By Christina Clark
Web Exclusive - May 15, 2007
As usual, leaving my three-year-old alone upstairs for just a minute leaves me feeling a mix of pride and trepidation. Pride because, most of the time, he has reached the stage of being able to stay alone for a few minutes at a time without getting into trouble. Trepidation because, as any parent knows, there is no such thing as “always” with preschoolers. But it’s been a good day so far; Ben is playing enthusiastically with his cars and trucks as I head down to attend to some laundry. I even stop to fold the clothes from the dryer rather than stuffing them into the basket and rushing upstairs; I feel that confident.
Smiling, I begin to climb the steps, laundry basket in hands, and hear the tentative cry,
He’s just checking on where I am, I think contentedly.
“Coming,” I call.
“Uh oh…” comes the small reply.
Words to chill my previously sunny mood. In Ben-speak, “uh oh” translates approximately to “something dreadful and probably messy has occurred and I have no idea how or why it happened. It is most certainly not my fault.” Taking a deep breath, I mount the stairs and wonder what I’ll find when I get there. I am mentally calculating how long it’s been since he last went to the potty and wondering how best to remove pee-pee smell from the wool rug when I reach the top of the steps. Ben stands at one of the wood coffee tables, back to me. Pants dry. That’s good. Then I see the open orange juice bottle and my heart sinks.
Ben has only recently become both strong and independent enough to open the refrigerator door by himself. He practices it frequently. Even so, I am unused to this new development and often fail to plan for it. But as I approach, my heart warms at the sight before me. My tiny son, who has the sniffles and a cough, tried to pour himself a little bit more orange juice. Yes, he spilled. But no, the bottle is not lying on it’s side, merrily emptying itself onto the rug. It stands solidly on the table. So does the cute two-handled orange mug into which Ben successfully poured an ounce or two. The rug and table are, amazingly, dry. The “uh oh” stemmed from a tiny spill which landed, fortuitously, on a magazine lying next to the cup.
We clean up together and I remind Ben that we generally like to pour drinks in the linoleum-clad safety of the kitchen. “Okay,” he whispers in a voice that prompts me to hug him tight and tell him that I am absolutely not mad at him.
Happy? Happy that he opened a nearly full quart of orange juice in the living room? Happy that it could so easily have meant a morning’s worth of wiping and steam-cleaning? Well, yes. Happy because my little baby is growing up and trying to fend for himself. Happy that he feels safe enough to try, and to let me know right away if something doesn’t go quite the way he planned.
I tell him that I am happy, and proud of him for being honest about his mistake. Comforted, he wanders off to find the puppy and have a good romp. Watching them, listening to his husky little-boy giggles of delight as she lays across his back and nibbles his ears, I marvel at this beautiful little person living in our home. I wonder at the progression from a floppy and portable creature who needed us to attend to his every need to this independent and knowing child who does so many things, understands so much about his world.
Sure, I’m a sap. This is, after all, what babies do; they grow up into toddlers and preschoolers and eventually, gulp, teenagers with car keys in their hands. We celebrate when infants first smile, laugh, and hold their heads up on seemingly inadequate necks. We cheer and clap, and some of us cry, when they sit up, stand, walk, wean, eat solid food, and go off for their first day of school, their first sleepover, their first date. There are days when I am certain that our life will be much easier when Ben is just a little older, a little more capable, a little more verbal, and hopefully in possession of a little (a lot) more self-control. But today, closing the lid on the orange juice bottle as tightly as I can, I delight in a momentary glimpse of the miracle that is my small son.
Christina Clark is a freelance writer and busy mother of three boys. She and her family live west of Denver, Colorado.