I got to spend some special babysitting time over the holidays with my precious granddaughter.
It’s been nearly three decades since I’ve been this up close and personal with a toddler.
You forget things. The good smells. The bad smells. The cute cooing and the painful crying. You forget that in so many obvious ways they are weak, incomplete infants just learning the basics of being alive.
Then you go into the kitchen to make coffee and suddenly they develop into toddlers who display patience, resilience and flexibility well beyond adults’ capacities.
Their first steps come literally on the heels of thousands of frustrating failures. Amazingly, as a 58-year-old, I can hardly stomach a handful of basic breakdowns on my electronic devices before I’m ready to throw them against the wall.
It’s staggering to consider the steep learning curve of a child. A few years back researchers from Brown University and King’s College London published an article in The Journal of Neuroscience that explained how each second, infants and toddlers form 700 new neural pathways, a critical part of brain development. The study found that by 3 years old, kids have twice as many neural pathways as adults. This helps explain how toddlers get their speed at a time when I’m searching for glasses that are sitting on top of my head.
Eventually I found my glasses so I could jot down and share a few observations of our time with Catherine. You might have the same experiences.
For example, you forget that you can have a clean house, a messy house and a comfortable house but there is no such thing as a totally child-proof house. I’m not sure I can even child-proof a room.
You forget that toddlers really don’t sleep. They nap. A short nap early, a short nap later, but for the most part they’re up with little down time. And without coffee. That can be a problem because adults who watch a toddler need sleep. I didn’t know that Catherine gets her second wind at 1 a.m., at which point she’s ready to trip the light fandango. That was trouble because by midnight I was ready for lights out. I tripped getting more coffee.
You forget that as fast as babies are able to move when they crawl or when they manage to first learn to walk, there is something supernatural about their ability to both crawl and walk at nearly the same time. It doubles their ability to cover ground in half the time. Again, this is very much a problem at 1 a.m.
You forget that as much as you allow dogs to rule the roost when you're home, mine do, they are quick to relinquish any territory as long as they can stay safely away from a curious toddler.
You forget how much it hurts you to see your granddaughter fall and cry. If Catherine’s parents are reading this I’m just talking in general terms. Of course we would never let Catherine out of our sight or risk her hitting her head while we made ourselves coffee so we didn’t fall asleep.
You forget how one 13-month-old is capable of wreaking such havoc upon a single dwelling. I don’t know what surprised me more, that we had so many things within reach of a two-foot child or that said child could actually heave the things across a room.
You forget just how strong a grip a toddler has when she doesn’t want to let go of something. Like your cell phone when you thought it was a good idea for her to hold it while doing FaceTime with her grandma.
You forget how lucky we are to live in a time when PBS broadcasts cartoons at 1 a.m. Not only are they entertaining and educational but they allow me to brush up on my Spanish.
“Hola Catarina. ¿Estás cansada? Tu abuelo necesita más café. No te muevas."