Auguries of Innocence — A Toddler’s World

The other day, W was a little stir-crazy and I was trying to find something fun to do with her. She’s still little enough and unstable enough that playgrounds are tough for us; she gets intimidated (and totally bowled over) by bigger kids. I decided we’d try Gymboree, since they do a “first class free” sort of thing, so off we went. The setup is great; they’ve got all sorts of pint-sized play equipment for little ones. We had gotten there a little early, so W had several minutes to explore and play before class started, and she was delighted with the opportunity to run amok. I wanted to like Gymboree (despite my sticker shock at the price of classes); I thought it would be a great opportunity to get her some regular social interaction, as well as providing a nice indoor option for summer (since it gets hot enough here to fry eggs on the outdoor playground equipment). Try as I might, though, I just couldn’t get excited about the classes. They start an activity, and it takes the tiny tots a few minutes to get the idea. Right around the time the kids really catch on and start to participate…off the teacher goes to another activity. Heck, I get it (and shift gears) faster than a 12-month-old, and being there made ME feel like I had ADD.

Here’s the thing…these little one don’t NEED us to try so hard to entertain them. They don’t get bored with an activity a few minutes in, because everything is so new to them. I think this is something that’s easy to forget, because we (the grownups) are so used to (and bored with so many aspects of) life. W and I went for a walk the other day. She walks well now holding just one of my hands. I figured we’d cruise up to the park a few houses away from us. What I completely failed to take into account was that she’d be so fascinated by EVERYTHING she saw on the way to the park that we’d never make it…out of our driveway! After all, until now, I’ve carried her to the park or pulled her in her little red wagon. She’s gone with the flow (she’s great about that), but given the opportunity to set the pace, she’d rather check things out a little. I watched as she examined the landscaping, rock after rock after rock. They’re just granite, I thought to myself. But…she doesn’t know that. They’re all the same, W, I muttered under my breath, bored with standing in one spot for so long. But…to her, they’re not. I have years of experience, and well-developed heuristics that neatly and quickly shuffle the landscaping stones into a single category. They’re so commonplace to me that I barely even see them. Heck, if you asked me right now whether the granite in our front yard is orange, brown, pink, or yellow…I’d have to go look. To her, though, the rocks are all different. Some have sharper edges, while others are worn. Some have black and white inclusions, while others are uniform in color. Some particularly special ones even have little flecks of shiny mica in them, and they sparkle in the sun. She puts them to her lips, and her sensitive mouth and tongue feel that they’re warm where the sun touched them, and cool where they lay in the shade. She is experiencing a world that I no longer see until I force myself…and even then, I can only make myself see it for a moment before my brain is back to putting things in categories and boxes. Before I’m back to thinking about my upcoming lecture, and what to make for dinner.

She will learn to categorize. She will develop heuristics. She’ll have to; these mental shortcuts help us to make decisions quickly, and operate more efficiently. Without them, an adult would be ineffective in daily life. But for now, I need to remember that she sees things differently. I try to stop myself from thinking I wanted to take you to the park, and you’re staring at the damn rocks in the driveway, and start thinking What do you see when you look at them? What do you feel? What do you taste? Show me. There’s plenty of time for her to grow up. Right now, the world is new and beautiful in a way it won’t ever be again. It will be a triumph of development for her to learn to categorize more quickly, but it will also be a great and tragic loss. All the beautiful rocks will become…invisible.

Sometimes I think all these activities, all these classes — the music lessons, the Gymboree, the toddler sports — they’re for us. They’re not “Mommy and Me” so much as they’re “MOMMY…and me.” W doesn’t need that stuff. She could spend all day in the driveway looking at the granite and be just as happy. Heck, she’d probably be happier, because she wouldn’t feel so confused. She wouldn’t be whisked from one activity to the next as soon as she started to make sense of what was going on.

