I am ferrying cupfuls of water from the cabana kitchen to H, who sits with his feet in the jacuzzi. He pours the contents of the delivered cups into the churning water with deliberate slowness, and then jerks his arm with a flourish so that the remaining water arcs through the air before falling like rain.
“More, more,” he implores, handing me the cup. I return to the kitchen, making silly faces at him as I pass the observation window in the hallway. His mouth moves, but the words hit the glass pane between us and fall silent on the floor.
I pop my head back through the door of the jacuzzi room. “What did you say, sweets?”
“Hard to wait,” he says, his tone and volume conversational. He sits calmly, swinging his legs, looking at me expectantly.
Hard to wait. I hear those words, and suddenly H is two again. He is in the living room, frantically pulling at the mesh fireplace curtain, having a hard time waiting for milk. He wants it now, right now, and I am in the kitchen in the middle of a task. Waiting even a second is a challenge, and the frustration of it careers through his body and out the tiny but strong fists jangling the metal curtain, the sound of which I imagine matches the feelings bouncing around his insides.
I am struck by the contrast between H at two and H at three. He is having a hard time now just as he was then, but I would not have known it except for his report. His calm, composed behavior hints at qualities – an emotional self-awareness and nascent ability to choose his reactions – that he did not possess as strongly a year ago. How satisfying it is to watch H’s growth unfold as it has, organically and in its own time. He hasn’t been on his own – I have modeled and coached – but there’s been no schedule we’ve adhered to, no calendar that pushes him to learn politeness by this date, how to use the toilet by that. And how reassuring, too, it is to come upon these moments. When there is no road map, no formula to follow, no step-by-step instruction manual that will ensure that this child will grow to be a kind, compassionate, fulfilled adult, these moments can feel like guideposts: You are headed in the right direction. You may not be able to see or feel it always, but you are. Keep going.
The path is not linear, the things he learns to do and to be shift in and out of focus as he finds his footing. Sometimes he uses a new tool ably, unleashes a new skill as if he’d been doing it all his life, and sometimes his efforts fall short and it can appear as if nothing had been learned, no gains had been made at all. And this – him learning to sit with the discomfort of his feelings and knowing that he can choose, if at all, how to act on them – is a huge, lifelong project for most of us. I anticipate that there will be plenty of times still that H lets me know vocally and intensely how hard it is to wait – he is three, after all – but he is working on it. And he is blossoming.
“Yes, hard to wait,” I tell him with a smile. “I feel that way, too, sometimes.” And I go to fetch another cup of water.