I usually have a little ‘debrief’ with the Toddler about special fun activities we have done. Birthday parties, days out, visits to grandparents, toddler group, stay and play at the children’s centre – on our way back to the car I will ask him: “Wasn’t that fun? What did you do at [activity]?”
First, the Toddler will tell me about everything he has eaten. Then he will tell me about all the times he cried. Then, if I’m lucky, he will tell me about some of the fun activities that one would more usually include in a report of a special day. His reflection on a friend’s third birthday party went a bit like this: “Yummy food! And sausages, and chicken, and cakes, and squash. And slide, and fall over, and S cry. And big ball. Little boy take. S cry.” When prompted about some of the fun he’d had, he added: “Bouncy castle! Heeeeeeel leuk! [Looooooots of fun]”
It makes me quite sad to think that his distress at these little mishaps must be so deep that they are in the forefront of his mind when asked about his day. What really gets me is when he tells me about all the times that he didn’t cry. One day we were playing with chalk on the pavement outside our house. Predictably, I had to write all the numbers from one to ten for him. There were some other little boys playing outside, and they came riding past on scooters, one of them accidentally driving over a piece of our chalk. It was completely squashed. The Toddler stared at the broken chalk. I looked at the Toddler, holding my breath.
He didn’t cry. He did exclaim about it a lot. And then he started telling me, over and over: “Little boy squash chalk. S not cry.” I can’t quite describe why this was so heart-breaking: something to do with his awareness that he might have cried, but that it was an achievement not to, even though he wanted to very much.
Long preamble, but my poem today is about how very real and deep toddlers’ feelings are.
Your life is on a different scale
when the breadsticks have gone stale
when your plans and projects fail
A snatched toy causes genuine grief
Childhood sorrow – is the adults’ belief –
may be intense but it’s only brief.
But we are wrong and you recall
the time you almost lost your ball
or I didn’t answer to your call.
Your body may be only small
but your feelings are life-size
your spirits plummet
and they rise
and any grown-up would be wise
to comfort a toddler when he cries
to soar with him whenever he flies
so to win the precious prize:
to be an equal in his eyes.
(c) Judith Kingston, 2013
Linked up to Prose for Thought.