Reader essayI need to start out by saying that my 5-year-old son Myles has a thing for the Disney princesses—the movies, their ice show and the way they might interact with the Power Rangers if given the chance.
He also has a thing for princess figurines. It is here in fact that our story begins, because this story isn’t so much about Myles, but his younger brother Noah and how younger siblings not only model the behavior of older ones, but how all children try to gain some mastery of the world.
Noah is 17 months old and he likes to follow Myles around, wanting to do the things Myles does and wanting to like the things Myles likes, which these days are Myles’ princess figurines.
At first this was cute. Noah would walk around and gather as many of them as he could and then, as he had seen Myles do, he would arrange them in locations he could reach.
But then something changed. First, Noah grew upset if he couldn’t pick up all of the figurines at once. And then he started to get upset if he didn’t have at least one in each hand at all times. He soon had to have some in his crib when he went to bed.
I know this is about security. Something that started off as modeling and idealization has morphed into something he needs so he can feel ownership over a world that doesn’t always make sense, a world where everyone regularly comes and goes to school and work.
We knew this was coming—when Myles was Noah’s age he latched onto a Teddy bear he sleeps with to this day.
What we don’t know, though, is whether this is a phase that will evolve as Noah continues learning how to self-soothe. I think everything will be fine, but we never know how any toddler’s behavior will evolve.
As with Myles and his bear, Noah is still a little ball of clay being shaped. It’s both intriguing and horrifying, and while I wouldn’t want to know Noah’s future if I could, I also wouldn’t have to worry so much if I did.
Like Noah, I never quite have the control over the world that I wish I had, but that’s parenting and it comes with the territory.
Ben Tanzer is a Chicago writer, social worker and parent.
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