Age of Innocence

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When I go to kindergarten pick-up and see a kindergartner zoom out of the school doors with a Buzz Lightyear backpack trailing behind him, I can bet money that that boy is the oldest boy in his family. Why? Because little brothers don similar backpacks to their “cooler,” bigger brothers and older boys get beat up for saying things like “To infinity and beyond!” on the playground. No, unfortunately, little brothers don’t go for the Spiderman or  the Lightning McQueen backpacks. Instead, they insist on the big boy look featuring backpacks in understated, solid, cool tones.

Years ago, when my oldest was four, he had a plush horsie backpack that he wore religiously to preschool. I remember because when he first tossed it on and did a 360 for us to admire his grandmother’s big thrift store find, I drank in the sight of him with those baby blues and shaggy blond hair and with tears welling up in my eyes, I sighed, “I hope he never grows too cool to wear that.” To which my husband, who has five older brothers, replied, “Really? Because I do.”

Looking back, my oldest boy watched shows like “Little Bear” and “Clifford” until he was seven. There was no one around to tell him that those were baby shows or uncool except for me and I wasn’t about to say anything. I loved Little Bear! He was so polite, so congenial. I wanted to be just like Mother Bear.

It’s hard to believe, but there was a time when my ten year old actually shouted, “Backpack! Backpack!” “Map! Map!” and “Swiper noooo swiping!” right on Dora’s cue. When she said “stand up” he said “How high?”

Now my current preschooler has two older brothers. He doesn’t wear a plush horsie backpack to joy school, and I’m sad to report he has never seen an episode of “Little Bear.” In fact he even refused to be Buzz Lightyear for Halloween last year even though I already had the 3T costume and everything. (Both of his older brothers wore the very same Space Ranger suit in years passed, but back then there was nobody telling them that Buzz was so passé.)

I lament that my current preschooler didn’t get to watch one episode of Dora the Explorer all summer long. Instead, because of those who ruled the roost and therefore ruled the remote control, he watched episodes of “Jimmy Neutron” and “Avatar the Last Airbender.” He repeatedly insisted that Harry Potter 7 was not too scary for him. (It was.) Instead of counting to four in spanish like his big brothers did at his age, my four year old can do spot-on Gollum impressions during the talent portion of Family Night. (“Stupid, fat hobbit! They stole it from us!”) Exelente!

My four year old wants nothing but Legos for his birthday and Christmas. I keep trying to steer him towards the Duplo section of the Lego aisle, but he’ll have none of it. Duplos are for babies. Ninjago–now that’s for big boys, even though there is no way he can snap one of those sets together all by himself.

So when school started and I could finally shoo those big kids out the door for a few hours everyday, I was ecstatic to reclaim my preschooler’s Age of Innocence. Now there is no one around to tell him that Elmo is for babies or feign a painful death every time I blast our Laurie Berkner CD in the car. (The only other person who could protest is our baby and she is far too busy happily cooing and snapping her fingers to the rhythm of the beat to put up a fuss.)

We are having so much fun making homemade play dough, building castles with our blocks and singing silly songs about tigers in cars and hippos in tubs, I forgot how much fun four year olds can really be.

But an older sibling’s influence has it’s advantages too. It is only because my husband had three sisters who were even older than all of those big brothers (huge family) that he can quote from “Pirates of Penzance” verbatim. It is because of their domination of the remote that he memorized every scene from “Anne of Green Gables” and “Seven Brides for Seven Bothers” as a young boy. In fact, thanks to them, my husband read Pride and Prejudice before I ever did!

It is because of my boys’ big sister that they’ll watch things like “Sleeping Beauty” and other shows starring fairies even though they roll their eyes at the start. (But before you can say bippity-boppity-boo, they’re spellbound too.) It’s because of her influence I’m allowed to read “Little House on the Prairie” at bedtime and why my boys know every word to “I Have a Dream” from the “Tangled” soundtrack. (Another favorite act during the talent portion of Family Night.)

And occasionally the younger siblings remind the older kids what it’s like to be four again. I’m happy to report that our game of “Candy Land” still gets plenty of use. There are half a dozen plastic dinosaurs seeking shelter under the bushes in our front yard and they get played with by all under six feet tall. The dress-up box is still a favorite and no one is too old or too cool to trick-or-treat.

And last week when my big kids came home from school and threw down their backpacks (the ones in understated, solid, cool tones), exhausted from their long day, they caught the last ten minutes of Dora that the littles were watching and they didn’t change the channel. What’s more, I thought I heard one of the say, “Backpack! Backpack!”

I think they just needed a few minutes to remember what life was like before book reports, piano lessons, spelling tests and the whole lot of it.

I know I do.

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