Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Most Wonderful Thing About Toddlers

Saturday night I went to SwingDaddy's and Lady M's for dinner and a movie (and by 'dinner' I mean... oh, wait, no, I really mean dinner. If you don't get that joke, well, that's probably for the best). This is not uncommon - in fact, I'm probably over there much more than I should be, but I console myself with the knowledge that neither SwingDaddy nor Lady M are particularly shy about telling me to go away when I wear out my welcome. At any rate, when I got there, Bubbers-

Okay, time for an aside. Those of you who have read closely and paid attention will have noticed long before now that I often refer to T. (SwingDaddy and Lady M's son, but if you didn't know that much, at least, I have only one question for you: Who are you and why are you reading my blog? Okay, that's two questions, but I used only one question mark, so we'll let it slide) as 'Bubbers,' or, the shortened version, 'Bubs.' I have not, however, ever explained why I call him such, and there's a good reason for the secrecy up to now - there is no explanation. It just sort of came out one day, and from then on, it stuck for me. For a while, it was only ever 'Bubbers,' but then one day, much like the origin of the long version, the short version just sort of popped out without thought, which I suppose is not too bad, considering some of the other things that have been known to pop out of my mouth without thought. Don't think too hard about that one - it'll just give you a headache. At any rate, the point of this aside was to explain my use of 'Bubbers' or 'Bubs' to talk about T. Given that there really is no explanation, I suppose the aside has failed. But at least we're all together now, yes? Excellent, back to the post.

So that night, as I was about to say, Bubbers was REALLY hyper. I mean high-pitched squealing, uncontrollable giggling, jumping up-and-down, running into walls sort of hyper - kind of like how the Tmony altos used to get when you had more than three of them all in one room together (come on Tmony alums, back me up on this: the altos were crazy, no?). On this particular night, my presence, while perhaps contributing to Bubs's high energy, was probably very helpful to SwingDaddy and Lady M, as they were both working on different aspects of our upcoming dinner, and thus not as readily-available for chasing after a screaming one-year-old. My exuberant nature being what it is, and (perhaps more importantly) my obsession with small children - Bubs especially - being what it is, I was more than happy to keep the kid occupied. We had a fab time, and through the course of the evening, I found myself thinking about all the reasons little kids are so cool (and this one in particular).

The first thing that got me to thinking about how great little kids are is that they always want more. Now that he's learned to both say and sign "More" (or, verbally, "Mo'"), Bubbers is well equipped to indicate when he wants more of, well, anything. Last night, as I watched him stomping his feet happily for absolutely no reason (fun ain't hard to come by when you're that easily-entertained, which is actually yet another reason why little kids are great - they're so easy to entertain! Although admittedly, I've never tried entertaining teenagers by telling them to stomp their feet and giggle, so maybe it's a universal thing and not age-related), I decided to sing "If You're Happy and You Know It." If you're wondering why I chose that song, you clearly don't know it very well - the second verse is "If you're happy and you know it, stomp your feet," so since he was already stomping, it seemed like a good song to choose. He was thrilled to sign along with the song, and when it was done, made the sign for 'more' and said, "Mo!" We sang a couple other songs, with frequent repetitions of "Mo!" to indicate the desire for an encore. It's gratifying, I must say, to have the recipient of shared knowledge indicate a desire for further sharing. Teenagers don't usually do this. After giving a lesson to a group of 15-year-olds, the only hand gesture I'm likely to get will probably not be one asking for "Mo!" More likely, I'll get a lot of blank stares, perhaps punctuated here and there by a snore or a gurgle (don't you hate when you choke on your drool in class? Or am I the only one who's done that?).

On a slightly-related note, Bubs has gotten very good about clearly communicating what he wants (when he has the ability to do so, that is. There are still many words / phrases he simply hasn't learned, and so he can't always express himself perfectly), as seen in the above example of asking for more. Of course, he most often shows this skill off when asking for ice cream, which he does at completely random times even when there's no ice cream around. Man, that kid loves him some ice cream. The point is, however, that when Bubs wants or needs something, he'll let you know - toddlers are great about that. High school kids are not nearly so helpful. High school kids are like women - they don't tell you what they mean, and at times tell you the exact opposite of what they mean. And when you do the wrong thing, they just shake their heads and wonder how you could be so stupid as to not know that of course when they said they knew what a gerund was they really meant they didn't know a gerund from Adam. (That example was specific to high school students, not women. Women don't generally encounter tests on their comprehension of gerunds. For women it would be something like, "Of course when she said she likes your new shirt she meant that if you ever wear it again she will become physically ill all over it just to make you buy a new one.") There's no way to win with that sort of communication sabotage setting you up to fail, which is why it's nice to have little kids, who are always straight with you about everything they think or feel (sometimes to your horrific embarrassment in public places, like when JB pointed to an older woman walking past us at the Y and said in his loudest little-kid whisper, "She's really old! How old can people get?!" Gotta love that little-kid whisper, loud enough to wake the dead).

