I’ve mentioned a few times on here that E. is, by nature, a really happy baby/toddler. That he loves going new places and meeting new people. That he takes new things in his stride.
E’s relatives often say the same thing over and over again to Q. and I: “You’ve done so well with him.”
They are trying, I know, to give us a compliment, to praise our parenting skills, to express approval of the fine young lad we are raising.
But I always find it a curious comment. Because, really, E. is too young yet for his behaviour to be all that heavily influenced by what we tell him to do/not to do. He still throws his food on the floor whenever he feels like it, even though we have spent months asking him not to do this.
I feel like we’re being praised because E. is a happy little guy.
And I just don’t think we can take credit for that.
Yes, he knows he is loved, and he has secure emotional attachments to us, and he is confident that his needs will be met.
But ultimately, E. is just a happy, laid-back baby.
I always feel sorry for my friends who have more intense/high needs babies when people praise us for this wonderful job we’ve apparently done to produce a son who just smiles all day long.
I have friends with babies who are cranky. Babies who are fussy. Babies who don’t handle changes to their routine, who can’t cope with strangers, who can’t miss a nap without losing the plot entirely.
Those babies are also equally loved, equally secure in their attachments to their parents, equally confident that their needs will be met.
It’s not their parents’ fault that those babies are not as happy-go-lucky, not as adaptable as E. Their babies just have a different temperament. Their parents aren’t doing anything wrong.
So when Q. and I get praised for producing such a happy guy, I always feel a bit uncomfortable. We’ve done a lot of things to make him happy, but ultimately, we got lucky.
Thinking about E’s temperament while we were away made me want to write a post about his personality, because there is just so much of it these days, and I know he’ll continue to grow and change. I don’t for a moment think he’ll necessarily keep all of these traits as he gets older, and I’m determined not to be one of those parents who labels a child as “outgoing” or “dramatic” and then finds the label becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I would like a record to remind me, later, of what he is like now.
The first thing that always pops into my mind when I think about E. is how happy he is. This kid almost never.stops.smiling. Huge smiles when he sees me or his Daddy. Big toothy grins when he’s accomplished a particular task he’s set himself. Self-satisfied little smirks when he thinks he’s getting away with something. Cheeky grins when he’s being naughty (and knows it). When he isn’t smiling, it’s generally pretty easy to improve his mood. He has always responded incredibly well to being picked up and cuddled- it’s been a very rare occasion when that in itself hasn’t been enough to stop his crying almost immediately. Even when he’s overtired, or ill, or frustrated, or overwhelmed, he will often still manage to hold things together and stay his normal cheerful self. He does this hilarious thing at the moment where when he gets frustrated he’ll start to make this weird half-crying, half-crowing noise that makes him sound like a rooster, and then when he solves the problem he makes the most self-satisfied little sound, smiles to himself and then just goes about his business like nothing amiss has ever happened.
He remains an extrovert. When he was really little he just couldn’t get enough of going to new places and meeting new people. His idea of heaven was a trip on the subway or the streetcar. I swear he would set himself goals of just how many people he could charm between stops. He can be a bit more hesitant now, especially if he’s just woken up and found himself in a new place, or if people have suddenly arrived and want to play with him in a loud, boisterous manner (my father is the main offender here). But he still really enjoys going to new places- he just gets so obviously bored if we stay at home for too long. He’s fascinated by older kids, but will interact a lot with kids his own age as well, which I think is probably because he’s spent so much time with his baby friends. And, of course, he still loves the cats. He really really loves the cats, and even though he is getting so much better about trying to pat them rather than grab their fur, they still head for the hills if he crawls up behind them unexpectedly.
