Toddle

by Gordon MacDiarmid

Toddle 1
The inevitable Photos

Buggie

The pool always offered new sources of wonder. If not, it was good for some foot splashing, and to rub a little sunshine on our faces. I had to roll up the legs of my pants, repeatedly, so we could dangle our feet in the water. Austin watched carefully a few times, then rolled up the legs of his shorts, before he splashed his feet in the water this time. His giggle bubbled out of him, and I had to resist the urge to grab him and hug him until he squeaked.

It was time to investigate, again. Austin had noticed the detritus of Autumn nearing, floating on the water. He was fascinated by bugs. We lay down on our tummies, facing the water, and trolled for insects. I showed Austin that stripes and pointy tails usually mean "buggies" that bite. He practiced with me, scooping the "buggies" up to look at them. Until Austin raised a foot to stomp one of the squirmy one's, I had forgotten that someone taught him to stomp "buggies".

A live moth fluttered forlornly on the surface of the water, not quite trapped by the surface tension, but too worn out too flutter away. I scooped it from the water, and placed it on the sun-warmed cement. Austin studied the action carefully. I blew on it's wings, gently moved it from the drop of water it had brought with it. As carefully as I could I placed the drying moth on Austin's finger, and he helped me blow on it.

He did not squeal as it flew from his outstretched hand, he did not need to. The look of silent amazement on his face, told the whole story.

Austin popped up and ran to the skimmer hatch. For those unfamiliar with the term, a skimmer is a hole in the pool wall that let's water splash over, and catches detrious in a basket, as the water returns to the filter. While Austin may not have been aware of this function, he was familiar with the results of lifting the lid: "Buggies!" he said.

Only one was not a buggie, it was a frog. I brought it out of the skimmer basket and placed it on the ground. "Look, Austin." He focused his attention to me and I pointed out the frog. It was rather dazed, and probably scared. Austin moved curiously toward it. "Buggy", he cried, raising his foot. "It's not a buggy, Austin, it's a frog." I pronounced the word carefully, and then repeated it; he watched my mouth move. "Frwog" he said and giggled as it hopped away. He followed it about, trying out the new word, in his mouth.

He was extremely gentle, with the tiny creature, as we followed it around the landscaping. I caught it and let Austin stroke it. I showed him the long legs and we watched it hop for a while

Truck

It was time to investigate. At 30 months old everything is an investigation of sorts. At the moment it was a "Big Truck".

"Up" he said, in a way that made me realize he had mastered this piece of communication. Aging uncle, bent to the young master's wish and lifted him to adult eye-level.

Perhaps this would be a good time to mention the biological and physical aspects of our adventure. Aging uncle had said, "He (Austin) is so big!"; just a few moments before. Even as Austin began his "Big Truck!" litany and dance, I was gauging the distance to the truck down the street. Even as I lifted him to my hip, and spun about, the truck seemed to "zoom out" as the lad and I "dollied back", like that famous stairway scene in "Vertigo".

We neared the truck, I attempted to place him on the ground by it. Austin began the squirmy-clinging climb, and did not wish to be released. Austin squirmed more as we moved around the thing. It was the first time I realized he was intimidated by trucks. Mind you, it was kind of imposing to me to, some kind of Kenworth sleeper thing. He peered in the windows as we rounded it, but he made sure I did not get too close.

I pondered the implications of all that. It was good to be wary of large moving vehicles, even if they are not moving at the time. I was concerned whenever the little guy showed any timidity, which was mostly over-reaction on my part. Finally, I realized what an act of courage this was for him. He was clearly and properly "scared" of such a large truck, and yet he must get close and investigate. Austin would prepare as well as he was able; bringing his support team, getting to adult eye-level. But he would investigate. If this is not the definition of courage, I have no other to offer.

Motorcycle

"Guh-Dun! Modasikles! Modasikles!" Austin was wound as tightly as a cheap watch, and his excitement was communicable. "Look Guh-Dun! Modasikles!"

So everyone is excited, even Aunt Valerie hopped on and took a ride, and another, and another (Valerie really liked it). I expected Great-Grandma to try it next (no, she didn't). Still the reasoned arguing of the boy continued with a shrill "It's mine!" The whole family and some of the neighbors are out on the street, laughing and cheering as everyone tries the new toys; everyone but Austin. Take the shared, communicable excitement; add to this some shiny new toys that any child would find fascinating; results: a very frustrated toddler.

