Photo: National Geographic Little Kids Website

My Big Bird (i.e., the oldest of my three kids, a seven year old) recently had a first grade animal project. He selected a rhinoceros. He had to make a poster with a series of facts and pictures from research he did from books and the internet. Though I find most homework unnecessary, I don’t mind projects like this one. It had some parameters, but lots of room for creativity. We helped a bit (can’t let a kid browse the internet alone or load paper in the printer), but for the most part we just asked him what he learned and reminded him to check his spelling and capitalization.

He chose rhinos because this is the animal he uses to describe himself when he is angry. He always says he wants to “charge like a rhino” when he is angry, and he often does. As long as he isn’t charging one of us, it is fine. He generally charges at a couch, chair or bed, making for a soft landing for a frustrated little boy.  

On a recent trip to the Central Florida Zoo, we went to the rhino show. They brought the rhinos out into an open area and fed them while a zoologist gave us information about the life cycle, habitat, diet and other such details of the rhino as well as taking questions from the audience. She mentioned how rhinos like to charge. Mine and Big Bird’s eyes made immediate contact and lit up. The zoologist said that rhino’s have excellent hearing, but their eyesight is terrible; they can’t see more than five feet in front of them. They charge because their size is intimidating to would-be predators, but they are basically terrified of everything. They are “big fraidy cats,” to quote her.

I looked at my son and gave him a soft, knowing smile. He smiled back sheepishly. There has been so much talk about tiger moms and elephant momsFrench moms and American momsmommy wars, and endless other mom identifications. At any given time I could fit into one or more of these mom identities, but it is now much more clear to me that regardless of my parenting st‌yle, I have a Rhino kid. His personality and presence are big, bold and even intimidating at times. (And it seems like he eats 100 pounds of food a day, as we learned the rhino does.) But the most important resemblance is that when he is frustrated, angry or overwhelmed and decides he wants to charge, inside he is scared. A scared little boy who can’t see what is happening up ahead of him and feels if he just pushes through it with all of his emotional power and might, then maybe he will scare off a seeming predator. Rhinos are not mean or vicious or manipulative, nor are small children. They are simply powerful beings in our lives who, when scared (anxious, stressed, angry, etc), use their loud but limited power to try and change the course of things. My job is to teach him how to change from a rhino into a big boy. I’m still working on that one.