Yesterday, Wise, Hoot and I were driving to swimming lessons, when Wise asked a question.
“Mom, remember when I was an only child?” he asked.
“Yes, sweetie,” I answered.
“Yeah, me too,” he said.
“Why’d you ask that?” I asked.
“Well, I was just thinking about how when I was an only child, I’d look out my window and dream about going outside,” he answered.
In our old apartment in Mississippi, we lived on the second floor. The stairs up to our floor went out into the parking lot. So, Wise, being only 2, 3, and 4 years old in that apartment, couldn’t go outside at all by himself. The complex didn’t have nice outdoor play space — only a pool and tennis court.
“Aww, I’m sorry, sweetie,” I said. “I wish we could’ve taken you outside there more often.”
One of the ironies of having moved from a small rural town to a big city is that it’s a lot more pedestrian and bike friendly here. In our new house, I can allow the boys to play on the gated patio while I’m inside. We also have a backyard and an “urban forest” greenspace with a bike and pedestrian trail a block away.
I can’t believe how little time we spent outside in a place where it can easily be 70 in January. Now we’re outside for at least an hour a day if it’s not storming, and much more on weekends. We even go outside in the rain.
To go outside in Oxford, we had to plan a trip to the park. It had a great park, sure, but you couldn’t walk and bike places with your kids.
Anyway, back to the topic at hand.
Wise said, “Hoot’s always been able to go outside whenever he wants. It’s so much better here.”
So that conversation took an unexpected turn. I’m amazed by the leaps and connections Wise makes in his mind. We weren’t even talking about the Deep South town, or going outside. We were discussing how Hoot was going to have to go to childcare at the gym while Wise was in swimming lessons.
Then, out of nowhere, Wise identified one of the major differences between his brother’s and his early years. Hoot might have to go to child watch and sit through his brother’s Taekwondo, but he has many fewer restrictions in his life. It’s a good thing too, because Hoot loves being outdoors.
Hoot can barely be contained. He’s happiest outside.
The other day I had one of those perfect days when I realize I am so lucky. On those days, I take a second to shudder at the memory of my old fears.
I have referred to Wise as my “subsequent child.” That sounds almost dismissive, but really, Wise’s early life was defined a lot by my fears. I tried not to let it affect him. Mostly, I held it in. I was so nervous all the time. Whenever he got sick, I’d be terrified he was going to die. Whenever we went to a park, I’d follow him closely. I’m not sure I was all that different than other first time mothers, but I worried about the fear. I worried it was too much.
Worrying about fear is not a great way to move forward in life.
Most of the time, life with Wise and Jack satisfied me. I wanted another child though, for so many valid reasons. Also, I wanted to have a chance to relax. I knew now that I could have a living child. I knew now that I could handle the illnesses, bumps, and scratches of toddlerhood. I ached for a second living child, but I would’ve learned to live happily with just Wise.
But then, without too much suffering, Hoot arrived.
I have a lot less fear with Hoot, thankfully, because he’s a very brave, tough little man who would have scared me to death if he’d been my first. He puts everything in his mouth. He darts away from us. He climbs. He pulls on furniture. He does all the things you childproof houses for that Wise honestly never did.
I’m not complaining. He’s just a ball of unpredictable energy. Wise is so much more contemplative. It takes him a long time to decide on something. He wouldn’t go down a slide without one of us at the bottom to catch him until he was almost 4 years old. Not Hoot. He’ll climb an 8 foot ladder and rocket down a twisty slide if you aren’t looking. It’s not that he doesn’t have any fear. Rather, at only twenty-two months old, he voluntarily and without prompting faces his fears head on. I hope his judgement catches up with his courage.
He displayed his determination best on April Fool’s Day, a gorgeous day. I spent the whole day writing–one of my more successful days of writing–and then took him out for a walk after he came home.
We walked to one of the bridges over the creek. First, Hoot gathered gravel to throw in it (I hate when he does that but I let him do it a little). He loves to throw things into water, to see and hear the splash.
While we stood there, I noticed for the first time that there’s a really easy little path down to the water.
“Hoot, let’s do down there.”
He looked up from his gravel tossing. I started walking off the bridge.
“Come on, we can go down the steps.”
He just looked at me. I walked down one of the wooden steps to show him what I meant.
“Come on, buddy, you can do it.”
He came towards me tentatively. He didn’t want to go down the stairs at first — they do look uneven. But then he started walking down, holding my hand. We got to the bottom, and he wanted to go back up. And back down. And back up. And back down. At first he wanted to keep holding my hand, but then eventually, he let go and pushed me lightly away. He went up and down by himself a few times.
Next, we had to tackle this little bridge made out of a single railroad tie. I walked across it first. Same thing, he was afraid. This took a little more coaxing. He took a big, deep breath, and I swear, steeled himself for the task. Then he started walking slowly, across, holding my hands. We did it twice, but the third time, he pushed me away.
He stood, staring at the bridge for a good ten seconds. I asked him if he wanted me to help him get across.
He took a deep breath and started walking. When he got to the other side, we both applauded and I cheered him. He smiled so big, and did it again and again, applauding afterwards each time.
Next, we made it to the creek shore. I started skipping little stones along the water. He watched me, and kept handing me more rocks. He kept moving closer and closer to the water, and eventually trying to skip rocks himself. I’m not sure I could’ve let go of my fears enough to let Wise have an afternoon like that when he was less than two years old. I’d have been scared of him falling less than a foot or of snakes, or glass, or garbage, or a hepatitis-infected needle in the dirt.
Of course, we didn’t live anywhere then where he could’ve had this experience. Maybe I would’ve calmed down had we done it more often.
I don’t know. But this whole experience with Hoot, it’s all icing on the cake.
A few days later, it rained, and Wise did some conquering of fears on his own, in another area of the creek.