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Oh NOW I see. To all you strangers in the grocery line–yes, you with the three wild boys running willy nilly–you told me so. I didn’t see it then, but now I understand.  You nodded at my shaggy-haired boy calming unloading the cart for me. “Just you wait!” you always said. “He’ll grow up to be one of these hooligans.”

Rascal has always looked the part of a rough-and-tumble boy. He was a big baby, even stockier toddler, and is still one of the tallest in his preschool class. Since age 2, he has possessed the stereotypical boyish characteristics: he was more physical, less verbal; his first steps were quick and confident; he was obsessed with balls, cars and blocks.

But he was never “All Boy” as Grandmas like to say. He could sit through two hours of The Nutcracker. He could listen to a dozen books without fidgeting. He used his words before his hands. We called him our Gentle Giant. He was sweet, creative and funny. He was accommodating and laid back. He is still all of those things, but at age 5 there’s something new…something surly and impish and destructive. Surely this is not testosterone??

Just last week he had a buddy over to play, and 15 minutes into the playdate they were plotting how to climb on the roof. Then they built towers of buckets only so they could swing into them and make a crash loud enough to rattle the windows. They had a rock fight. They chased the dogs with the water hose. They screamed and howled and stomped with gusto. They did all this for two hours straight, pausing only for a drink of water from the hose, which of course led to a mud-slinging contest. It was the boys vs. the white stucco wall, and you know who won.

I called my husband. “They have lost their minds!” I would have taken cover inside but I feared they would start dismantling the house, plank by plank.

What the hell happened to our son? I’ll tell you what happened–his big sister went to elementary school, that’s what happened. She took her ballet-loving, role-playing, story-telling self to First Grade and left him to be influenced by his own boyish tendencies. Talk about wake-up call.

Every afternoon around 3pm, Rascal’s personas collide. Before Doodlebug steps off the yellow bus, he is there waiting to greet her. If an hour before he was spearheading a game of Throw Sharp Sticks at Each Other, as soon as his sister is on the scene, he follows her lead.

They play elaborate pretend games. They build forts, then spend hours crafting club rules and regulations. They don’t just play in the mud, they make intricate mud pies and sketch out plans for a mud-pie bake sale. They paint toenails.

Sometimes we urge her to give him a chance to call the shots. They try, but so easily fall into their accepted roles. Rascal says, “Ok, I want to play soccer!” To him, this means kicking a ball into a netted goal over and over again, as fast and as powerful as possible. When his sister steps in, the game turns into something like this:

“Ok, we kick the ball back and forth, then we hold hands and jump over the poisonous fire pit, then dribble the ball around the quick sand, past the evil dragon and into the castle dungeon. If you make a goal, the princess is free!”

“Yes!” Rascal shouts. He lasts a while longer, then spies the water hose. Here we go again.

Oh boy, I think. Now that Smiley is here, make that Oh boy, Oh boy. I better get used to this.

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