For, on a table drawn beside his head,
He had put, within his reach,
A box of counters and a red-vein’d stone,
A piece of glass abraded by the beach
And six or seven shells,
A bottle with bluebells
And two French copper coins, ranged there with careful art,
To comfort his sad heart.
(from The Toys, Coventry Patmore)
We are in what feels to me like a year of transition, between age 1 and 2: where the markers at the opening and close of the year are clear, but the path between them is not. The changes are rapid, and nothing is fixed forever yet.
At the beginning of the calendar year, I wanted to commit to making a log of the little things, month by month, for as long as I could manage. We’ve made it now to six months – albeit with some flagging towards the end. This is a record of how my daughter is discovering for herself her favourite things, before casting them away and finding something new. But it is also a reflection from us as her parents on our own favourite things about her: on what she does and how she does it.
I hope this has some relevance even if your attention is not taken up much of the time with little people. On some level I am also trying to explore what it is to be in the world, and to be in love.
i) There has been a succession of three favourite books this month: Not So Silent Night, its solid pages given over to the noisy animals of the nativity, Car Car Truck Jeep, sung to the tune of Baa Baa Black Sheep, and Who’s That Scratching at My Door, about a boy who has plenty of toys but wants a real playmate. Each book must have had a reign of about a couple of weeks, during which time you would have it read again at any opportunity. It’s lovely to see how you will often sit back content once you’ve got one of us to start reading, letting the story simply unfold before your eyes (and ears).
ii) One of your favourite pastimes is to pursue the cat who is a long-time resident at grandmother’s house. But your interest in dogs – of any shape, size or colour – is not far behind either. At first I thought this was to do with coming across creatures who seem to be on your own level (closer to eye-level, and harbouring similar kinds of energy), but now I wonder if it is the other way round, and more that you feel able to speak their language? ‘Woof woof!’ you call, in a gentle whisper.
iii) It’s funny how the ‘firsts’ that count aren’t always the ones you had expected. One of our favourite discoveries over several weeks has been that you are now ready to give us a hug. You lean in and extend your arms around us, knowing now exactly what a hug is for. And it comes in the most casual of moments, and not necessarily for long, but it is certainly deliberate, chosen. There is something to understand here about intimacy: it has a slow build, but once it is established, it emerges freely and easily – not through the big, significant gestures but more often in the day to day postures of living.
i) You have taken to studying things en masse, to see if you can pick out individual things: the array of different birds spread across the inside cover of A Busy Day for Birds, the pattern of little pictures on one of your old hats, or the woodland creatures on your wallpaper. It is so easy for me to gloss past things but you remind me to take a second look:
Yet take another look and you may bring
From the dull mass each separate splendour out.
(from ‘Dream and Thing’, Edwin Muir)
Incredible, really, that you can transform something from ‘dull’ to a ‘splendour’ just by looking, isn’t it?
ii) Your affections are shifting and now there are occasions when a toy will receive a big cuddle: as you hold it tight against your chest and rock slightly from side to side. For those few seconds, your award of attention is total.
iii) It is so exciting to hear you verbalise a new word for the first time. It feels as though you pick your moment, when suddenly the word sounds like a thing to you. It happened the other day when you were marshalling together the unlit tealights. Grandpa offered to help you count them, but when you got to ‘two’, you stuck on it, and for a while afterwards everything was ‘two’. It must have felt great in your mouth as you kept repeating it with that long drawn out “ooh?”
i) You’re much, much more choosy about your books now and quite a few of the old ones don’t get a look-in. But the board book version of The Gruffalo is having its moment. We wander in a rather pedestrian way through the pages meeting various animals who fail to make much of an impression. But when we reach the last page a smile slowly spreads over your face as we come to a picture of that creature about whom we know much less. Is he friendly? Should we be scared?
ii) You’ve been practising your wave for a little while now, but I think the gesture is starting to take on even more meaning for you. Often you don’t wave until the person has gone, or hung up the phone, but then you will call out ‘byee’ with great fervour, as if you’ve caught just the right moment. It seems less about communication and more as if we’re playing a game and this is the pose you strike when the music stops.
iii) You must recognize many words now, but it’s a thrill to get an insight into just what those are. Often you will point to an object and make a sort of generic noise for ‘that’ or ‘there’, but if we ask you to point to something first we can find out if you already know what it is / if you know the name for it. I normally start with “can you see a …” but I’ve been amazed at some of the things you’ve identified for me in response. The world is coming alive again as you assign each thing its place.
i) You know the names of the things you love, and bunnies in all shapes and sizes are generally greeted with an exclamation: “booies!” “bweez!” – or something akin to that. I wonder if it’s anything to do with the fact that the cuddly bunnies we have look much more person-like than some of the other animals on all fours. Certainly today you were keen to waggle some of your chopped apple in the face of your favourite bunny, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he/she was soon to be offered tea.
ii) You use your fingers creatively: to tickle our backs, which is apparently where we are most ticklish, or to feed us whatever you have suddenly decided to turn into food. It must be such a delight to be in command of reality in these moments. It is your turn to be the rule-maker, except that here, for now, there is no judgement.
iii) Never mind learning a language, sometimes you’re content just to tell us what you think in your own. Your chatter has all the intonation of matters that are at once serious, engaging and not to be refuted. Not for the first time I have the sense that you know it all before we’ve even attempted to teach you.
i) These two new words have changed everything. Now that you’ve started to say ‘story’, there is not a time of day that doesn’t offer itself to be filled with a reading. And it starts as soon as you’re up. But of course it makes sense that the other word you’ve taken on is ‘again’. The ending invites the beginning.
ii) Your hands have acquired another new skill, as Daddy provided you first with a pen, and then a set of crayons to draw with. But when you decide it’s time for “drawing”, the paper often cannot be provided quickly enough, as you seize your chosen colour and make ready. Then, just as quickly, it is over and complete, and I find myself rather envying you your ability to be satisfied with your work in a matter of moments.
Our drawers of odds and ends have to be emptied out time and again as you sort through the random cluster of things. For once, the euros and dollars that may never recover their purpose as currency have a use, as you gather up all the coins into a box, and tip them out again. Perhaps when you tire of this we will need to make a new musical instrument …
Some final bitesize thoughts on what I am learning:
- life adds up to something; though it can feel like we have done “nothing”, this is never the whole truth
- paying attention is worth it, and is its own reward
- though as adults/parents we are forced to question this day by day, the world you inhabit is enough. You are making something of it with every step.
Very beautiful reflections, a joy to read xx
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Thank you very much! xx