Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.
That quote describes my life pretty well right now. It has been a little over a month since I have written a new post because life decided to happen to me. A month ago today, my 18-month-old great-nephew came to live with me while his parents work some things out in their lives. To say this was a big change might just be the understatement of the century. I have gone from living alone, doing what I want when I want, to caring for this small child who just needs someone to pay attention to him and help him learn to explore.
Even though I have worked with toddlers for many years and have seen their sense of wonder and curiosity lead to new discoveries every day, having the little one living with me has made me even more aware of this. He hadn't had many experiences outside of his room, home or neighborhood. I am used to slowing down for the typical toddler as everything seems new and interesting to them. But, with this little one I find myself having to work a little harder at following his pace. He is so enthralled with everything he sees that it is hard not to enjoy that sense of wonder. At home, he spent most of his free time just walking around the house, back and forth between the kitchen and living room, just because he finally had space to do so.
The first day he came to school with me, it took forever for him to walk from the car into the center. And not because he had just started walking a few weeks earlier and was still a bit unsteady on his feet. He stopped for every new sound, movement or sight that caught his attention. A car drove past and he stopped to just stare at it. Once he was certain it was gone, he turned back to me and continued on until a college student approached so he stopped to watch him pass by as well. A bird tweeted and he stopped, looking around to see if he could find it. It was so hard not to rush him but, I gave him the time and space to take it all in. A month later, he still stops frequently to look around but it doesn't take us quite as long to get inside, provided he doesn't decide to test his limits and try to go in the opposite direction.
I am so grateful that the little one can come to work with me. He really seems to enjoy being around the other children and is always watching what they are doing. He has learned so much just from watching them. He didn't play with the toys much at the beginning and at home he usually went to the light up toys when he decided to play unless I showed him some ways to use the more open-ended materials. He is trying out new toys and materials every day now and trying to do so much more on his own rather than trying to get his hands on the remote control or computer. I don't have to do nearly as much modeling or even sit with him while he explores now. I can sit back and just be there in case he needs help. He spent a good ten minutes tonight just taking the lid off of an old coffee can and trying to put it back on again, working on his under-developed fine motor skills. He was so proud of himself for taking the lid off without help.
His biggest accomplishment to date came last night when he climbed the stairs for the very first time. It would have been easier for me to wait a little longer before showing him some ways to climb the steps but he was definitely showing an interest so we gave it a try. The look on his face when he got to the top made it worth it. He couldn't believe he did it! And this from a child who just a month ago was barely walking on his own or even crawling. The more he accomplishes, the more I see him trying to work out some of his gross motor and problem solving skills on his own, with less and less frustration each time.
It's one thing to spend eight or more hours a day in a classroom with toddlers, Having one at home lends a whole new perspective to my career. Sometimes, at home, I am more likely to forget the strategies I use at school when I am saying for the tenth time in one night that the refrigerator is not his work (it now has a lock on it- we'll see how long it lasts!). He is comfortable and secure enough to start testing his limits at home. And while I know that is a good thing, some nights I really want him to just entertain himself so I can catch up on my work, even though I know he needs some interaction from me. So we usually end up on the floor of the living room or his room playing with whatever he chooses.
We have settled into a good routine but, I know there will be many bumps along the way. He checks in with me frequently to make sure I am still there to offer support when he needs it. But, he is starting to play for longer periods before coming to check in. He loves playing tickle games, cuddling and reading books on my lap before bed time. Hearing him say "again!" or pulling my hands back to his belly makes it all worth it. Life with a toddler is a whole different world but, one that I am learning to live in. Every new experience brings him such joy and amazement. We'll continue to develop our sense of wonder together. And you can expect to read about here every now and then.