I recently read an article on toddlers’ perception of time. Because my 20-month-old son, Owen, cannot understand a statement like, “I will be home in 8 hours,” it suggested using routine events that happen throughout his days as mile markers.
Ready for work on a Monday morning I thought I’d give it a try. Owen ran to the front door as I zipped up my coat. I bent down and said, “I will be home before you go to bed.”
His bottom lip started quivering. His eyes welled up and he started crying! Oops, major mistake on my part. I miscalculated.
When I got home that night (earlier than I had promised) I decided more research was needed. Instead of reading another article, I got on the floor and pulled out Owen’s Sesame Street Garage and Racetrack. We raced cars out of Oscar’s garage (one at a time) and drove them into his Fisher Price pizza parlor.
“Yum,” said Owen as he pushed a slice of Sicilian into the grill of his Elmo car. “Yum” I repeated as I drove the Cookie Monster truck back to the track.
“Elmo!” Owen said, handing me his magnetic pen, so I drew Elmo for him on an Etch-a-Sketch-like pad.
I ignored the twinge to check the time on my cell phone and let its reminders vibrate ad infinitum in my pocket.
I made mental notes each time my son had what might be best described as happy attacks. From out of nowhere he would throw his hands up in the air and run around yelling enjoyable nonsense.
At least that is how it appeared from the outside. Various events instigated these happy attacks, including finding a piece of lint on the floor or the appearance of a new person in the room.
The happy attacks clearly illustrated to me that the best way to research what’s going through my boy’s mind was to surrender control and become the test subject.
This got easier and easier to do with each of Owen’s maniacal laughing fits, like the one that followed after we crawled around like dogs, panting. Then he stood up and pet me, saying “DOGGIE!”
By the time the fun had ended I learned a lot about being in the moment with my son. Playing by his rules made it easier to get silly with him. But it also made leaving in the morning that much harder on the both of us.
Each morning he had a new scheme that he hoped would get in the way of me going to work, like stealing my shoes or blocking the door.
None of these plans actually stopped me, but they did make it harder. What made it harder still was the realization that while being in the moment makes it possible to be carefree and silly, it also means that waiting for daddy to come home feels like forever.