black and white photo of a woman cutting a baby's hair
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A 2-year-old with chutzpah and a mullet

I took my kids to the park recently with a friend and her two sons. Our boys, ages 2 to 8, happily kicked balls together and romped through the trees. Near the end of their playtime, my indomitable toddler Harvey, all of 2, was sitting on a big log next to our friend’s 5-year-old. Harvey pointed to him, looked at me and said, “Mom, he’s my best friend.”

It was a sweet statement, but also evidence of Harvey’s pure chutzpah and social confidence. Why wouldn’t the boy three years his senior blinking in surprise next to him want to be Harvey’s best friend? A best friend seems like a good thing to have, and so Harvey would have one.

I have long pledged not to pigeonhole my children into roles that then become self-perpetuating. I don’t want to define one or the other of them as “the smart one” or “the funny one” or “the sporty one,” and thus activate a deep well of self-doubt, sibling rivalry and endless competition for parental approval. And I don’t do this — within their earshot. But in my written work, I will proceed to dissect their temperaments.

To put it simplistically, Harvey is my husband, and my oldest, Nate, is me. Nate has my shyness, my quietly held but passionate opinions and tastes. Like me, Nate is inwardly focused, with a tendency to worry and self-conscious about putting too much of himself out for public consideration. He hangs back in a group, but he’s a loyal friend.

Harvey, like his father, is a social butterfly, always comfortable being the center of energy in a room. He struts up to new people and confidently introduces himself, then lets out big belly guffaws to win over the crowd. He sings, he dances, and when Nate’s friends come over, he enthusiastically joins right in with the big boys.

This difference in their temperaments has, I believe, positively affected their relationship, because while an extroverted older brother might be inclined to leave his baby brother in the dust, Nate, 6, always sticks by Harvey’s side.

So it was no surprise this past weekend to see Harvey running with the pack when we made a trip to visit our college in a picturesque New England town. My husband and I met in college, and bringing our kids there on a bright November homecoming weekend was a journey steeped in sentiment and memories. Nate and our friends’ son chased each other amid the dead leaves on the freshman quad with Harvey trailing along, his blond wispy hair bouncing behind him. We took them to the library, to the dining hall and to our old dorms and soaked up everything that is good and nostalgic about a pretty college town in fall.

And on the very grass where my husband and I met and dreamed and became friends and fell in love, everyone was looking good — Nate with his big brown eyes and new, short, grown-up haircut, and Harvey with his silky uncut baby mullet flowing down his neck.

A few months ago, a family we had recently met held an upsherin, the ceremonial first haircut for their 3-year-old son. I’d never been to one, as it’s most commonly an Orthodox ritual, but my husband and I were charmed by this low-key celebration, where the parents said a few kind words about their son before snipping a piece of his hair and offering him a taste of Hebrew letters written in honey. Since we hadn’t yet trimmed Harvey’s locks yet, we thought we might as well wait until he is 3. And thus far we think his wild, unkempt style suits his untamed personality.

We love our confident kid; just this evening, my husband said to him, “Harvey, you’re the best.” And without lifting his gaze from his blocks, Harvey replied, “Yes, I’m the best.”

Drew Himmelstein
Drew Himmelstein

Drew Himmelstein is a J. parenting columnist and former staff writer. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two sons.