People told me that when my baby started walking, my life would change. They said this with warning in their voices. But so far, this new toddling phase is awesome. Liam was never an easygoing baby. He preferred constant interaction and attention. Now that he is walking everywhere, he is becoming more self-entertained, something I want to encourage.
I love the way my son's walking has changed our days. It is so much fun to let him toddle around while I clean. I love when he brings us his shoes or his books. I find that I can get little spurts of work done while he walks around with his toys or gets engaged in a project for a few minutes here and there (as long as he isn't attempting to self-destruct).
But being home all day with a new toddler isn't all easy. Here are two lessons I've learned about what my baby needs at this stage:
1. He needs times of my undivided attention. I may have exhausted to death the idea of taking time to truly watch our children. But it is just essential. It was easier in many ways before he was mobile. I could dangle toys above his head, stare into his eyes, coax out smiles, and chat with him about dinner while he was in his highchair. The hardest part was how easily he grew frustrated and how hard it was for him to communicate.
Now his attention span is longer, and his communication is so much better (seriously, I love this age!). But he still needs my attention. Lately, this has involved elaborate games of chase.
His recent obsession is picking up a basketball and tossing it off our driveway and into the bushes. He wants me to retrieve it, dribble it a few times, and then he will take it from me, repeating the process. Sometimes, these things feel so mundane; other times, I'm convinced I have more fun than he does!
In her book, My Practices of Mothering ($2.99 for Kindle!), Sarah Bessey says of her three children,
...when we play - even if it's just for 15 minutes - their little love tanks are full to overflowing. And somehow they behave better, listen better, sleep better, love each other better when they feel connected to one another and to me. And we have fun.
AMEN! In addition to playing his games, Liam loves when I play with his toys with him. Sometimes we turn on music and sing, and he especially loves being read to (check out some of his current favorite books). He wants to be able to talk to me, and he demands that I respond. He deserves eye contact and my full attention, just as I would give an adult.
2. He needs to be involved in our grown-up world. For some reason, this was hard for me as a new mom. I felt like I should give Liam all my attention and make sure our time was catered to his needs and learning. My guilt slowly ebbed away when, in the first few months, I read this from The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding:
Babies are built to fit into our busy days, not to be the center of them. Do your work. Clean house, run errands, fix your lunch, go places, and include your baby.... (185-186).
Some days this is easier than others. Now that Liam and I have a rhythm (and it only took thirteen months!), I know when we should and can run errands, when we need to have a chill day at home, and when a trip to the playground or a walk around the block is necessary. One of my biggest pieces of advice to moms is to truly study your baby. Figure out what makes him or her tick and what works for both of you.
We've started incorporating a bit of the Montessori practical life into our days (How We Montessori is a fabulous Montessori blog that has given me great ideas along these lines). I already mentioned the Fun Pod which allows Liam to help us in the kitchen with tasks such as washing dishes (also known as holding the spatula under the running water). We're also working on potty learning.
I recently bought Liam a mop/broom set, and he follows me around mopping or sweeping while I sweep and mop (we keep it in our kitchen pantry when it's not in use to make a big deal of it). Chores go more smoothly when I let him imitate what I am doing instead of trying to distract him with his own toys.
Liam loves to wipe cabinets and low shelves with a damp rag, and he helps me transfer clothes from the washer to the dryer. He's also obsessed with carrying around the watering can and pretending to water plants. I started incorporating more of these real-life activities after reading the following from a blog on infant potty training (it's a long selection, but read the whole thing!):
...Child-centeredness produces a super-grumpy child.
She recommends going on with your life as you did before having your baby, doing grown-up stuff while wearing your baby so he can witness and begin learning what it will take to be a grown-up and contribute to the society he was born into.
While doing all this grown-up stuff (shopping, laundry, cooking, walking, socializing, using the toilet, gardening, etc.), you remain receptive to the signals that your baby (in his little baby carrier, held close to your body) is constantly giving off. This builds your intuition, connection, and awareness, but not at the expense of irritating your child.
Jean mentioned that if you sit around and stare at your baby all day, asking him what he wants to do (instead of showing him what “we” do), he will become agitated and start signaling for correction. He is not signaling for more playtime with you, or because he’s a “terrible two” or toddler, or because he’s a willful, deviant troublemaker…it’s because he wants you to show him something interesting by doing something interesting.
Within this type of setting, babies are softer, calmer, and happier. (emphasis mine)
With these two lessons in mind, I'm trying to find a balance between playing with Liam on his level and helping him become part of our world, something he inherently longs for. I'm also learning that he needs time alone--time when I'm not hovering. We're working on some quiet time in his crib after reading Ashlee's post about her son's crib playtime.
It is still hard (impossible?) for me to have consistent time to write or read while Liam is around, so if I really need to get something done, I try to plan it for when my mom or husband can watch him.
What activities held your child's attention as a toddler? Did you find creative ways to let your child be involved in your life? Please share!