Testing The Waters

After we finished the MS Walk Saturday, I discovered that I had a chilly toddler on my hands. I use a stroller so rarely that I forget sometimes how different it is for him to be sitting in a rolling chair rather than snuggled up against a parent in one of our carriers. So I only thought to put a blanket over him halfway through the walk, and even with that his hands were still icy at the finish line.

After an hour of patiently zoning out while we walked through the city, I thought Nathan deserved a bit of a break anyway. Fortunately the walk ended at a park with a big play area.

When we got there Ryan was raring to go, but what interested me was watching Nathan. For perhaps ten minutes he sat in the stroller while I walked Ryan around, watching the activity on the jungle gym (a very large and varied one). Every once in a while he made a comment to the effect that there were a lot of kids there. When he did climb out of the stroller, he still worked through a gradual warm-up process. He hung out with Ryan and me while I let Ryan explore. He walked around on the less populated structures. Eventually he gravitated toward the larger, more crowded jungle gym and began to explore, without me right there but with frequent checks to see where I was. Several times I would see him start to explore some particular area, then draw back, only to approach it again later. And finally he began to play with rapidly growing confidence, running around with obvious enjoyment and leaving me to keep track of him rather than the other way around.

It was fun to watch. It always is; I’ve seen him go through this process before. But what struck me this time was that I was watching myself. This is exactly what I do (or would like to do, at least) when I get into a new situation, especially one that involves a lot of people. I watch for a while, I test, I retreat, test again…

I grew up with the vague worry that this was somehow wrong — confident people were supposed to just stride in and engage an activity immediately. Fortunately I no longer see the world that way. Perhaps that’s why it gives me such pleasure to let Nathan proceed at his own pace, to offer a hand or my presence if it seems helpful but not to push him into anything. A couple of times, early in my parenting career, I heard myself say by rote “Don’t you want to..?” and then realized how silly that question was. If he wanted to, he would.

Instead now I enjoy watching him work through his process. He explores the social structure of the situation he’s in just as, when he’s ready, he explores the physical structure of the jungle gym.

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