Parenting H

Month: September, 2013

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.

I bumped H’s forehead with my elbow today, and he cried his super sad cry. Maybe I surprised him or maybe I hurt him or maybe it was a little bit of both. I’m not sure. I swooped him up, holding him close as we walked away from the place we were sitting when the bump occurred.

I’m sorry sweet pea, I said. I bumped your head. Was it a surprise or an ouch or a little bit of both?

H cried, his face scrunched in sadness. I held him tight.

I know. You’re having big feelings. You’re upset. Maybe you’re in pain, I said.

I’m here. I’m with you. We’re in this together. I won’t leave you, I had told him when we were in the hospital. As we walked up the stairs, I thought about these words. I thought about his birth, about how he was taken away from me, about how I heard him cry for the first time from across the delivery room. I held him tighter.

I couldn’t hold him then, but I can now and so I do. I thought about how I won’t always be able to support the weight of his body in my arms. How I won’t always be able to soothe him simply by picking him up and pressing our hearts together.

Then I thought about the things I will always be able to do, the universe willing. I will always be able to sit with him through his experiences, no judgment or shaming or withholding comfort or leaving him alone. I will always be able help him, as best I can, learn about his feelings, that they are all okay, and that he is okay through all of them. I will always be able to hold space for him in my heart, even when he struggles to do so for himself. I will always be able to see him and have him in mind. He will never be alone.

I continued to hold H tight. I breathed deeply and rocked him in my arms. The feelings, whatever they were, cycled through him. He stopped crying. He looked at me, his face splotchy, tears pooling under his red-rimmed eyes. His smile was tentative, but it was there. The moment passed and with it the big feelings. There hadn’t been anything extra. Just me, H, his feelings, and love.

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.

H is up from his nap. He smiles enthusiastically when he sees me, his body jumping with excitement. Up up, I say, picking him up, and he points at the bedroom door. We descend the staircase, H bouncing and kicking his legs, and round the corner into the living room. H points at the back door. I put on my shoes, open the door, and his body lunges ahead of me as we step off the stoop. We approach a T in the sidewalk. Would you like to go this way or that way? I ask, turning my whole body as I point in each direction. H points right.

We walk toward the alley, H grinning as he looks up at me. He touches the five metal posts that line the alley, three times each, and then we are at another T. Would you like to go this way or that way? I ask, pointing first left, then right. H points left.

We move toward the bus stop, stopping to examine a security door along the way. H touches the deadbolt lock with his tiny index finger, pulls at the door knob, then thrusts his arm out. Keep going? I ask. Yes, he points.

We continue down the sidewalk to the intersection. H points enthusiastically at the cross walk signal. It’s a solid red hand, I say to H, extending my arm with my palm flexed up in demonstration. It means don’t walk. We have to wait for the sign to show a person. I point at the cross walk signal for the opposite direction. Like that, I say. We wait, me explaining traffic rules and H pointing wildly from one cross walk signal to another. The light changes and we cross, H pointing back at the signal behind us, legs swinging, torso bobbing up and down. We arrive at the other side. Would you like to go straight or turn left? I ask. H points straight.

We continue down the hill, H pointing at trucks passing by and the Asian-themed bookstore nestled into the hillside. We stop to examine a weathered wood fence, dry and bleached by the sun. H finds the knots and puts his index finger through them, skipping from one knot to the next, and then thrusts his arm out again. Keep going? I ask. He points. Okay, we’ll keep going, I say.

We walk and H points at buses, a motorcycle, and people walking on the other side of the street. We stop to examine a laurel hedge, tall and encroaching on the sidewalk. H touches leaves while I point out evidence of an unseen very hungry caterpillar. Would you like to keep going? I ask. Yes. H points straight.

We resume walking. He requests brief stops to touch a bus stop sign, a rusty fire hydrant, and another laurel hedge. Each time he swings he legs excitedly as we stop and his finger touches the object of his interest. He lunges his body and thrusts his arm when he is ready to move on. Now we are at a 4-way stop. Would you like to go straight or turn right? I ask. H points straight.

We cross the intersection, H riveted by a spinning silver and purple pinwheel on a sign announcing a neighborhood party. We stop and he grabs at the blades, pulling them left and right in his small fist. He spies the other pinwheeled sign across the street. He points at it and swings his legs maniacally.

We cross again and make a beeline for the pinwheel. He grabs this one and shakes the blades. I pull us away to let it spin in the wind and move close so H can grab it again. We do this dance over and over, the pinwheel spinning in the breeze when I pull us away, H arresting it when I move us close. Then I ask if he would like to keep going. He is not sure. He looks at the pinwheel, then up toward the park. He grabs at the pinwheel again, then thrusts his arm toward the swings. He still has the pinwheel, so we stay a moment longer. Then he lets go.

We travel across the grass. H points and bounces at the sight of the tennis players, or maybe the crows. Look, the swings, I say. Would you like to go on the swing? We are standing right next to them now, but H is interested in something else. I point at the swing and H points beyond. We walk to the play area, H becoming more excited the closer we get. We pass the bench, the play structure with the slides, and the bouncy bird. H has pointed his way to the merry go round. I set him down and he crawls off in search of wood chips.