H is holding up a roll of orange tape to his ear. I can hear only his side of the conversation.
“I’m with mama,” he says.
There’s a long pause.
“Yeah. It’s not so entirely sane.”
He pauses again.
And that pretty much sums things up in our house.
“Are you the butcher?” H asks me, a mischievous happiness spreading across his face. His crinkled eyes sparkle.
He has nestled himself between two open cabinet doors, closing them as far as his little body will allow. This is a game we play, the doors a stand in for the squeeze chute he knows cows go through before they are stunned and slaughtered.
“Are you Mathilda?” I smile at him.
Our eyes meet, and for a second we are silent. I do not know what he needs or gets from this play, but the frequency with which he initiates it signals its importance. I trust he knows what he needs, and although it is not a game I would choose, I play along.
“I’m the butcher,” I tell him, picking up the beat.
“Yeah, but I’m not a butchering cow. I’m an information cow.”
I smile. I’m spared, at least this time, from playing at butchering my child in the guise of Mathilda the cow. And I am amused at how much a child of his times he is. An information cow, indeed.
“I am going to Seattle, because I have friends in Seattle I want to say hi to. I’ll be right back.”
He loops around the outside of the enclosed play area at the outdoor mall near our house.
“Oh, I forgot to say hi to friends in Seattle,” he informs me upon his return. “I’ll be right back.”
He loops around again at a slow, purposeful trot.
“I’m done with Seattle,“ he announces when he is back, and then, “Oh, I forgot to say hi to friends in Seattle.”
He repeats this trip around the play area, saying hi and forgetting to say hi and being done, again and again until at last the journey is complete.
H puts a red cylinder through the circle hole in his shape sorting toy. He fits it through easily and adds a second red cylinder through the same hole. Next he tries a blue cube, but he can’t push it through the circle hole. Without attempting the triangle or square holes or skipping a beat, H lifts the lid of the shape sorting toy and drops the blue cube inside. He throws in another blue cube and two green triangle pieces and places the yellow lid back on top.
The shape sorting toy solved, H turns his attention to one of his stacking ring toys. He carefully takes off the top two rings and puts them in his toy box, one at a time. He works at lifting a third ring, but it catches against the rubber of the stacking stick. After a second he abandons that effort, picks the whole thing up, and throws it in the toy box. Stacking ring toy solved.
I love watching H play. It helps me see how his developing mind makes sense of the world and how this understanding grows and shifts over time. Even when his play does not match what might be considered the intended use of a toy, I see him exercising creativity and ingenuity. It is pure joy to watch him.
My hope is that he always delights in play as he does now. That he never feels there is only one right way to solve a problem. That there is always a place for learning through play in his life. And that, even as an adult, he will see the value in unfettered play for the sake of unfettered play. My hope is, simply, that he always loves to play.
H holds a cardboard tube from an empty paper towel roll in one hand and the orange triangle piece from his sailboat puzzle in the other. He carefully fits the triangle into the cardboard tube and peers inside to see where it has gone. He reaches his hand in to retrieve it, but his arm gets stuck instead. He flaps his arm, and the tube, up and down while looking at me with delight. I make a slight move to help him free his arm, but he removes the tube with ease and notices the orange triangle on the floor. He picks it up and works again at putting it in the tube. It takes him a few tries before he is successful, but when he is he knows to look for the triangle on the floor. He retrieves the orange shape and fits it easily into the tube again and then again. He works on this task repetitively and with intense focus while I sit, mesmerized, watching him. Everything around us is quiet and still. And then just as suddenly as he started it, H finishes this project. The cardboard tube and the orange triangle piece clatter to the ground, jolting me back into my body, and time speeds up again. H is already crawling off to the next thing and, after a beat, I follow.
H collects rocks on our walks. It is a new passion of his. He carries them away, two in each hand, from various rockeries in our neighborhood.
Rocks in hand, we met a crossing guard on our walk this morning.
Hello, she said.
Hello, I said on behalf of both me and H.
He’s got a rock, she observed.
Yes, I acknowledged.
Is that your special rock? she asked H.
Every rock is special to him, I said.
Oh, I learned something today!
I must have looked perplexed, because she explained, after a pause, I learned that all rocks are special.
Yes. All rocks are special, and what an easy thing to overlook, especially looking at H’s rocks. He finds them strewn around trees and half buried in mulch around the perimeter of the library. We pull them up from the gritty earth on a side street we pass on the way to the park. They fill a thin strip between the concrete ground and the Jewish synagogue at the end of our alley. Most people would probably say that these rocks are nothing special, but H loves them.
Four by four, H is carrying the rocks in our neighborhood to our back door. Most afternoons he sits in the doorway, transferring the rocks from the stoop into our shoes and back outside again. He studies them by turning them over in his hands and putting them in his mouth. They are as captivating to him as any of the puzzles, blocks, and books sitting in the living room just behind him. H thinks these rocks are special. Seeing them through his eyes, I do, too.
H discovered gravity at the end of June and has been assiduously studying its effects ever since. He conducts experiments with blueberries and nectarines while sitting in his high chair. He pulls up to find out what will happen when he drops my breast pads and his bedtime books over the railing of his side carred crib. He pushes pens off the top of the staircase and wood chips off the merry go round, pointing at the objects he has just sent over the edge so that I will retrieve them for another round of experimentation.
I was once told that I should not continue to give him the things that he drops or pushes over the edge, but I do not have the heart to withhold them. I want to cultivate his curiosity about the world, so I pick up the blueberries, the breast pads, and the pens and hand them back so he can explore to his satisfaction. To stop him in the middle of his experiments would rob us both of so much happiness and joy.