What’s mum-life like a year in? Just being able to keep up physically and staying ahead of him fast enough so that he keeps developing at the speed of light.
The tiny yet well-appointed playground was filled with kids. Most of them were older: Aged three and upwards. My little man was in bare feet, new to walking. He gripped my finger with a hand-strength that makes grown women wince. He was waddling towards the playground with an open, excited expression, studying the other little creatures on the play equipment. If he could have broken into a run, he would have – and probably would’ve been dragging me along on the ground behind him.
One little girl, clearly from a lower socioeconomic family, ran and galloped in circles around the playground. She caught my eye. She was the only one without a parent within cooee, her mother otherwise occupied at a picnic table way off at the edge of the green.
‘Spur it!’ she yelled fiercely, kicking a leg as if to kick-start a motorcycle and staring at me intently. I had no idea what she said, didn’t know what to respond, until she screamed it again. ‘Just spur it!’ And off she galloped in a circle.
My little man watched her go around and around and around. He sat on a wobbly sailing boat thing, less interested in the device than the kids running havoc around him.
Two women walked past with a tiny girl, heading to the swings.
The babies – theirs and mine – caught each others’ eyes and smiled at each other. My little man turned to watch her get pushed backwards and forwards for a while.
He was content to sit and watch. The galloping girl. The swing girl. The older boys sprawling over the climbing ropes, up and down and around and over. One jumped down, ran up the slide, slid down and then raced up the ropes again.
The little man wanted to try it.
As soon as the boys left, he got down and made a bee-line for the ropes.
He hung onto the lowest rope, which was at the height of his chest, and grinned up into the sky, the ropes towering over him. He tugged me down so I squatted, then grabbed onto me so I had to lift him up. As soon as he was up, he leaned out into the ropes, pulling himself upwards hard. He grinned like a maniac, as if to say Man I can do this, and kept leaning further in and outwards.
I looked up, and then addressed him, eyebrows raised. ‘Mate. It’s not possible for me to climb up there with you, I’m really sorry.’
He was disappointed.
I often wonder how a one-year-old understands so much. He might not have his own command of English yet but he understands almost everything I say to him. His own language is well developed, and my ear is well-attuned, but it’s still remarkable to me. My own parents are astonished at how well he understands the world and how well he communicates and makes himself known.
‘He’s more like two than one,’ my mum mused in delight. ‘It’s incredible. I can’t quite believe it.’ That was after he had watched some tradies put in fence posts for a while, then gestured to the entire line of them and babbled at his Nan about it.
Disappointment doesn’t sit long on one-year-old shoulders. After sliding down the slide with giggles and a toothy grin, he was back to his mapping of the world.
Because that’s really what it is.
Suddenly, a bird alighted on a seat nearby.
All kids and activities forgotten, he pointed a tiny, chubby finger in its direction and took off. He started talking in a very high pitched voice, a voiced reserved (and used exclusively) for animals and babies. He went to chase it down, only to be cut off by a three-year-old running squealing away from her mum in a game of chasey.
The bird flew away.
The attempt to get up close and personal with the bird person was thwarted, but at least there was something fun to watch in the interim. He stood and watched the newly-three-years-old-girl tear through the park with glee.
When it was time to leave, the little one grabbed my hand until we were out of the playground. But as soon as his feet hit the green grass, he took off. One finger pointing out in front of him, he walked as fast as he could – almost at a run! – towards the car.
He points to things he wants to examine, while carried.
He points to things he’s heading towards, while walking.
If he’s walking a long way, he points intermittently and always when changing direction. Like, Now over there!
This little person who chose me to be his mum is a sharply observant, confident, enthusiastic little kid. He adores other kids. He adores people. He wants to investigate everything, understand everything, do everything right now please.
I do my best to let him explore. I sit with him, or near him, and let him find his own patterns and paths in the world. I watch him, wait for his cues, and follow along. Most of the time I get it right.
Some of the time I have to take the lead.
Nearly always we fall into a rhythm that works.
As I pointed out to someone earlier in the day, my job is to help him develop. Yes, it’s exhausting. Yes, I run out of ideas. Yes, he’s only at the beginning of his foray into the world on his own little (big, really) feet. Yes, he’s an only child but an extrovert who gets his kicks by being around people, observing people, and being out and in the world. He likes toys, but if there’s a toy or an opportunity to go outside and be in the world, the world will win.
There are no screens in his life.
There are no devices.
There is no TV.
He is inside the world, deeply inside the world, in a way that the majority of kids today simply are not. It seems that many parents want kids to go away, to be quiet, to be distracted.
In contrast, I want my kid to be engaged, engaging, conversational, interested.
Instead of screens in my little man’s life there is the Entire Amazing World, a whole lot of books, music, instruments, and an exhausted mother doing her best to keep up with his racing intellect and his solid, strong physicality.
He prefers to be outside more than inside.
His favourite toy is a hose.
He waters the plants, helps me sweep the kitchen, cleans the floors with me, and will even attempt to clean his own dinner tray!
Together, we give the lawn a drink, plant seeds, say hello to the sea, talk to the birds and the trees.
People keep telling me it’s “going to get worse”. That running around with him now is “only the beginning”. That “you’ve got a lot on your hands”.
Keeping up and teaching are my two jobs.
But I figure that if I manage both of them, then this guy is going to be one very remarkable person.