…in his last month as a four-year-old.
1. He packed his own bag. He did this for our Thanksgiving trip with some coaching, but even more impressive was in October when we were packing to go visit his grandparents. While I was choosing my own clothes for the trip, Nicholas was hanging around saying, “Where is my suitcase?” so I handed him the duffle bag we usually use for him, thinking he’d probably fill it with toys and such. He asked how many days we’d be there, and I told him four. When I came into his room a few minutes later, the bag contained four shirts, four pairs of pants, four pairs of underpants, and four pairs of socks, and he was just putting in his pajamas!
2. He made Universal Key Cards. We stayed in a hotel while visiting relatives at Thanksgiving, and Nicholas was intrigued by the cards that open the doors. He borrowed one, traced around it on the hotel memo pad, and then wanted to cut it out and tape onto it an “Admit One” ticket he’d found somewhere, but we didn’t have scissors or tape. As soon as we arrived at Cousin Mike’s house, Nicholas started working at the kitchen desk. Then he went around the house using his key card to open doors. In the evening, he cut up some stiff orange paper (left over from making place cards) and made many more key cards, each with an arrow on one side and some sort of picture on the other side, mostly smiling faces. He solemnly distributed them to the relatives:
“Here is your key card. Put it into the slot with the arrow this way.”
“Oh, um, thank you. What does it open?”
3. He made an attractive piece of home decor. One evening I was busy doing chores, Nicholas was rambling insistently about wanting some sort of flower pot, I said vague things like, “Hmm, maybe for Christmas,” and he went stomping off to find Daddy. Half an hour later, they had found all the necessary materials around the house (that’s the advantage to having so much clutter…) and fulfilled his vision. They had cut a piece of cardboard to fit into an extra plant pot about halfway down, stuck a bouquet of artificial flowers into a hole in the center of the cardboard, filled the top part of the pot with marbles, and surrounded the pot with mylar gift wrap secured with a rubber band. It looks just like a gift plant from a florist. He put it on the mantel shelf in his bedroom.
4. He’s been making comic strips using the refrigerator magnets I made with single panels from comic strips (see instructions toward the end of “What Do You Reuse?”). He lines them up in (as far as I can tell) random order, looks at them until he comes up with a narrative, and then wants me to hear him “read” the comic aloud. Sometimes he also asks me to read the actual words on the panels in the order he’s placed them, and he always finds the result hilarious.
5. He drew a series of illustrations for “Humpty Dumpty” in just 15 minutes! This was a project he announced just as I was opening my mouth to say, “Time for bed!” so of course I was reluctant to let him do it. After a few minutes’ negotiating, I decided we could spend 15 minutes on this project in lieu of two bedtime stories. Nicholas counted off six sheets of fan-folded paper (the kind used by old computer printers; we got a big stack when my office got rid of the last such printer) and asked me to write the “Humpty Dumpty” rhyme on the one at the left while he got to work on the pictures. I was amazed by how quickly and decisively he drew a rectangle and divided it in fourths each way to make a stone wall, then drew Humpty sitting on top of it. On the next page, he intended to draw Humpty falling, but he autopiloted and drew the same picture over again. He started to freak out and insist on starting over. I suggested that there was still room for Humpty’s fall on Page 4, the king’s horses and king’s men on Page 5, and Humpty unrepairable on Page 6. After a few deep breaths, Nicholas agreed. He asked me to draw the horse, the crowns for the king’s men, and the cracked halves of Humpty, but he drew everything else. (I must say I did a rather passable job with the horse, despite going into it thinking, “But I don’t know how to draw a horse!” You can tell what it’s supposed to be, at least. I like the way Nicholas drew the same kind of face on the horse as on the people–it’s sideways, with the smiling mouth forming the horse’s jawline.) We hung this long artwork on the wall alongside our stairs and summoned Daniel to admire it, all before the 15 minutes were up!
6. He’s finally showing some interest in independence! He was the sort of newborn who couldn’t stay asleep if left alone in a room, and he’s remained strongly opposed to being alone, but that’s finally starting to change. He’s been going into other rooms on his own much more often and some other subtle things, but the really striking new development is this thing he does when we’re walking somewhere: “You go ahead, Mama. I’ll catch up.” Last week we were heading home after dark from a potluck dinner at our church, and Nicholas wanted to walk four times around the planter outside the post office.
“It’s too cold for me to stand around while you do that four times. I’ll have to do it with you–fast!”
“No, Mama! You go ahead. I’ll catch up.”
Now, we live in a very friendly, low-crime neighborhood, and it wasn’t particularly late (just gets dark early this time of year), and I was confident that he wouldn’t run into traffic or otherwise get hurt because he’s so sensible and graceful, but still it felt wrong to walk away from him. I guess I was worried about what other people would think of my abandoning a child so young. I walked slowly, pausing to read all the names on the post office’s cornerstone and to look at things in store windows, looking back to check on him every minute or less. When Nicholas finished running laps, he followed me at the same leisurely pace, looking at the same things, until I reached the corner and made a big show of hopping around to keep warm, at which point he ran to catch up to me.
Then he wanted me to go ahead of him again in the next block, and this time when I looked back he yelled at me not to look back, so I tried to do it less often and more discreetly. It was difficult to relax about needing to supervise him! There has never been a child abducted by a stranger from our neighborhood in the ninety years that it’s been densely populated, but I could just imagine the condescending tone in which some nebbish would tell me, “There’s a first time for everything,” if he/she saw my child as neglected.
And then I looked back, and he wasn’t there.
I waited no more than ten seconds, took a few steps back in that direction, and then saw Nicholas jump off the windowsill of the kosher grocery; he had been hidden from view by the windowframe as he walked along the sill. (He always walks on that sill when we pass by there.) He rolled his eyes and yelled, “Mamaaa, stop looking at me!”
“Oh, but I need to make sure that you are following me, for you are my little bear.” [We have two different books about a little bear wandering away from his mother bear.]
“Of course I’m following you! I know the way! I won’t go in the street without you!”
I made my eyes very wide. “But, Little Bear . . . if I can’t see you, are you still there?”
“Oh yes, I am always there even when you aren’t looking, for I am your little bear.” He held my hand for the next two blocks. Until I had calmed down and felt secure, you know.
7. He’s catching on to some important ideas. Yesterday morning, he was doing some holiday artwork that began by tracing the flat wooden figures from his nativity scene and drawing in their features. Then he drew some candles. Then a cross. Then a long line that started from the top of the cross and snaked around the whole page. “That’s the Love of God,” he said. “See how it is all around and going all through everything?”
Bonus: He thought up some bagel songs that rhyme and scan well and are really funny!
Check out 7 Quick Takes Friday for the true confessions of a socially awkward person who Photoshopped her baby’s head.