Remember this, Mama, I tell myself as I watch her examine each blueberry I’ve given her for a snack before she puts it in her mouth. They’re just blueberries to me. To her, each one looks different. Each one tastes slightly different. My brain works faster than hers, but…better? It depends on what we’re talking about. I’m better at ignoring the details. I’m better at failing to notice small changes in the world. I’m better at doing things quickly, in the same way, every time. But she, well, William Blake said it best:

To see the world in a grain of sand,

And heaven in a wildflower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,

And eternity in an hour.

She sees a world I’ve forgotten exists. I can get to the park faster than she can, both physically and mentally. She knows it’s not about when we get to the park, it’s how.


What do you notice about how your child sees the world?




16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Ariane
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 12:45:19

    Thanks for this reminder. I have always enjoyed watching kids explore when I babysit. I swear you can actually hear the wheels turning in their heads! But I am not good at this with my own child. I think it is because I hurry too much. I will try to get better at not rushing 🙂


  2. Alice Callahan (@scienceofmom)
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 13:18:20

    This is my life right now, too. It really helps to think of our babies this way – to think about how hard they are working and how fascinated they are in the world, and how we want to cultivate that interest and attention – that’s the only way I can make myself slow down and just appreciate what she is doing.

    What I really, really wish is that we could take BabyC and W on a walk down the driveway together. Then they could take all day examining granite, and we could talk and never be bored.

    I agree with you that the classes are more about mommy than baby. We go to a library story time once per week and also a “dance” class. The dancing part is sort of a joke. We all look forward to the free play at the end the most. What I love about the dance class, though, is that BabyC has really gotten to know the other toddlers in it. She feels comfortable with them, and they are actually starting to interact a lot. I’m not sure this is really essential for her right now, but I love it! And, I love getting the chance to chat with other moms and get out of the house, too. Yup, its mostly about me:)


  3. Lobogal
    Mar 02, 2012 @ 19:02:31

    Thank you so much for this post. It gave me goose bumps and brought tears to my eyes. It’s amazing how easily it is to forget how “new” everything is to a child. You write very eloquently. I hope to stop and “taste the rocks” with my baby girl as soon as she can walk. We’ve just tackled crawling!


    • SquintMom
      Mar 02, 2012 @ 20:09:11

      Thanks for your comment, and I’m so glad the post was meaningful to you! Congratulations on your new crawler…lots of adventures to come!


  4. Ashley @ C is for Cockerham
    Mar 02, 2012 @ 21:02:11

    I love watching T figure things out. Just tonight J held him, and they watched the garage door close after we came home from eating out. At first I was thinking, “Hurry up! We need to get T in the bath and to bed.” Then I realized how sweet it was that J was taking the time to explain to T how that noisy door worked. T was mesmerized, and this post is a great reminder to cherish those moments (minutes? hours?!) our little ones take to explore the wonderful world around them.


  5. Lacey
    Mar 02, 2012 @ 21:58:36

    I loved this. It was moving and beautiful. I think we all need a little reminder sometimes.


  6. Ladybuggsmama
    Mar 03, 2012 @ 05:21:33

    Beautifully written, and SO true. My K is 3 and every bit of it is still so pertinent. I still have to re-phrase “lets walk to the park” to “lets take a walk” bc so often, its hard to get there for the exploring and evaluating that happens on the way. And she has expectations at 3…so…we take a walk…
    Beautiful post…


  7. Corinne
    Mar 03, 2012 @ 09:07:12

    Have you considered a Waldorf parent-tot class? It might be just the ticket for socialization with a slow pace that is all about imagination and exploration. We don’t do Waldorf now that my older child is in preschool but we enjoyed the parent-tot class when she was littler.


  8. Meghan Misenti
    Mar 03, 2012 @ 10:55:57

    I was just thinking about what little Zen masters these babes are! They are so in the moment and have no real concept of past or future. My son has taught me to take life a day at a time and live in the present moment better than any yoga class or self-help guru ever could!


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