Posted by Duff

Often when I’m around children under the age of 3 (and infants, especially), I can’t help but notice how different my child is (and was, when younger) from the majority of them.

I don’t mean that she’s exceptional – not from an IQ standpoint. I think she matches her peers there — I’m talking about her way.

Many newborns sleep those first days and weeks. Mine spent a good portion staring at me, defying her eyelids.

But as the weeks passed, and colic progressed, I was too caught up to really look at other kids. It was probably four or five months before I noticed that she wasn’t enjoying much beyond exactly what she wanted. She could smile, she just didn’t. She could laugh, she just didn’t think much was funny. Especially not me.

Other new moms would take their children places.  Mine wouldn’t stand for the car or the grocery store for a good year. Holy pit stains. I had to replace all my white shirts.

If anyone ever asked how I lost my pregnancy weight I would tell them: My child doesn’t like it when I eat.  She’d stare me down from her swing, screaming, as I gulped down the minimum to keep myself going before losing my appetite. And she won. Because as soon as I put the fork down, she’d stop. And if I held her and tried to eat, no better. It was a matter of her not appreciating divided attention.

I remember several mornings, dropping her off at daycare, relieved, raw and raisin-esque from trying to brush my hair and get dressed amid protests from my pre-dawn riser. “You have got to let your mommy start eating breakfast,” Miss C told The Dervish. And a few months later, when Miss C informed me that The Dervish should be able to entertain herself for thirty minutes, I started crying in disbelief.

Even though she seemed so much less pleased with the world than the other babies I knew, her doctors assured me she was fine. “Are you sure?” I asked a lot. She didn’t seem fine. She seemed so…unhappy. Almost all the time. For about a year.

The Dervish is now over two and still won’t entertain herself for half an hour unless she’s doing something she’s not supposed to. Like playing with dirty (breakable) dishes in the sink or misusing the toilet. Or emptying all of her drawers into the center of her room. Dive-bombing off the highest point she can reach. And I still don’t think any of those undesirable pursuits would hold her attention for more than fifteen minutes.

I waited for her to like toys the same way I waited, as a teenager, for myself to grow breasts. Hopefully, but to little avail. Some infants lie on playmats or bat at toys from their carseats. They grow to play with blocks or puzzles or look at picture books. Or people watch, serene. This is what I thought mine would do.

She didn’t, and still doesn’t if I’m in the building. She wants to be among the people.

You’re probably wondering why I’m telling you this.

Mostly, to remind myself that this is how it started out, and it got more normal. At over two, she just started getting interest in (some) toys (and, some other people). If I’m around to watch her be interested so she can narrate to me, that is. Otherwise, what’s the point?

If you came to my house, you’d find few toys. The Dervish doesn’t want her toy vaccuum, she wants to push the real one. She doesn’t want her expensive bells-and-whistles play kitchen, she wants to stir real food. Flip burgers on a real grill. Rearrange real cabinets.

She tells us when she wants to be tickled, chased, carried or put down. Chooses her own books. Her own seat at the table. But I had better be right there next to her.

Now, The Dervish finds her world much funnier. If something doesn’t work the first time, she is on “I try again” cruise control. Many of her own mistakes are laughable, even if ours are inexcusable.

The other day, I tricked her into spending a few moments with her father so I could claim a few private moments in the bathroom without ‘help’. Within a minute, I heard her ask about me. Then I heard footfalls thudding closer. Then she was outside the door, breathing. I could practically see her hands on her hips, and I stifled a cough.

So what is there to say about a child who chooses her own destiny, reserves her approval and drags me by the hand (pinching my rings painfully in her grip) as her spectator?

I think I can assume she loves me.

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