Learning that it isn’t ‘all about me’

By Jane Flanagan

My five-year-old son and a few of his schoolmates recently took a class trip to our apartment. Ambling from room to room, they counted toilets and toy airplanes, notating the number on clipboards.

It’s the final leg of a preschool curriculum that Rusty began at age 3. Back then the focus was on his babyhood, later his role in the family. Now at age 5, he and his friends are stepping into the larger world. The idea is to first indulge the kids’ endless preoccupation with themselves and then move them outward. Even if it’s just to another kid’s apartment.

As his mother, I appreciate these efforts. Because for awhile now, I’ve been wondering whether Rusty would ever move beyond his egocentric worldview. When he was a toddler, I understood that, by definition, he had to focus on himself. But at five, while he is certainly more aware of the outer-world, he is also better able to articulate his “all about me” philosophy.

Recently, up in Connecticut, Rusty and I went on a hike. As I trailed behind him on the way up a hill, he turned around four times to say,

“Aren’t I a good leader?”

On the way down, I got us into trouble by taking the wrong path. Rusty found the right one. And he didn’t let me forget it.

“See I told you I knew the way,” he repeated all the way down the hill.

Of course I don’t really mind any of this. As his mother I love to say, “Good job, Rust. You are so smart,” etc. I even kind of enjoy his “I told you’s,” because of the burgeoning confidence behind them.

But I know that others won’t necessarily appreciate it. Besides, sometimes even I find him overbearing.

For instance at the dinner table. Rusty frequently gets upset anytime the conversation veers away from him.

“That’s no fair, you are talking to Daddy,” he says. “I want to talk. I want to talk.”

But recently he’s started doing something new: noticing my needs.

The other day, I couldn’t find my purse. Rusty volunteered to search the apartment. He found it and handing it to me, said, “I like to help ladies.”

Several recent mornings he’s made my cereal and retrieved my jacket. Each time adding, “I like to help ladies.”

I realize that, in a way, this is about him, too. He doesn’t just find the purse or pour the cereal. He advertises that he’s a doing it. But, hey, whatever it takes.

This also got me thinking. Like the school curriculum that focused on him to get ready for later, at home I’ve been doing the same thing. By reflecting his every accomplishment, now at 51/2, he’s building on it.

One day on our way to school, Rusty and I altered our morning routine. He wanted to catch the first car of the subway so he could look out the front window. But it meant that we dropped out at the far end of the station platform.

Leading me to the staircase Rusty said, “Don’t be afraid a bit. I know the way.”

He then led me through an underpass to the street. (He’d traveled the route before with his babysitter.)

The other night, my husband wasn’t feeling well. Rusty, who recently mastered pouring his own juice, volunteered to get Bob a drink of water. Later, as Bob was climbing into bed, Rusty got him another one.

The next morning at breakfast Rusty recapped his evening’s efforts.

“Daddy said the water I gave him made him feel better.”

“That’s so nice, Rust,” I said.

Sitting there I began to fantasize about the years ahead with my new mensch of a son. But Rusty interrupted my thoughts.

“Wasn’t that nice of me?” he said.

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