“Look, there’s a rabbit!” I exclaim to my four-year-old son, trying to keep my voice down.
“Where?” he asks, as I point to the animal.
“Do you see it? Let’s be quiet so we don’t scare it away.”
“Yeah,” he replies, as he watches the bunny twitch its tail. It looks at us, then goes back to munching on the clover. It doesn’t think we’re a threat.
While the rabbits in our neighborhood do tend to be bold, my son’s calm demeanor definitely allowed us to watch it longer than if he had a louder reaction.
While we may think of a “wild child” as boisterous, exploring nature isn’t limited to adventurous extroverts. In fact, more quiet or introverted children can get just as much, if not more, out of being outside. While he sprints and yell-sings inside, my son is naturally a bit cautious and calm outside.
Here’s what I’ve learned from exploring with him:
Sinking into our couch, I look at the clock. 11:15. 11:15 PM. I had literally spent our entire night getting our kids to bed. Metaphorically, we had tripped and fallen hard on our faces. While this was an exceptionally bad night, our whole bedtime routine with Sprout is always a delicate dance.
Sitting at the top of our concrete stairs, Little Bird smiles down at me. Even though he doesn’t talk yet, his big grin says, “Look at me, Mama! Isn’t this awesome?” Used to my daredevil of a baby, I shake my head, smile back and hustle up the stairs before he gets the idea to climb down on his own.
I suppose it’s appropriate that one of my kids is a risk-taker. After all, exploration and adventure are some of my big values, in whatever form they come. My family stories overflow with risk, from biking around the world to immigrating to America. And I myself was a kid who never hesitated to put anything in my mouth and embraced the wildness of the outdoors. But all of that doesn’t make it any easier on my mental health.
I found out that I couldn’t attend my grandmother’s funeral in my ob-gyn’s office. After my doctor observed that I was several centimeters dilated, I asked, “So I shouldn’t go to New Jersey on Monday then?” Looking up from between my legs, she said, “No, You probably shouldn’t travel out of state.” Between the fact that I missed the funeral and the baby was born that afternoon meant that I never told my older son about my grandmother’s death. He had only met her once, briefly, so it would have met little to him anyway. But it made me realize how urgent it was to talk about the subject with him.
In particular, my other grandmother is getting up in years. Sprout has met “Grammy” several times and remembers her. While her passing may be years away, there’s no way to know. Needless to say, I didn’t want finding out about her death to be Sprout’s introduction to the topic.
But I had no idea where to start.
When I was pregnant, I imagined what life might be like if I had a little girl. I envisioned teaching her to stand up for herself, buying her dresses with science symbols, letting her get dirty, and being an example of a strong woman for her. I wasn’t going to stereotype her or allow anyone else to, thank you very much. In short, I considered how to teach her to be a feminist.
But I turned out to have two sons.
“Ah ah, come back here!” I yelp as my baby once again arches his back, flips over and stands up on his changing table. Somewhere between wrestling and tickling him, I finally manage to get a fresh diaper on. But that’s Little Bird at one year old – high energy and big emotions.
When he was first born, he was a touch over five pounds. He was just bigger than his teddy bear, swaddled in thin blankets. Still convinced that he belonged in the womb, he dozed in the pack-and-play even when his brother was sing-yelling next to him. At first, it seemed like he was going to be adorably sleepy and quiet.
A pair of pajamas can make me choke up these days. Not just any pajamas, of course. Just the panda onesie. Or the fleece pajamas with the rocket ships. Or the ones that say “Out of this world!” Looking at them, I breathe deep and stare off into the distance, as if my younger son’s infancy was years ago instead of weeks.
This is actually Snowball, our “pet bunny.” But good luck getting a photo of an imaginary friend.
“Tell me a Hop and Bun story,” Sprout says, his pants around his ankles as he’s sitting on the toilet. Perched on the side of the bathtub, I look off into the distance, as if I can pluck an idea from the mirror above the sink. “Hmmmm, well,” I stall, wracking my brain. “Once upon a time, there were two bunnies, named Hop and Bun. They were best friends. One day…”
Eventually, I always come up with something. The plots have ranged from the hapless bunnies getting lost on the subway to saving up money and buying a scooter.
While I love telling Sprout stories – despite the odd circumstances – that’s not my favorite part of this routine. No – it’s the fact that Hop and Bun are utterly from Sprout’s imagination. I played no part in their creation. They aren’t drawn from a book or TV show. One day, Sprout just declared that he was a bunny named Hop and Bun was his friend.
The room is dark and my eyelids flutter. My baby, who is in my arms, squirms and calls out, shrieking, then whimpering. I startle awake and gaze down at him, taking in his round cheeks and elfin nose. His eyes are closed, but out of exhaustion, not relaxation. Cries of pain and discomfort slip from his mouth, no matter how much I hug or rock him. His teeth are coming in and even medicine isn’t quite enough.
My younger son has a remarkable ability to inspire comparisons to non-human creatures. While his smile is quite human – and adorable to boot – the noises and gestures he makes often aren’t.
As he’s moved from a newborn who arrived nearly a month early to a very mobile baby, here are six more things Little Bird reminds me of: