Monday, December 19, 2016

Parenthood: Week 183 - Joining The Toddlers

When Ollie was a baby and I’d carry him into a family gathering, we would be swarmed. Everyone was excited to see him. People would ask to hold him. Others would gather around and try to hold his little hand or just point out the parts of him that they found most adorable.

Almost everyone would try to make him smile by grinning at him and making silly sounds. Even the most serious people would become goofballs attempting to get a reaction out of him. People wanted to just be near him. It felt great to be welcomed so enthusiastically and to be adored by everyone. I believe that all of those smiles and warmth is one reason Ollie is such a happy person.

This is different now that Ollie is a toddler. When we walking into a room full of family, a couple people will come by to say hello to us and say hi to Ollie but we are no longer swarmed. Ollie sometimes reciprocates these greetings but sometimes doesn’t. While people would spend a lot of time trying to get Ollie to smile as a baby, they are less likely to try to make Ollie smile as a toddler.

People no longer come up to him and want to hold him (I know he’s three, but he’s still a fan of being held and cuddle). Many fewer people try to actively interact with him now that he is a toddler.

I make this observation not to be critical of any people or any group of people but rather to point out an interesting phenomenon. People go crazier over babies than toddlers partially because of evolutionary biology and the adaptions we have made to be incredibly cute as babies, the time when we need others the most for our survival.

The other piece is that we don’t always know what to do with toddlers. A baby is pretty easy for a short interaction. You sit-down, support the head and cuddle it and smile at it. That's it. When you got a walking, talking three-year-old, it can seem a little bit more intimidating. It’s not so bad. It’s just different.

Ollie can have a short conversation, he can laugh at jokes, he can play simple games, and will listen to songs and loves to be read to. He can give a lot more back through social interactions than when he was younger. In many ways, it is a much more rewarding social interaction to play with Ollie now as a three-year-old, than when he was a baby.

Next time you see a toddler, talk to them. Play with them. Find a book and try to read to them. Chances are, most people besides their parents will not be actively paying attention, so give them some of your attention and love. Yes, their little brother is a squishy and smells like baby (which is one of the happiest smells in existence), but toddlers randomly make up dances and songs and this is also awesome.

I believe that every person should hold a baby and change a diaper before they become an adult. I also believe that everyone should play a game, sing a song and dance with a toddler before adulthood.

Next time you are at a party, and you see a toddler on their own playing, join in. The games they are playing may not make any sense and you might have no idea what they are saying, but the time will be just as meaningful or more meaningful than any small talk you will have with other adults at the gathering.

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