The little dude is sick. Just a cough and a cold, but a nasty cough, the doctor says croup which I had thought was one of those illnesses that died out but apparently not?
There’s a pared down simplicity to caring for a sick child. You let the dishes stack up, because he needs you to hold him upright while he naps so that he doesn’t wake himself coughing. You defer the weaning, again, because a breastfeed at 2am is going to soothe his rasping throat and settle him back to sleep. You give him porridge for lunch because he ate his whole bowl at breakfast but refused toast for morning tea, so maybe he just wants smooth things that don’t hurt the sore throat.
But this afternoon, after several days trapped inside, he seemed recovered and so I decided to take him to the central library. We got the bus, because BUS! BUS! BUS! and he enjoyed the ride and was in a good mood when we arrived at the library. There was another boy, three years old or so, who had just made a house out of the giant lego blocks and was very concerned that the little dude might damage it, and made this known quite firmly “NO! HE CAN’T PLAY WITH IT! HE MIGHT BREAK IT! THIS IS MY HOUSE!”. His mother was trying to convince him that sharing is good, and the lego is for everyone to enjoy, etc etc, and apologised to me for her son’s behaviour (meanwhile her son was saying loud and clear ”HE SHOULD GO OVER THERE SOMEWHERE ELSE!”). I assured her that it was ok, the little dude is too young to pick up on the bigger kid’s attitude and was content just to look at the lego house. Also I sort of felt sorry for the older kid, because it had probably taken ages to make the lego house, and toddlers are very interested in dismantling things, so he was being fairly reasonable. The little dude was so completely oblivious to the three year old’s animosity that he just smiled and offered this kid his manky half-eaten piece of crusket. No-one wants your half-eaten cruskits kiddo but bless your heart for offering!
Before long they left, and the little dude did start playing with the giant lego / destroying the house, and another kid arrived, about eight maybe, and sat down quietly and opened up a lunch box. The little dude raced over and tried to get in on the lunchbox action (tubs! tubs with lids! tubs with lids and cherry tomatoes inside! wow! wow! wow!). I removed him, and apologised to the kid, and distracted the little dude with his very own tub of snacks (”that’s not your one darling, that’s for the big boy, this is your one over here”). The kid was absolutely charming and said “it’s fine, I understand he’s only little.” Then this older boy finished his food and started building a tower from the lego. The little dude had clearly taken a liking to this kid and walked over and passed him lego blocks to add to the tower. This continued for a little while and then the little dude wandered off to climb on the couch again. I was just taking my phone out to get a picture of him on the couch, when quick as a flash he got down and raced over to the tower and knocked the whole thing down before I could stop him. It was a sink into the floor moment, the very nice eight year old looked absolutely crushed as I apologised, and said in a sad but resigned tone “it’s ok, I can build another one”. I steered the little dude away to a different area of the library so the big kid could build in peace.
The three year old was big enough that he probably wouldn’t have destroyed someone else’s tower because he could see how that would upset them, but small enough that he would have been ballistic if someone destroyed his house. The little dude is small enough that he has no conception of creating something to last, he builds towers with the express purpose of knocking them down. The eight year old is big enough that he has learnt to be polite even when he is feeling sad that his creation was bowled over. Whereas adults don’t even make lego towers.
The little dude’s charming impulse to share the cruskit is borne from the same developmental stage as the impulse to go and take the other kid’s cherry tomatoes. His understanding of possession is based around “in my hand or in my mouth” – he is just too small to comprehend the idea that the tomatoes in the box held by another kid are for that kid only.
On the way home, the little dude smiled and babbled at the woman sitting next to us, who was elderly and engaged with the little dude, playing peekaboo and letting him pat her puffer jacket, and letting him play with the buckle on her handbag. She didn’t seem to speak much English and just smiled at me and stroked the little dude’s head but didn’t say anything when I asked if he was ok or whether he was bothering her.
I find his winsome way with strangers so endearing. Adults don’t generally interact with strangers on buses in this city. But he doesn’t know that strangers are strangers, because sometimes he meets people that he can’t remember meeting before but they’re actually relatives who shower him with attention.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking lately about how the exact same things that are challenging in one context are delightful in another context. His innocence of social convention is wonderful and temporary and not really inherently difficult, but just difficult because of the risk always that other people will be harsh and unaccommodating. He lives only in the moment, that’s literally all he can comprehend, I think his sense of the future is limited to “I’ve just had my bath so next is stories then bed”. Even something like “eat your dinner and then you can have a kiwifruit” is beyond him, let alone something like “you’ll see Nana tomorrow”. I don’t think he has discerned the rhythm of five days creche, two days mum and dad – days are just all days that might go in any direction. I’m pretty sure that every time he’s sick, he thinks it’s a new and awful experience; and every time we go to the bouncy castle at Tiny Town he thinks it’s the BEST THING he’s ever experienced.
Bloody hell we expect a lot of kids don’t we? I think of the other mother at the library apologising for her son, and me apologising for mine, and the gracious eight year old, and then the adults on the bus who all sit silently looking at cellphones or out the window, not talking to anyone in case they annoy someone. As parents we have to try and smooth off the rough edges of our kids, they do have to live in a society with other people after all… and yet somehow it seems that in removing the rough edges, the sparkle is dimmed as well. Adults all end up so boring, and kids are anything but boring. Even exciting adults are boring compared with kids.
I want to let him help me jettison some of the things I didn’t need to learn, and I want to help him keep as much of the sparkle as he can even as we shape his behaviour to fit in with the needs of other people. And cats. Well, especially cats.