Fire Engines and Feathers: Life with a Toddler

These are a few of my toddler’s favourite things: diggers, fire engines, cranes, motorbikes, big trucks with cars on top, monkeys, tigers, cousins, feathers. He thrills at blaring sirens, revving motorbikes, crashing diggers. He shrieks with delight at monkeys that show their lumpy crimson bottoms, puff their chests into balloons and hoot, or sail with insouciant ease from branch to branch. He gazes up, blinking and astonished at cranes that seem to stab the clouds. He adores any chance to run helter-skelter, throw balls and explore playgrounds with his cousins. And he loves feathers.

At two-and-a-half, my son is captivated by those fast and furious parts of life that roar and race and kick up dust. Things that go – quick as a flash, full steam ahead – are the things that appeal to my boy, because like them, he loves to go. His obsession with feathers seems a little at odds with all of his other fast, loud, bold objects of affection.

Last week, when we were getting in the car to take his big sister to school, my son picked up a small, downy feather. After dropping her off, we went on to our regular music group, where he played with Matchbox cars while I helped set up tables and chop fruit. We were part way through the music session that followed playtime, when I noticed his clenched fist. I peeled back his little fingers to discover the clammy, wilted carcass of a feather in his warm, sweaty palm – he had been holding it for two hours.

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Today was a blustery Easter Sunday; trees aglow on the drive home from church and the first hint of autumn crispness in the air. My boy found a feather in the yard and was instantly bewitched. He held it tenderly in his hand, smiling at the wispy softness against his skin. A gust of wind snatched it from his hand and he squealed in surprised delight, grabbing at his treasure as it drifted and dipped just beyond his reach. Over and over we tossed the feather into the air and he laughed and chased and tried to pin it down as it danced away like a skittish moonbeam. Last year my son was spellbound by the demolition of a house over the back fence, but today he was just as transfixed by the mysterious paths a soft and silent feather wove through the sky.

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And right there lies the sweet and bewildering paradox of life with my toddler. The world to him is a place of wonder and he runs into it full-tilt, arms wide, zooming like an aeroplane. He throws things he shouldn’t throw (a plate of toast crusts, a box of dominoes, a ceramic angel), he yells because he likes the sound of his voice, he runs to get places, he stomps when he’s happy. As my husband once said: he lives life with verve. But then there’s the flip-side: when he’s tired or hurt or overwhelmed or just wrapped up in a moment – the bravado slips and I see the quiet and gentle little soul that is just as much my son. When he presents a bumped knee to be kissed, when he looks at me with tear-stained cheeks and reaches up for a cuddle, when he folds his little arms around my neck and rests his head on my shoulder – these are the slow and cherished moments that remind me this is only the third autumn he has seen.

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Oh yes, this toddler of mine can race and roar and go, go, go. But he can also (sometimes) softly, softly stroke a baby’s hair. He can squat down in front of a one-year-old and observe in wonder, “It’s so little!” He can whisper in awe at the sight of the moon. He can bend down and watch the slow crawl of a fuzzy caterpillar. And he can hold a feather for several hours in his hand. Just don’t expect him not to crush it.

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