I have been babysitting one family’s children for three years. Connor is now four and Zachary is three; their baby sister will be one in November. The two older kids are at a neat stage in their development because they are learning how to play make-believe. They love to pretend that they are animals and they enjoy telling me what to be even more. If we are playing sea creatures, both of them want to be the shark; if we are playing house animals, they both want to be the dog; if we are pretending to be at the zoo, they both want to be the lion or the bear. Sometimes tears ensue when they want to be the same animal. I suggest alternatives and ask them what is wrong with being a minnow, a kitten, or a penguin. Then I ask, “Well why can’t you both be sharks/dogs/lions?” I think the make-believe is an outlet for their ongoing power struggle. Since they are so close in age, they are constantly competing for dominance and attention. Tonight, they will both be trick-or-treating as Spider-Man, but they will wear different colors to try to minimize the arguing; Connor will wear a red costume and Zachary will wear a black costume. Last year, Connor was Buzz Lightyear and Zachary was Superman. The costumes that Connor and Zachary wear signify similar characteristics: strength, power.
In Art Spiegelman’s Maus, the powerful characters, the German cats, are shown to have the desirable characteristics despite their physical strength. Cats are predators that hunt and play with their prey before tearing it piece by piece. The Nazis in
Connor and Zachary’s obsession with physical strength and power does not worry me much now because they are still very young; however I hope that when they get older, they realize that being strong does not necessarily mean physical prowess. As they grow, I think they will learn that being a mouse (minnow, kitten, penguin) is not a sign of weakness, and they will also learn that looking like a cat (shark, dog, lion) does not necessarily condemn a person to viciousness and inhumanity. Hopefully, they will learn to trust the sound of person, rather than the look of him or her.