Thursday, August 30, 2012

Frick and Frack and Freaking Out

It has gotten to the point where the little girl has just enough independent agency that she can give a reasonably good try at imitating almost everything her brother does. And I have known all along that this day was coming. What I didn’t really expect was that the mimicry would be a two-way street. And yet here we are, and one day the little girl will spend fifteen solid, silent minutes sitting trying to put her brother’s shoes on her own feet all by herself, just like he does (she really is inordinately fond of footwear, slipping into her own and carrying others to their proper owners, and “zhoo!” is one of her most distinct proto-words at this point) and the very next day it’s the little guy who will be imitating her, running amok and shrieking wordlessly right behind her whenever such a fancy, for whatever toddler-id reasons, strikes her as unavoidably necessary. Granted, I’ve seen (and commented on) plenty of regression-style behavior on the little guy’s part, but I’m marking this as something distinctly different: he’s not imitating his little sister in order to get some attention he’s feeling jealously deprived of, he’s just imitating her because what she’s up to looks like fun.

For the most part, I find it sweet and heartwarming to see the two of them doing the same things together, playing with one another as opposed to merely near one another. It does have its problematic moments, of course. We spent a couple of afternoons last week at a small beach on the sound side of the island, where the water was nice and shallow and virtually wave-free and thus suitable for toddler/pre-schooler wading and splashing. But the little guy wanted to wander out farther and farther, and the little girl wanted desperately to follow him, only to find that she lost her balance rather easily on the soft footing of the sandbar. And then she thought running in the water and losing her balance and falling over was hilarious, and started doing it on purpose, which was all well and good except that she still has tubes in her ears and isn’t supposed to submerge them, which her mother and I understand but she clearly does not, so that became a bit of a contest of wills, and the little guy continuing to frolic wildly very nearby did not exactly help us keep her subdued. But, so it goes.

Not that I really needed to have the point pounded home any more than that, but life does have its way of serving up walk-in parables now and then. On Sunday, as we were in the final leg of our trek back home, we pulled off 95 somewhere in the vicinity of Thornburg to stop at a McDonald’s for a late lunch and stretching of the legs. The fast food transaction elements were totally standard, but as it happens this particular McD’s has a Playland jungle gym which is one of the larger examples of the breed. It seemed as though the Playland had once been at least semi-detached and exposed to the elements, and later enclosed by permanent walls composed mostly of windows, but no one had ever run the HVAC of the restaurant out to the addition, so it felt like a greenhouse in there. But neither of our children were deterred by that, and insisted on exploring the structure before and after the meal portion of the visit.

It was during the after-meal play session that the little girl managed to almost completely disappear into the Playland. As I said, it was a large structure, multi-level and multi-compartmented in addition to multi-colored, the kind my wife refers to as “hamster habitat” for very good reason. It’s designed to be safe in a litigation-proof kind of way, since the kids can’t fall very far or move very fast with all the twist and turns and widely separated steps up and so forth. (Climbing on the outside of the structure is clearly verboten, which is emphasized by a heavy duty kind of netting over the entire Playland and several strategically place Plexiglas panels all of which make it impossible for kids to clamber up the inside and then poke their way out.) The only flaw in this set-up is that as, say, a sixteen-and-a-half-month-old ascends from one pod to the next to the next, it becomes harder to even see her through all the plastic layers, and outright impossible to reach her. One minute the little girl was near the entrance at ground level, the next we could kind of hear her giggles echoing from very near the top of the Playland. We cannot be 100% certain, but we believe she would not have been able to scale the entire thing on her own, and thus was aided and abetted by the little guy.

From the top of the Playland, children can escape via a somewhat twisty slide, and my take was that we should just get the little guy to help his sister sit at the top of the slide, maybe give her a gentle push, and then we could catch her at the bottom. She likes slides. My wife is somewhat more conservative in her stance towards our children’s physical safety, I guess, because she proceeded to enter the Playland herself to catch up with the little girl. Not only are grown-ups technically not allowed inside the Playland, but they can scarcely physically navigate its child-sized confines, yet somehow my wife’s determination carried the day and she ended up sliding down the slide with the little girl in her lap, no harm done. The little guy followed and we pretty much took off after that.

I was saying something about parables? Oh, right, well see, the Playland represents childhood itself, this bright-bordering-on-garish jumble of experiences and discoveries. And at this point, our son and daughter are going through it the best they can, and although my wife and I are right there watching out for them, we are in a sense on the outside looking in. At the very least, though, the little guy and little girl can help each other out sometimes (even if that involves him hauling her upwards by her arm in an enthusiastic but unmindful manner which we are all lucky did not dislocate her shoulder). In extreme circumstances, maybe we the parents can intervene ourselves. We just want them to come out the other side OK, is all.

Also it smells like french frys? The symbolism may be a work in progress.

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