This evening I took a toddler walk. The pace was slow, and the company was perfection. We picked clovers and hit orange signs. We talked about the lack of water truck and the presence of a crane. There were flowers to color code and cracks to jump over. We touched every brick wall and discussed being two and a half. The space between trash cans were tunnels and light poles were for playing peekaboo.
For twenty minutes I saw the world through my son’s eyes. It looked like an adventure.
Today our nanny was “late.” She was at our house about ten minutes later than normal, which still left me with plenty of time to get to work. You know what I did in those extra minutes? I held my daughter and read my son a book. Then my son read the book to me. It was simple. It was extraordinary.
Sometimes being a few minutes behind your self-imposed schedule can be the best part of your day. My kids are teaching me that.
My toddler is a helper. Except he can’t say the word “help.” It comes out “heyelp!” For instance, When he hears the dishwasher open, he yells, “I heyelp!” and jumps right in. It has taken some perspective adjusting, but I find myself changing my rote chore moves to accommodate my helper. After years of figuring out the most efficient ways to do tasks, I’m now going in the reverse direction. Having a two year old follow you around with a dust pan and open the trash can for you is not the quickest way to sweep. Nor is having him hand you silverware one piece at a time. Neither is letting him throw individual pieces of clothing into the washing machine or giving him an empty spray bottle and a rag so he can dust too.
I realized that right now is the time to embrace the extra two minutes a task takes because I’m doing it with him. And the truth is that there is no hurry. He wants to be just like momma and dada, and these days of having a two year old will be briefer than I want to admit. Do I really care if it takes extra time to plant bulbs or rake the yard? For the first time in my life, I can honestly say no.
I feel like the time has come to get some things out in the open. You came to our house two years ago, the same week as your constant companion. His aunts sent you to him at the same time they sent flowers to me. I’d like to say it was love at first sight, but newborn eyes aren’t that keen. You spent a lot of that first year floating around the house–in and out of the toy box, occasionally making the trip to your boy’s grandparents’ house.
At some point during the last year, that erratic orbit became magnetic. One day, he saw you and decided that you were the one he needed. From that day on, you have never been very far apart. You sleep together and go on adventures. You have a “special” seat on top of the trashcan where you wait for him when he plays outside. He wants you to wear a hat and socks when it’s cold, and he reads you his favorite books. In fact, some of his most loved stories are the ones where the main character has a companion like you, books like Corduroy and Me…Jane.
The first thing I want to clear up is that I’m sorry about your name. I thought that calling you “Blue Bear” would give him a chance to name you himself. Unfortunately, he just heard “Blue” and ran with it. You also smell. I know that it is unavoidable since you get so much love each day. The reality that a lot of that love includes being shoved in a toddler mouth is just gross. I do try to bathe you whenever laundry times out around nap time because we both know the sadness that would ensue if you couldn’t sleep with him. Unfortunately, that happens less often then it should. Again, sorry.
I also want to say thank you. You have given me a window into my boy’s feelings that I didn’t anticipate. He won’t always tell me when he is sad or tired, but he never hesitates when I ask him, “Is Blue sad?” You also give him comfort when I am not there to kiss his bruised knee or sing him a lullaby when he has a bad dream. You are the piece of home that he can take with him wherever he goes.
I know that he is branching out to other stuffed companions these days–including the equally poorly named Brown Bear and Cat–but he keeps coming back to you. You’re his friend, and I’m glad he has you to take care of.
Which means that somehow two years have passed since my kid came into this world.
He loves to read. In fact, he loves it so much that we had to make it a rule to only read him a book one time each day. Otherwise, we’d spend all day reading Little Blue Truck and Corduroy while the other books on his shelf went unread. It seems like a good time to learn that favorites are good but so is variety.
He loves peas, fruit of all kinds, pickles, deli meat and anything sweet. Actually, there are very few things he doesn’t like once we bribe him (often with peas) into trying them.
He likes puzzles, trains, dinosaurs, balls, putting things in, taking things out, cutting the pickle (the other day he made a joke out of “cutting” an actual pickle and then tickling himself; Greg and I laughed hysterically), hopping, dancing and playing with his 70 pound pup-pup. His teddy bear Blue is his constant companion, although Cat is frequently not far away. His big boy bed is covered with his babies, and he tells us when, “shh!” they are sleeping.
More than anything, he loves spending time with his family. His grandparents are four of his favorite people. His aunts (real and fictive) and uncles make him happy. His daddy hung the moon, and I am usually his constant safe place.
Two years ago this little boy changed my world and gave me a new job title. I am excited to see him in his upcoming role as big brother; he’ll be great.
By my rough count, I’ve read 63 books this year, not including the countless number of kids books I read aloud. It’s a respectable number–nowhere near my peak, but not too shabby when I take into account everything else that happened in 2015, which notably includes raising a toddler and growing a baby.
Part of the reason that I make it a point to read often is so that my son, and soon my daughter, can see me enjoying books. I want to raise readers. Readers can be entertained anywhere, they can explore new ideas and test theories, and I have found that they are generally interesting people who are capable of having great conversations. The best advice I have ever been given is to develop the ability to speak genuinely and intelligently with anybody about a topic that interests them. Sometimes that means knowing a lot about a subject and sometimes it just means knowing how to ask thoughtful questions. I took that advice seriously and realized that being broad in my reading choices is the best way to develop those skills. This year’s books included history, science, literary fiction, young adult novels, architecture, material culture, food, mystery, essays and memoirs. I loved some of them, worked my way through others and stopped reading a few that I just did not enjoy.
