My grandson O is almost 20 months old. He spends every Friday afternoon with me while his parents are at work. I saved up all of my vacation time from the minute I learned he was in process so I could do this. It’s been an amazing experience.
For the first year or so, he would come to my house on Fridays. I had a little area set up for him to roll around on, then crawl around on, then walk around on. Soon he was running and the area had to get bigger. It’s so much fun, but also exhausting because of the constant vigilance required. He used to play and even nap in the playpen pretty regularly, but those days are gone.
Whenever he’s at my house, I always feel torn by the things I know I should be doing at the same time. I work at home on Friday mornings, but whoever finishes their work? There are people I should call, or letters I should write, etc. I would turn on the TV to occupy O for a bit while I tried to do those tasks. Or I would dash into the laundry room and do a load of towels, start dinner, check Facebook, read a magazine – you know, all of those important tasks we adults must do.
Then in January of this year, my son left his job and was home for two months. I decided to watch little O at his own house. That way I could visit with my son as well as with my grandson. As I started doing this, I saw a different side of O when he was in his natural habitat, which was great.
My son would do errands or take a nap or go to appointments, popping in and out of the area where the baby and I were hanging out. Without the distractions of my own home calling my name, there was nothing to do but BE. I may have mentioned that I think watching babies for extended periods of time can be boring – something I felt terribly guilty about when I was a young mom, but which I finally admitted to myself somewhere along the line and found a way to make peace with it. Yes, it’s ok to feel bored. Those babies aren’t exactly scintillating conversationalists.
While spending time at little O’s house, I tried to rise above that feeling to see what it would be like just to be in the moment with him – not thinking about all the other things I SHOULD be doing. It wasn’t easy, but as time went by, I started to enjoy it. I engaged with him in a different way than I had before, letting him lead the way to playing or resting or exploring. Of course I stopped him from doing various perilous activities, but most of the time, he was the leader.
I learned that babies like things to be repeated over and over and over. I taught him sign language for “more” when he was really young, and was amazed to see that he would use it not just to get more food, but also to tell me he wanted MORE Peekaboo, MORE Eensy Weensy Spider singing, MORE let’s hide under the blanket and be quiet and then whip it off and yell. I’m astounded that he could extrapolate from the very tangible MORE FOOD to the abstract MORE of a particular activity (forgive me for thinking he is an amazing genius – it’s just a severe case of Grandma Fever).
My usual O-watching time span is about 5 or 6 hours. It is impossible for me to keep up this “in the moment” stuff that long, but I can do it for about 2 hours! Then, after a break (i.e., O’s nap, or a little TV zoning out time, or just letting him play by himself), I can start up again. He is becoming more interesting. He has a devilish sense of humor which he conveys without many words. He is developing new skills daily.
Last Friday, we played with refrigerator magnets. I put some of our many magnets within his reach and he rearranged them over and over. But then he wanted MORE magnets, and had a little hissy fit when I said no (the others were breakable or too sharp or otherwise not baby-appropriate). So I said, “Look, sweetie, you already have a lot of magnets – one, two, three, four…” and so on, up to twenty. I hoped this logic would impress him, and it did! He stopped reaching for the other magnets and ended his wee tantrum. Then off he went (his grandfather calls him “Mr. Tornado”) to explore all sorts of other things, with me trailing behind, only to return to the refrigerator after a while to demand more magnets.
In the past, he would have played by himself with the magnets while I did something “important” and I probably would have gotten annoyed with the demands for more. In my new mode, I play WITH him, and guess what, it’s really fun! This time, I took all the magnets off the refrigerator and handed them back to him one by one. I counted them out loud while he rearranged them. Then I placed them in a way he didn’t approve of, so he had to fix them. We took them over to the Magnadoodle and used them to make shapes on the magnetic screen. Then we tried to put them in the shape-sorter. Endless possibilities!
After a little while, he got tired and snuggled up to me on the sofa while he sucked his thumb and fondled his blanket. It was a perfect end to an IN THE MOMENT day, and just the beginning of all that he will teach me.