While we were on holiday last week I left Karen and the boys on the playground for twenty minutes while I went to get a coffee and download my daily ‘paper’ onto my tablet. When I came back there was a full scale search underway, since Jake had lost his special pebble that he had picked up at the playground at school. He was inconsolable since no one could find ‘the’ pebble amongst all the other pebbles on the playground.
At this point I tried very hard to be supportive, asking him what it looked like (round, brown and shiny) and whether another pebble could be picked up from the playground to replace it (I could not). It struck me at this moment how the boys so quickly place such special meaning onto such things, in this case the pebble, but more usually sticks that they find on walks. Those sticks have to be clung on to throughout the walk, and then reverentially put in the car boot, before being put in a special place in the garage rarely to be thought of again.
I find it very easy for me to satirise this behaviour. It seems somehow funny that they should place so much store on something that they have seemingly picked up at random, and there seemed to be something quite comic about our searching from a pile of stones for one particular stone. But Jake’s demeanour was far from comic. He really felt the loss of the stone that he had developed an affection for and which, at that moment, felt like real grief.
So while the episode was quickly forgotten (with the purchase of an ice cream on the way back to our accommodation) it did leave me wondering what was behind such behaviour (and I do not mean that pejoratively).
As we know all too well, from the many fights between the boys over toys, they are quite possessive of different things, and like to develop rituals which I think help them to make sense of the world and establish their own place in it. One good example of this being breakfast time when each boy has his own bowl, mug, and two specific spoons (one to eat their cereal with and one to stir their drink). At home any variation from this is met with incredulity, how could we suggest they use the spoon with the squares rather than the stars (yet on holiday it was strangely never an issue).
So does the stick or the stone provide them with something tangible to hold onto when they are out in an environment where they have no possessions of their own with them? Does it provide them with a sense of safely and familiarity, like their bowl, mug etc… obviously do and, perhaps most importantly, are they really any different from adults in this? After all we all have our own favourite mugs etc… (well I certainly do), but we have more of a control of when we have them and when they are available. The boys are more dependent on us for these things, and so have to be more insistent about having them. As a result they appear to be over possessive of things. But are they really?