Giddy Up! I’m a Stranger!

“MOM! HE’S HUGGING ME!!!”

My son is in love with his brother.  No, I’m not referring to an episode of The Young and The Restless (is that still on?). I’m talking about how my youngest son, Kellen, can’t keep his hands off of my eldest, Liam.

It is not enough for Kellen to be playing with Liam or in his general vicinity.  He wants to hug him, and kiss him, and sit in his lap.  If Liam is lying down, he wants to dogpile on top of him and take a rest of his own.  Kellen was born with an innate ability to roughhouse.  Though he is the younger brother by 21 months, he wrestles Liam like a mini Hulk Hogan.  While Liam obliges Kellen’s desire for contact on a few occasions, he generally meets his requests with the obligatory “he’s touching me” that has been perfected by siblings over the years.

Kellen has always been an affectionate kid.  My dad used to comment on what a cuddly baby I was.  He said I’d crawl right up in his lap to snuggle.  I guess Kellen inherited more than my wiry reddish-blonde hair.  He too is a cuddler, which as a mom, I love.  His three year old brother does not find it to be such a charming quality.

I admit, I have a difficult time telling Kellen to stop.  It melts my heart when he wants nothing more than to give his bro a hug.  A couple of nights ago, Kellen asked Liam for a kiss goodnight.  Liam leaned over and kissed him, and Kellen, without prompting, said “love you.”  The moment perfectly illustrated why I wanted to have a second child.  I wanted each of our boys to have a buddy to grow up with, someone their own age to love and share their childhood.

Of course, life is not always that picture perfect.  Not more than fifteen minutes ago, Liam was groaning “Kellen is hitting me.  Put him in time out.”  This is where those hard and fast parenting rules that served the first child so well become hazy.  Liam knows if he hits, he will go into time out.  The rules should be the same for Kellen.  But Kellen wasn’t hitting.  He was trying to pat Liam, trying to touch him and get his attention.  I explain this to Liam, but Liam only sees that his little brother gets to break a rule he himself is forced to obey.

I’ve started to take a different approach and talk a bit about boundaries.  I tell them about how their bodies are their own, and that no one can touch them unless they allow it.  Even that is sketchy though.  Liam and I have a long standing routine.  He will ask for a toy or a TV show, and I say “pay the toll.”  He hops in my arms and gives me a kiss and a hug.  Liam has never been super affectionate.  If I were to wait for him to give me a hug, I might be waiting a long time.  I don’t want to have to be the mom that hopes he stubs his toe so he’ll come running in my arms.

This boundary talk of course leads to a lot of other gray areas.  My mom’s group has an online message board.  One mother posted a question asking how to breastfeed her child without being topless all day.  Easy- you can’t.  By the second kid, I didn’t even try to wear a shirt unless I was leaving the house.  Ok for breastfeeding, but what about now that my sons are three and almost two years old?  The nudity hasn’t gone away.  They still see me changing clothes every day.  I generally only get a chance to shower if they are in there with me.

Last night after our communal shower , I was wrapping Liam up in his towel.  He started jiggling my breast and saying “you’ve got mommy boobs.”  Unsure what to do, I said “that is called a breast” and continued to dry him off.  He freed himself from the towel and sprinted down the hall, with Kellen in hot pursuit.

I followed them into Liam’s room where I noticed my husband had opened the blinds.  Liam’s window faces the street.  The three of us were now standing completely naked in front of the window, ready to offer the neighbors a friendly hello.  I quickly closed the blinds, remarking “we don’t want to show our booties to the neighborhood.”

Liam started imploring me to raise the blinds.  “I want to show the neighbors my booty!  I want to show them!”  I responded “no, being naked is something we do at our house.  We don’t do it at other people’s houses.  If someone besides mommy or daddy wants to see you naked, you need to tell me.”

I left it at that, and got him into his PJs.  It was actually an improvement over my initial conversation on a similar subject, where I tried to explain about stranger danger.  On that occasion, Liam listened to me carefully before galloping around the room saying “giddy up! I’m a stranger!”

I’m sure soon enough Kellen will determine he’d rather hit his brother than hug him, so I guess I should enjoy this time while it lasts.  I know as they grow up, these boundary questions are only going to become more daunting, and having to say “stop kissing your brother” will seem easy by comparison.

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