Right about now we are getting to the point in the Rearing of the Little Guy where I’m never quite entirely sure where things stand. Previously I’ve felt like just about every parenting decision his mother or I make is largely inconsequential. No, I take that back, obviously many decisions have consequences, but those are correspondingly major choices. My wife had to decide whether or not to breast-feed, the two of us had to agree on daycare arrangements, and we frazzledly worked our way through co-sleeping and the transition to crib-sleeping. We put him through surgery to give him some relief from near-constant ear infections. We consciously kept the little guy away from television for as much of his first two years as we could, and we read to him every day almost from the time he could keep his eyes open for more than five minutes at a stretch. I’m entirely at peace with those decisions, which felt right at the time and maintain that status with the benefit of hindsight. The little guy is healthy and happy and sweet and smart (for appropriate values relevant to a two-and-a-half year old, at any rate) and I’ll take a portion of credit for that.
But all of those big decisions by their very nature were things which afforded ample opportunity for careful consideration before implementation. What I initially had in mind for this post were the decisions made on the spur of the moment: give the little guy a cookie of his own when he catches me eating one? I concluded early on that I shouldn’t obsess over little choices like that, because I could trust in some combination of “it all comes out in the wash” and “this too shall pass” and various other aphorisms to minimize the actual impact. An inconsistency here, an indulgence there, none of it lasting.
Which is not to say that I’m blind to the fact that a recurring pattern of small inconsequentialities can eventually add up something more lasting. But what I am confessing, I suppose, is that I haven’t believed that the additive principle applied to the little guy, entirely due to his very littleness. I knew that at some point in the amorphous and indeterminate future it would apply, of course, but at ages of barely one through barely two? Not likely. Heart of a bull, long-term memory of a goldfish, that was roughly how I judged my earthly heir. Every day was a clean slate, and every day the need to firmly establish what the groundrules governing minutiae were could be safely put off til tomorrow.
This past weekend we took the little guy grocery shopping (twice, actually, because some things we can only get at Costco and other things we can only get at the regular supermarket, don’t judge me!) and in a very short span of time during that trip he caught both me and his mother off guard a couple different ways. Once was at the checkout, when the cashier said hi to him. She was a young, non-hideous girl and the little guy – oh, for old times’ sake and purposes of this story, let’s call him Casanova – has always had a fascination with individuals in that age range and of that gender (my wife and I refer to them as his “target demographic”). So he responded to her greeting, but not simply by saying hi, which I would have sworn was the response you could count on from him 100% of the time. This time he went a little further and said, “Hi … my name’s Casanova,” complete with charmingly coy delivery (except, obviously, he gave her his real name). Little guy had never introduced himself to someone by name – without even being prompted! – prior to that moment. The suddenly, boom, he’s trying out a new social convention.
The other surprising display of mental acuity came during a conversation my wife and I were having with young Casanova, yet another installment among hundreds in the ongoing attempt to prepare him for the imminent arrival of his little sister, or more specifically the fact that once she arrives we will have to give her a proper name and leave off using the in utero nickname (“Bonus”) by which we refer to her now. My wife observed that we had a nickname for Casanova before he was born, too, and asked him if he knew what it was. “When I was a baby in mommy’s belly you guys called me Freebie,” he grinningly answered, which is not only totally accurate as a statement of fact but also (to my mind, at any rate) a pretty deft bit of grammatically correct sentence-structure (and that is pretty much a word-for-word quote I gave) not to mention a crazy level of comprehension of the very idea of a time before he was born. And while I’m willing to allow the possibility that he could have just been parroting words without truly, deeply comprehending all their implications, I think it’s a remote possibility, because neither of his parents has discussed his own gestation with him in who knows how long. (Watch, now I’ll find out that his grandmother was telling him exactly those kinds of stories on one of the very recent emergency babysitting visits she made a couple weeks ago.)
Sooo … the sleeper has awakened? Possibly. At the very least, however well reality may actually mesh with my perceptions, I no longer feel like I can blithely make it up as I go along. From here on out I’ll always suspect that it’s at least possible that some decision I make, some lesson I impart (or fail to convey) to the little guy will be one that makes a legitimately lasting impression. Previously I felt like he was composed of some infinitely malleable substance that would always quickly return to its original shape, but now I think the places where I push or pull will show the evidence for longer periods of time. And it’s not as though this is a total shock, I knew it’d happen eventually, I’m not even terribly surprised by the timing. I just wanted to take a moment to acknowledge it, I guess, before hurtling ever onward to the next upheaval.