To be fair, they weren't really motorcycles. In my day, we would have called them mini-bikes, but I had never seen one like these when I was a kid. Except for the size, they bore little resemblance to the hobbled-together, half-bike, half-lawnmowers that we had as kids. It was a 1/4 or 1/2 scale replica of a cafe racer. They were nothing like the toys Austin had received as presents, either, they were real. They made loads of noise and were scaled down enough, that he could almost reach all the controls and pedals - almost.

Of course all the grown-ups knew that Austin wouldn't be able to ride the thing, but Austin was sure he could. This didn't stop the grown-ups from showing him which one was "Austin's", and then revving it up and shooting off down the street while he stayed behind in the driveway, balanced on another "Modasikle".

I stayed by him, keeping the bike balanced while he straddled the saddle. I watched while he wheedled Mommy into letting him ride his "Modasikle". While he was not winning, he made a valiant effort for a toddler. He imitated the vroom of the bikes, he squirmed and squealed and at last he resorted to the pouty face.

The balance of a three year old is a delicate thing. Sometimes, the valiant 3 year olds footsteps get ahead of him, or he gets ahead of the footsteps - over they go. Austin is resilient and mostly un-embarrassed about his mis-steps, he recovers without a whimper. That is at "toddle" speed though, at 30 MPH he probably would not bounce as well.

Mommy backed off for a moment, I talked to him a bit. As I spoke, I straddled the back end of the bike and brought it up off the kick stand, so it balanced on two wheels. Austin freaked immediately. He climbed / jumped off the mini-bike faster than any aging uncle could move. As I set the thing back on its kickstand Austin relented and eased back into the saddle. Austin was still wheedling and he had passed diplomacy five minute ago. When I caught his attention I explained that he would have to be able to reach all the pedals and hand controls to be able to ride. As soon as he was able, I explained, I would teach him.

To his credit he saw the logic in this, yet he had no appropriate response. He neatly and silently ignored me and the logic and went back to wheedling. He would not be consoled and even when Gumpy (Grandpa Coady) offered to give him a ride. Austin refused, still convinced that he could do it himself.

There is the psyche of this three-year-old in microcosm. It made me think of the Big Truck we went to see. Austin was scared of it, but insisted on getting up close and personal with that mighty Kenworth. And again with the motorcycles, he was frightened of them but was willing to try it because it fascinated him.

This was a Human to be reckoned with. Aging uncle refused the offered ride because it had been 12 years since I was on two wheels and I didn't want to look silly. The lowest kind of fear had stopped me, fear of embarrassment. Now I know some of you will say that toddlers have no concept of their own vulnerability, that three year olds haven't yet built the conceptual matrix that will allow them to put the concepts together - bike falls down / Austin goes squish. Taken by itself I would have to agree. But knowing the little fellow, I would call it pure bravery.

Mommy got the key and turned on Austin's "Modasikle". She showed him how to beep the horn. This sated him for a few moments, until Mommy decided to take a ride. Then all hell broke loose.

For those of you with your own toddlers you will recognize the "Mine" syndrome. The mistake in all this is telling the young one that they own it, to begin with. Sharing, as a concept, comes much later. As soon as the little one is big enough to understand, Mommy and others tell him "this is mine (not yours), you mustn't touch it". So when someone finally tells the child that this is "His" it is natural and very human to claim territorial rights and squeal "Mine".

Aging Uncle removes toddler from motorbike, while Mommy takes the saddle. Toddler hollers and raises a fuss. Uncle deposits toddler on the driveway, toddler tries to get Mommy off his (moving) "Modasikle". After 2 false starts, Uncle grabs little hellion and holds him tight while Mommy zooms away. I expected tears, what I got was, "Mommy's coming back, 'kay?" I maintain that the lad was worried about Mommy; Tiffany (Mommy) credits it to the Mine syndrome. We watched quietly as Mommy, who had never ridden a motorized 2 wheeler before, zoomed down the driveway and over the curb, narrowly missing the mailbox. I maintain the kid is prescient because, indeed Mommy biffed it on the "Modasikle".

Mommy returned with relatively minor damage to herself, and headed straight into the house, calling for her Mommy. Austin put his face up against mine and hugged me for a very long time. I hugged him right back.

By the way, Austin got his ride on the "Modasikle", first with "Gumpy" Coady piloting, then with "Unca" Jason. When he got back he looked very serious and climbed up my body for more hugs. He refused the additional offers of a ride. He hugged me for a wonderfully long time

 

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revised: 2004.11.16

copyright 2003 - 2004