I use empathy as a tool with my kids. I use it because it works, sometimes shockingly well. But sometimes, I just can’t do it. Not even halfway. I am not interested in trying. I just want you to go. Anywhere. Out of my sight.
(Oh no, not you. You can stay.)
The disconnect for me is at the point where the child starts acting less like a human (“You are scared of that shouting kid. How awful”) and more like a child. (“You are angry because…I peeled your banana? Seriously?”) It is the stupid (to me) little things that irritate me the most, which is ultra-reasonable, I know, after all, I am the adult, but there it is. I am more childish than a child because I hate when my children act their age.
Caillou is a small, fictional French-Canadian child. He claims to be 4 years old but I think he is actually 3.5. He has a TV show and some books about him. I believe the books came first? The books are fine. They impart morals and lessons and reflect the child’s current experience back at them so that the child feels heard, understood, motivated. They are not my favourite kind of book because I am not 3 – 4 years old, however, as discussed in my last post, my kids read what they want and because they can’t actually READ yet, I read them what they want.
Caillou the TV show came to reside in our house on a videotape donated to me via a giant box of crap my former co-worker didn’t want anymore. (Also in giant box of crap: potty, 17,000 Happy Meal toys, various sizes of childrens’ socks, talking toy piano, etc. But she also gave me a crib so I’m not complaining. Much.) Trombone wanted to watch Caillou when he was almost 2 but he was bored within seconds, so I put it away.
Since turning 3, he has asked to watch the video a handful of times. And I oblige because it is easier than arguing. â€œBecause I hates that show, I hates it bad,â€ is not a good enough reason, in my books.
The thing about Caillou as he is portrayed in the video is: he is the whiniest little bastard you ever hope never to meet. He is a nightmare. He clings to his parents, trashes his baby sister’s doll with his mom’s lipstick, asks his dad questions that have obvious answers and says â€œWhyyyyyyyy?â€ a lot. A lot. A lot. None of this is so bad in the books, because I’m reading the books and I don’t use a whiny voice because whining hurts my ears. (And also, truth be told, I sometimes think about other things while I am reading boring stories aloud so I forget to add much in the way of act-ing.)
That Caillou, he so whiny, I used to say. And then, one day, Trombone said something. And he sounded Just. Like. Caillou. My head whipped around.
â€œWhaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat,â€ I roared.
â€œWhhhhyyyyyy do I have to eat my crusts?â€ he repeated.
â€œBuh buh buh,â€ I said.
It’s not that Trombone is excessively whiny. It’s that at his worst, he is just like Caillou at HIS worst and a 3.5 year old at his worst is bad. Bad like sour milk in your first cup of morning coffee. Christine L’Heureux, who wrote the books, evidently knew a 3.5 year old. Possibly several.
To me, on those rare occasions when we put on the Caillou video (very rare, trust me) it is like having two 3.5 year olds in the house. Which is crazier than a cat with a sticker on his tail.
But for Trombone, it is sweet, sweet understanding. It’s like me talking to another mom about momming or another writer about writing. I am grateful to Caillou for playing this role. After all, it’s not like a kid Trombone’s age can go to one of his preschool friends and say, “Dude, I just don’t GET why they have to make me go to the goddamn BATHROOM all the time,” and have his friend say, “Dude, I KNOW.” Sometimes, shit goes down and you need someone who understands. Caillou is sometimes that someone.
I am grateful for Caillou in one other respect: he allows me a safe way to let out my frustration with my own perfectly normal, perfectly irritating 3.5 year old. Instead or yelling or stomping my feet or letting steam escape from my ears, I can grit my teeth and say to another adult (or to myself, if it’s an emergency), â€œIf Caillou came into my room and woke me up by jumping on my bed just so he could show me that he was clever enough to tie a string around a stuffed dog and pretend it was his real dog, CAILLOU WOULD HAVE A NEW MOMMY.â€
(I also think Caillou’s slightly slouchy, always smiling, never yelling parents just might be smoking a lot of pot, but don’t quote me.)