatever is given to him and, happily for Sigrid, many of the things she makes and likes that neither Elena nor I like. Sometimes he can want something specific, often related to the clothes that he is given to wear each morning. This is one area of parenting that I’ve never understood about how Sigrid parents: she insists on choosing what the children wear, and they both hate it. I’ve convinced her to let Elena pick her own clothes for the most part which eliminates a lot of drama and consternation; hopefully that translates more and more to Soren. I mean, why not?! That seems a little bit of control that has limited cost to provide but with a big impact on the child.

One thing that Soren and I do share in common is we are not morning people and do not wake up well. I don’t think I’ve met anyone who wakes up as badly as Soren. Grumpy, angry, unpleasant…if he doesn’t get up on his own time it is not a good experience for anyone in the vicinity!

Soren’s interests and activities are an interesting mix of very masculine things and decidedly feminine things. We do not attempt to guide his self-expression and let his choices come naturally, creating a departure from the firmer boundaries that I remember around gender growing up. He is naturally – and strongly – drawn to tools and vehicles. He loves trucks, construction and building, in really rough-and-tumble, masculine ways. On the other hand he also will take Elena’s dolls, dress them, watch over them, and taking very good care of them. These are things that Elena, herself, does not do. It is Soren playing dolls, and doing so in a very nurturing and considerate way. Maybe he is emulating the same traits of his mother, whom he so admires, developing caretaking and family building skills that he enjoyed and appreciated from her. In either event it is sweet and a little odd, at least in contrast to the frames around gender expression that I grew up with and was forced and funneled into.

Each day I hope for and try to cultivate a closer relationship with Soren. We certainly now have moments of genuine mutual affection and enjoyment. But there is a clear split in the family, captured simply by our family dining table. It is a size that seats six, with me on one end and Sigrid on the other. Elena sits down by me; Soren by his mother. While I am unquestionably Elena’s favourite she also has easy and significant affection for her mother. The difference is not manifest in negativity or distance from her mother, but the depth and intensity of her affection for me. With Soren, his mother is not only his first and favourite but still, for all intents and purposes, his only. While for Sigrid’s sake I would have no problem with her being the little guy’s favourite I sure wish the love he expressed for me was more reminiscent of that his sister expresses for his mother. Maybe it will come with age.

Regardless of the sad feelings I have from his frequent disposition toward me I love him dearly and look at him fondly and try to coax and encourage him as much as I can. To me he is still a baby – my last baby! – and the idea that he is three and really not a baby anymore is as startling as my being forty-one-and-a-half-and-oh-yeah-wasn’t-I-just-thirty-nine-a-month-or-so-ago?! All disbelief at the march of time aside, here’s to my lovely, sweet, little boy-boy’s third birthday!

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