Big and Small – Adventures with a Toddler
“I’m gonna run away from you! I’m running away!!!” shrieks my twenty one month old toddler. “Ok, “ I grin, “I‘ll come get you!”
It has been a year since I wrote the last entry about our funny little girl; a year filled with adventures. She learned to walk, then run, and now to dance, climb and jump. She graduated from handling toys to opening Band-Aids. She began to gesture and then speak, first in partial words, then words, and now in full sentences. She moved from mouthing toys to problem solving puzzles, and from patting peers to playing beside them and imitating them. She learned to feed herself and drink from a cup, now with much less mess. She learned to cope with family absence, first by seeking books and cuddles, now by talking about when mama comes back.
Together we made it through her first year in our classroom. And we are back together for the summer, one year later.
Last summer, the challenge was slowing down after a busy academic year. Now it is more complex. We speed up and slow down, come close and move away, following her lead.
We have a tiny rebel on our hands. She demands to choose her own clothing, try everything that her mamas can do, and help with chores and cooking. She bustles around the house, always in motion, like a little tornado, leaving toys everywhere. Her favorite phrases to say these days, "Nooo, I choose!” “Try.” “I need that. I need yours.” “I‘m climbing! I’m jumping!” “No, that’s mine!” “I’ll help you!” “I’ll buckle it! Help!”
We speed up to keep up with her ever-changing ideas and her need to move.
But we slow down when she chooses her own outfits. She needs to dump all of them on the floor and contemplate the choices.
When she buckles her stroller, she must at least make an attempt before adults can assist.
We slow down when she needs to try the same peg on the puzzle for fifteen minutes.
We slow down when she wants to diaper babies and have tea parties, the same scripts over and over.
The thing is, learning to do things by yourself takes practice, which takes time. Learning which things you like to do requires experience doing them.
Last summer most of our time was spent together in cuddles and contemplation. Now she demands that I, “float away,” in the pool but then she immediately wants me to come back and hold her. She wants to hide in her cardboard box “house,” but be found right away. She wants me to stop kissing her, but then kiss her again. Being an individual, separate from mama, is scary, so with each step away there is a scurry back.
There are moments when she seems so big. At the library, she actually selects books and asks to read them. At the store, when another child took her toy, she asserted that it was her turn, using her words. When the other child hit her, she said, “touch gently.” At the park when another child cried across the lawn, she insisted we should go and see if he was ok.
And then there are moments when she seems so little, like when she cuts herself and is soothed by kisses. And at nighttime when she says she is lonely or when she falls asleep in my lap. When she asks to be carried, frightened by the noise of an airplane or truck. When she tantrums because she is so tired that she can’t do the things she wants, but she can’t stop trying.
Twenty-one months is so old and so young.
We slow down and speed up, we come close and move away and come close again. We give her the time and space to try, but the security of help, and limits when she can’t choose. We watch her play, we ask how and when to help, we adapt to the changing reality of toddler needs. It is, as Ron Lally says, a dance.
It's been a beautiful summer.
“Mama, mama! Come catch me!” “Run away, and I get you!”
Just blink and the summer will be over; school in session again. This parenting thing is a fast ride!
Julia Luckenbill, MA, is program coordinator at the Early Childhood Lab School at UC Davis.