Having a kid takes the “vicariously” out of “living vicariously watching others”. When was the last time you stood in a mud puddle in the summertime and felt warm mud goosh through your toes? How about a surprise soak from a waterspout on a hot day at a water park? How about going down a slide or swinging in a swing? The list goes on. When your one and a half year old son decides to try that stuff out, he needs supervision, and that usually means participant observation. Before a couple of weeks ago, I would’ve answered “at least a decade or two” to each of those questions. Today the answer to that same question would be “In the last couple of weeks”.
It feels good.
On a number of levels, too. Firstly, just physically, all those things are fun. Warm mud in between toes is pleasant just on it’s own. But more so, it feels good to see Coop become his own guy, to have his own experience. To boot, my own experience is starting to matter more to me than it did when Coop was a little baby. It used to be that whatever I wanted to do was deferred to the more immediate responsibility of taking care of his needs. You start to lose track of your ego in those early months. As my friend Deb put it, “You are no longer the centre of your universe; someone else is. You are always just off-centre”.
Turns out though, it doesn’t take that long for that to turn around. I am still very aware of my role as parent and his as child when we are together, but as time goes by, he’s becoming his own person, and I find Coop and I are keeping each other company more than fulfilling obligatory family roles of care giver and care receiver.
When Coop was a tiny baby, he used to turn his head when he heard a bus go by outside on the busy street we live on. As he started to crawl and walk, he’d rush his little body to the window to look out and see if he could catch a glimpse of a bus speeding by of it after hearing the diesel roar. “Bus” was one of his first words, and it’s probably the one he’s uttered more than any other. He loves pictures of buses, toy buses, and youtube video of buses.
A few weeks ago I was on my own with Coop; it was the first day like that in a while. I was looking forward to that day and I’d come up with a plan. I had him up and fed early, and packed a bunch of snacks for both of us in the diaper bag. We went downstairs, on to that busy street, and hopped on the first bus that came by. It was the number 6, it took us through downtown, across Victoria’s Inner Harbour and to the home of the Pacific Naval Fleet in Esquimault. On the bus driver’s advice, we stopped downtown on the way back, and took the number 50, a double decker, out to Langford and back. We sat in the front row on the top deck, munching on granola bars and blueberries. We saw birds, a deer, and countless other buses. there were all kinds of folks who couldn’t help smiling at Coop’s enthusiasm for the trip, and airplanes galore (some real, some imagined).
It was a really great day. I know Coop was loving it, but my efforts in making it happen weren’t all for him, I had a great time too. Parenting didn’t feel like work that morning. It really felt more like hanging out with a family member I liked.
The moments where you realize that transformation from infantdom to personhood are subtle to notice, but they hit you like a ton of bricks when you figure them out.
We couldn’t track down one of Coop’s new shoes a while back, and that really was a drag, because we’d just bought them and the old ones weren’t going to fit for too long. It was gone for two days, and we looked everywhere. We’d both figured it was probably lost out for good; it had probably dropped off his foot in the stroller or on an outing at some point.
Then, while I was distractedly hammering away on my laptop, Coop comes up to me and hands me his shoe, the one that we were looking for. It really hit home. Only Coop knows where that shoe was. Only he knows why he put it there. That experience and knowledge is all his own, not anybody else’s.
Where the shoe was and why it was there is pretty insignificant knowledge. And it shouldn’t surprise me, that Coop is a person who can have his own unique experience and knowledge. Babies are where people come from, and unique experiences and knowledge are things people have. I’ve known that pretty much my whole life. But, when Coop was an infant, so small, so helpless, so tiny, and so mine, he really felt like an extension of myself. Literally, I found he felt like an appendage on my body, like another limb. When he was just a tiny baby, scarcely more than a year ago, I felt his pain when he cried, and his joy seemed my own when he smiled,
And when he was a tiny baby, and I was taking on his emotions, as well as everything he needed, I really couldn’t have imagined him experiencing or knowing something that I didn’t. But there in his big boy hand was his big boy shoe, and he put it somewhere, and then he decided to give it to me. That was his all his prerogative, his experience, his knowledge, and not mine at all. WHAM! That’s a person standing there, albeit a small and short-tempered one without much of a vocabulary. Still, hardly a baby at all.
He’s his own guy with his own interests and motivations. He really loves buses. He has secret shoe hiding places. He likes toast and broccoli but doesn’t care for sweet potato. He loves a good laugh and enjoys collecting carpet lint.
I’m still the Papa, the guy in charge between the two of us. On that bus ride, though, I wasn’t taking Coop out for an adventure. That day, it was Coop who was taking me.