Another fantastic quality of small children is their fascination with imitation. I spin in a circle, Bubbers spins in a circle. I stomp my feet, he stomps his feet. I poke my head around the corner and say, "Boo!" and he does it too. Okay, admittedly none of that is 'educational,' per se, but it applies to other tasks as well. I say, "A," and he repeats it, and can do so with most letters of the alphabet (in fact, he can actually do it just by pointing at the letters as well, so he's progressing in letter recognition, not just sound imitation). He sees me - or Mama, or Baba - doing something and wants to try it too. Good luck trying to get that sort of blind adoration from teenagers. "Watch how I diagram this sentence, and then you try-" "Why?" "Because diagramming sentences is a crucial part of understanding the language you speak." "Whatever." (And no, I don't believe that crap about diagramming being essential to learning about English, but I needed an example. Cut me some creative-license slack, okay, Mr. Criticism?)

Children Bubbers's age are still easily manipulated, as well. That is, we, as adults, still have a fair amount of control over their reactions to events and circumstances. The classic example, of course, is how adults react when a child falls or in some way incurs an injury. While I understand that all of us with any sort of paternal / maternal instinct want to leap in and comfort the child (what sort of heartless beast wouldn't want to help if he could?), this is often a bad idea. In most cases, the injury is minor and temporary - a stubbed toe, a bruised forehead, a wounded butt from falling down, etc. - and a parental overreaction will only serve to signal a problem to the child. Often, kids that age will hardly notice anything has gone wrong, and they're up and away again before you can stop them. (Understand I'm not talking about serious injuries here; please don't go thinking I'm an advocate of letting children bleed to death on the floor of your kitchen so as not to coddle them too much. Minor injuries only, people.) Saturday night, when Bubs and I were spinning, he spun and fell over. He paused and looked at me, as most children do, to see what my reaction was and to take his cue from that - should he be worried, or is everything okay? I laughed and said something inane like, "That was surprising, huh?" and then proceeded to spin and fall down next to him (on purpose, to show him it was okay... really, I'm not just a clumsy idiot). Sometimes, of course, this manipulation is beyond our capabilities, because sometimes you just can't school your features fast enough. After dinner, Lady M was playing with Bubs on the other side of the kitchen, and he rammed his face into a part of the wall really hard, right on the lip. Lady M definitely made the "Oooh! That hurt!" face
(I did too, though I wasn't in his line of sight, which is fortunate, 'cause multiple adults freaking out is even worse) out of sheer instinct, because he really hit it hard. Of course he started crying - probably mostly because it really had hurt, but seeing the face never helps - and then came across the kitchen to get a hug from me (probably because I was furthest away from "The Thing That Made My Lip Hurt"). By the time I'd given him a hug and a kiss, he was content again and probably had no memory of hitting his lip, given that he walked directly back to where he'd just hurt himself and continued playing with Lady M quite happily. Anyway, this has gotten far off-topic, but the point is kids are easy to manipulate at that age. Unfortunately, this becomes much more difficult as they get older, and in fact the opposite becomes true - they learn to manipulate us. Clever bastards.

Okay, so of course there are bad things about little ones. There's a bruised area on my forearm reminding me that Bubbers has entered the delightful stage of biting anything and everything he can. He also occasionally dabbles in tantrums when he is displeased, though those are still pretty easily offset by distraction (ooh, shiny!). And then there's the fact that he still thinks of his training toilet as a fun new stepping stool, instead of a diaper-alternative. But in those pleasant moments when you find that your next major challenge is having to come up with another verse of "The Wheels on the Bus," you begin to appreciate the simplicity of small children.

Maybe I should teach preschool...

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