The other day we were sitting around the breakfast table when the Supreme Eldest walked in with the Toddler.
Instantly, we were galvanized into action. The Son and Heir grabbed dining room chairs and set up barriers. Tired of Being Youngest swept through the shelves, removing breakables and replacing them with toys. The Norwegian Artist focused on the floor, removing any small, suspicious item (excepting the Chihuahua; I’m afraid we’re stuck with her). I bustled through the kitchen cabinets, looking for crackers and applesauce and suitable fruit.
The Toddler herself plunged into the fray, within minutes reducing the house to the wreckage that makes her so happy.
How on earth did we have four of these things in the house at the same time?
Years ago, my brother commented to me, “It seems like you’re always pregnant.”
A few years later, he embellished on the initial statement: “You have this never-ending, rotating supply of teenagers.” (I think this latter has something to do with the initial “always being pregnant” part).
Carbon footprint scolding aside, yes, we have four children, and yes, in today’s world of raising our three Dobermans as if they were our children, that’s a big family. “Are they all yours?” I was repeatedly asked. (A friend of mine with a similar brood has a good answer for this: “No, I was bored, so I borrowed some”).
As my brother observed, I have a rotating supply of teenagers. Just as one grows up and has a child of her own, that youngest one hits 13, then 14, and looks to be hurtling, headlong, into 15 before another year is up.
Knee deep in hormones, I had forgotten what it was like in Little Person’s World, but the Toddler grabs my hand with her soft, squishy, sticky one and together we lurch and stumble our way back to a time where every living creature is a Doggie, shoes were meant to be torn off flat, fat feet (mine still look that way; and I’m a grownup), and pureed winter squash is haute cuisine.
Within minutes, she reduces me from an articulate adult to someone who says “dwinkie,” “sockie,” and “Tubby-Time!” The Son and Heir enjoys jumping like a frog around her because it garnishes the occasional smile; the Norwegian Artist melts into a puddle of helpless admiration (“Look at those soft, plump biceps!”). Even Tired of Being Youngest raises her voice an octave and arches her eyebrows when she presents to the Toddler the Puddy Tat.
College Girl calls from afar and says wistfully, “Give her a big Squeeeeeeeeeeze for me!”
Oh, we will.
“Babies are God’s way of saying that life should go on” — it’s one of those pithy proverbs on a coffee mug, but it’s a good one. There is something about the young, the vulnerable, and the helpless that brings out the best in the rest of us. Grownups become true grownups in the process of taking care of those growing up.
Built like a shoebox with arms, legs, and oversized head, the average toddler has the ability to garnish center attention from throughout the room. Every day is an opportunity to touch things, move things, break things, grab things, squash things. Sounds were made to be expressed — loudly, softly, repeatedly, through the nose, with a saucepan lid dropped onto a tile floor. Things that break, break — someone else sweeps them up while the toddler is quickly whisked away someplace else.
Has anyone ever met a cynical, jaded toddler?
Didn’t think so.
Obviously, one must eventually grow out of toddlerhood. On the pathway to maturity, one leaves behind the Being the Center of Attention part, the indiscriminate grabbing and handling of other people’s stuff, the loud outraged cryof rage when one’s will is crossed.
Or one should. Some people don’t.
In the world of being an adult and expressing oneself with maturity and grace, it is the gift of interacting with children that keeps us from being stolid, solid, serious, somber, and bo—-rrrrring. Anyone who can prompt a three-piece-suited businessman to sing out, “Oh, look at the BIG Kitty Cat,” when referring to a 600-pound tiger at the zoo, is someone with a rare, fleeting, benevolent power indeed.
I know. Stocks are down; unemployment is up; there’s a lot of oil floating around the Gulf right now. The ice caps may or may not be melting and the toilet needs to be cleaned.
But in Toddler Land, none of this matters. Thank God for toddlers and for all that they have to teach us.