I believe that reading makes me a more interesting person. The mental space to encounter new ideas and explore old ideas in unique ways makes me a more thoughtful person. The ability to do something for myself definitely makes me a better mother.
There are a few things that I know for sure about what 2016 will bring. Our family will gain a new member and many sleepless nights. The toddler will grow faster than I realize and learn new things constantly. My children and I will read together. And I will read alone to keep a sense of myself. Because in my continually changing reality, books will remain a constant.
There is nothing guarded or held back. Emotions play out in all their ferocity and quickly flicker back and forth. Anger turns to elation when the blocks finally stay stacked. Happiness becomes sorrow when a loved one leaves the room.
My favorite toddler face is a mixture of surprise and wonder. Something like this:
The picture is blurry, but I think the general feeling comes across nicely. Noah was amazed that his Uncle Ryan could skip rocks across a river. It violated his fragile grasp of gravity.
More recently the face looked like this:
He spent a lot of our walk through Zoo Lights pointing and talking and generally being excited. However, it was the carousel that had him truly impressed. There were movement, lights and animals. Here’s a close-up:
Riding the carousel was an entirely different face (a combination of trepidation and sleepiness), but I never want to forget how happy he was watching the animals go around in circles well past his bedtime.
You can’t manufacture a face like that; you can only enjoy them when they come.
I’ve noticed a subtle, yet persistent change in the soundtrack of my life. It used to include large spans of quiet; I am not one for constant aural stimulation. Music is wonderful, but I don’t need to always have it on. Sometimes I turn off my car radio and drive accompanied by my daydreams. Part of the reason is because repetitive noises trigger my anxiety, but I also enjoy the moments when I can hear what is going on around me without having secondary noises cover up the sounds of the world. I want to have the space to hear the cicadas and my house’s weird creaks.
That quiet is now largely relegated to a morning cup of coffee and a few snatched moments of sitting on the back stoop. Over the past several months, my boy has been steadily finding his voice. It started as babbles and has progressed to monosyllabic words. He always tells me where his “pup-pup” [puppy] is. He can find the “car” in his “buh-buhs” [books] and tell me that they “go-go-go” and that when they go they sound like “mrrr-mrrr-mrr.” Yesterday, he meowed when he saw a picture of a kitten; I didn’t know he knew that one. He tells me his favorite foods, “na-na” and “bu-bas” [banana and blueberries]. And, because it’s never to early to teach good manners, he will say “puh-puh” [please] and varying versions of thank you when prompted.
He and I trade off narrating our days together. In the midst of his babbles, I catch more and more words. He gets frustrated when I don’t understand him, which is prompting me to listen harder to pick up on what he means. Since he loves to dance, we listen to more music. He likes to break it down to Chuck Berry and uptempo pop music.
I’m glad that my soundtrack has changed because it means my life is alive and growing. There will always be a time for quiet, but now is the time for relearning how to listen and to appreciate what makes a good beat.
My attitude towards my toddler’s relationship to my dog Zeb will likely make some parents and concerned citizens of the internet cringe. However, the beauty of parenting is that I am not required to pay attention to what anyone [other than my parental counterpart] thinks as long as I am not hurting anyone. Which, despite what you may think after you read what follows, I’m not. Consider yourself disclaimed.
From the beginning of their friendship, dog and baby have been united by saliva. We brought our newborn home from the hospital, and Zeb gingerly licked him on the head with the very tip of his tongue. He then proceeded to ignore his existence for a good while until the bald puppy started to do things.
Zeb sniffed the baby and kept tabs on where he was, but generally he stayed away. Every new thing my boy learned, my dog observed. One day, my boy noticed my dog and began observing him as well. Then came the big change.
When Noah began crawling, Zeb wasn’t sure what to do. He gave him a wide berth for a while before accepting that the tiny human was now a force to be reckoned with. He licked him, tolerated the invasion of his space and got up to move when his paws had been touched too many times.
Things really didn’t start to get slobbery until the toddler started walking. Noah likes to give Zeb kisses. These kisses involve opening his mouth wide and letting the dog lick his tonsils. It’s very gross. Noah also chases Zeb around the yard to give him sticks, through the house terrorizing him with his ball popper, and into his formerly solo spaces to pet him “gently.” Noah likes to throw him tennis balls. The good dog, however, won’t play with toys that belong to the kid and refuses to pick up balls (even when they are dog toys) if Noah is playing with them. This standoff leads to tension that is normally resolved by tears and parental distraction.
I never thought that I would refer to my neurotic dog as patient. Zeb is, after all, afraid of trash cans, cameras and a variety of children’s toys. However, he also lets Noah “pet” him, which is really just slowed down hitting. He also accepts it when his tail and paws get stepped on by simply moving locations. He even lets Noah manipulate his jowls without complaint.
From the toddler’s point of view, his puh-puh is his beloved friend, and Noah shows his love by giving kisses. So while I may inwardly cringe at the amount of dog drool covering my boy, I’m glad to see them love each other.
There is an incomparable quality to spending a spring day outdoors with my child. He is coming out of a rough patch of teething, and there were several days when I thought my happy, curious kid was gone for good. Lately, though, his bicuspid that was bothering him broke through, and he is excited again.
He and I like to sit in the grass together.
And climb the mommy mountain.
He tells me about what he sees.
And I get to lay on my back in the warm grass and watch my boy discover how wonderful spring afternoons are.