Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Oppressed Baby Has Become the Baby Oppressor

Times are a-changing in our house. Madeline, who was once the baby from whom toys were taken, is now coming into her own. She no longer sits passively and lets Avery snatch away Polar Bear With Paws You Can Chew On or Intriguing Small Red Block with a Hole in the Middle without a fight. She’s hung up her Miss Tractable cape, it seems, for good.

Oppressed babies usually take one of three paths: They resign themselves to their doom (Maddie’s first eight months of life); they pursue nonviolent resistance a la Gandhi and MLK (a few weeks, max, for Maddie); or they resort to violence and their own version of oppression (hello, current reign of terror).

Maybe “oppression” is too strong a word here (I am prone to hyperbole, as we all know) and maybe I am the only one who applies Paolo Freire’s principles to the playmat, but it really is fascinating to watch the infant oppressed/oppressor evolution. Avery has definitely been, shall we say, the more aggressive one and Madeline has been the passive one. Not to label them or anything, because I’m sure that will start annoying them in about three weeks.

I was stunned when Avery started taking toys away from Maddie, which began maybe a week after the girls learned that fingers were for holding things. I thought we had a couple of years before that happened, the taking-things-from-each other part, that is. At first, Maddie was so easy-going about it, accepting another toy from us in place of the one Avery stole, or just content to sit, watching wide-eyed and intrigued, curious to see how Avery played with it. But then those looks of bemusement started. Her eyebrows practically knit themselves into question marks. She’d cast panicky looks our way, as if to ask “Did you see what she just did?!”

We never interfered and instead, heeding the wise words of Freire from his wise book Pedagogy of the Oppressed (we can’t be the only ones who consult that book for parenting tips, right?), we decided to let Maddie find her own way: “It is absolutely essential that the oppressed participate in the revolutionary process with an increasingly critical awareness of their role as subjects of the transformation.” Well, she is transforming indeed. The revolution has begun. Now Madeline doesn’t take toy stealing laying down. She grips harder, pulls, pushes and puts up a fight. So much for passivity and nonviolent resistance.

Madeline learned a few tricks from Avery and now we have two little toy-grabbing tyrants. They can spend minutes taking toys from each other. Back and forth, back and forth. It is almost like watching some sort of sports match. Nicole and I watched an exchange today: Maddie grabbing a toy from Avery; Avery screeching and taking it back; Maddie pulling it out of Avery’s hand and then holding said toy above her head; Avery standing to get toy back when Maddie is distracted by a noise or shadow or toy or, well, anything. It is so amusing to watch, not only because I enjoy seeing the metaphor of oppressors/oppression and social justice in the infant sect play out, but also because I really want to see who wins. They are evenly matched, these two, so it a toss up whether Avery’s brute strength will reign or will Maddie dominate with her cunning moves and slick baby-ninja style?

This isn’t exactly how I thought I’d be applying Friere’s theories in life, but perhaps even Freire would agree that conscientization, no matter how you get there, is a pretty good goal.

Daylight Savings, that hobgoblin of annoyingness and mind perplexer, is here and I am scared to it affects the girls sleeping habits.

Pictured above, A TOY TRIPTYCH: In the first panel, we see Avery snatch a toy; in the second panel we see Avery playing with her new toy and in the final panel we see that Maddie was the ultimate victor. The toy was a bottle of child-proof-capped vitamins. Nothing but the finest for our girls.


K J and the kids said...

I will warn you...they may switch..and switch and then switch on you again.
One minute you will think the one is the bully, the other the submissive one. But the next day they will have you fooled.
I hadn't commented until now, because as I was reading boys were at each others throats for the shopping cart....neither giving up. OH IT'S SO MUCH FUN !

Kerry Lynn said...

You have such a way with words. I wrote about this on my blog but it was more like, Madison took things from Jackson but now he's fighting back.
Your's is much more elloquent.
This is funny though, they will sit in front of each other with pacifiers in their mouths. Madison will reach and take Jackson's at the same time he's reaching for hers. They just sit there and swap back and forth.

calliope said...

can't get past the footie pj's.

I owe you an e-mail. I suck.

Anonymous said...

That was a brilliant post. I'll never think of Pedagogy of the Oppressed in the same way.

judy said...

Your girls wouldn't be Gemini's would they? Just curious because of their mercurial moods. They are so beautiful.

utRus said...

hilarious. we're still in the "toy was snatched, ok, I'll just watch sibling play with it" phase. gulp.

remember that there is no such thing as a truly child-proof cap. and i read somewhere that vitamins are the #1 medicinal poisoning for babies. sorry i'm such a boring worry-wart - maybe give them the bottle back with some cheerios inside or something? :)

starrhillgirl said...

Do you post these things just to make me love your family more? I mean, come on - how am I supposed to take lines like "cunning moves and slick baby-ninja style" lying down? I can't stand it! And I am immune to all baby-cuteness after 14 years of teaching pre-school! You're killing me.