He’s pretty flexible and adaptable, but only to a point. He coped incredibly well with the trip down under, and all the travelling around we did while visiting. I think at one point we’d put him down in four different houses within the space of four days, and he went to sleep without a struggle each time. He can manage to miss the occasional nap without his world collapsing, although now that he’s down to one, I wouldn’t want to see him go more than a day without a proper nap. At the same time, he loves his routines and absolutely thrives on them. From the time that he was three weeks old he understood that nighttime was for sleeping, and while it took thirteen months to get him sleeping through the night, he almost never refused to go back to sleep after he’d been fed. He wasn’t an all-night-baby-dance-party sort of baby. Now he knows when it should be mealtime, he tells us that it’s time for his nap, and he loses the plot completely if you deviate from the bedtime routine. One afternoon he was so exhausted that as soon as he was in the crib he started sucking his thumb and cuddling his bunny, so I didn’t pick him back up to do the lullaby I normally do before his naps. After about a minute of listening to him scream his head off in outrage, I went back upstairs, picked him up, sang to him for about a minute, put him back down in the crib and left, and he promptly went straight to sleep and didn’t make a sound for two hours. Lesson learned.
He is quite the stoic. It still makes me shake my head that it took us MONTHS to realize that he couldn’t tolerate dairy and soy. Even when his gut was bleeding as a result he was still a happy, cheerful baby 90% of the time. I’ve noticed this with teeth as well. He’s obviously uncomfortable when teething, and we do tend to give him one round of Ad.vil before bed, but that seems to be all he needs to sleep through the night with very few random wakings, and during the day he’s usually fine to be unmedicated. He takes all manner of knocks and bumps in his stride- it’s much harder for his father and me to keep from gasping and rushing to see if he’s been hurt.
He is incredibly deliberate and precise in what he does. He’s always been like that- I remember my Mum commenting on it when he was barely able to grasp things, and it just became even more obvious once he started eating solid food. He is so careful, so delicate with his hands. You can see him thinking all the time about what he’s going to do next and how he’s going to go about doing it. He likes to have things just so, like how he’ll line up his ducks on the rim of the bath and make sure they’re all facing him, or how when he’s stacking his Mega.bloks he’ll pull off two or three double blocks if he finds another quadruple one that will fit on the ones he’s used as a base. Even though he’s incredibly busy (my Dad’s summary of E. ever since about Christmas has always been, “I can’t believe how much he eats! I can’t believe how much he smiles! I can’t believe how he never stops moving!”), his movements always seem to have a purpose behind them. He never seemed to start crawling somewhere just for the sake of it- there was always a destination in mind, and this has stayed true now that he’s started walking.
He’s not a chatterbox. He says quite a lot and definitely now tries to tell us something from time to time (unfortunately I haven’t brushed up on my Ewok lately so I can’t quite make out what he’s trying so hard to get across), but he’s not like some of the other babies I’ve met who seem to be babbling constantly. He’ll play for quite a long time by himself just making the occasional ‘ooh’ when he feels he’s done something of note. At the same time, he doesn’t miss a thing. It became a bit of a running joke between Q. and I that whenever I came back from a walk with E. when he was little Q. would ask how many people had commented on how alert E. was for whatever age he happened to be at the time. It was literally probably the first thing people said to me 90% of the time after they asked how old he was for about the first six months. I remember my sister not really understanding it, and then she came back from a trip to the mall and said that all the other babies looked a bit zoned out and she finally understood why everyone said what they did about E. Even in his first couple of weeks in the world, he just seemed so aware, so attentive. He never had that funny lack of focus that babies seem to have for the first two months where their eyes always look a bit off center. He just stared straight into your soul.
He has a great sense of humour, but he’s never been one of those babies who laughs all the time. It’s a struggle to get big belly laughs out of him (Q. is much better at this than I am- I think Daddies are somehow inherently more amusing than Mummies), and even giggles can be hard to come by. It’s not that he’s dour or grumpy, or even that serious, given he’s usually got a smile on his face even while resolutely refusing to give up a giggle. When he does something that he knows is funny he’ll often just sit there and smile and look pleased with himself while his father and I fall about laughing. The one exception I can think of was when he fooled my Dad into thinking he wanted to be picked up, but then he hid his face in my lap before repeating the request to be picked up again. He did this over and over, and the laughter just kept building. He is quite ticklish, and he does love his Daddy’s crazy noises and faces.
He is curious and adventurous without being a daredevil, which is quite a nice combination in that he’s still not scaling the couch or the bookshelves, but if we go to the park he’ll trundle off and explore. He is, blessedly, not particularly stubborn and remains very willing to accept redirection or a distraction if he’s doing something we’d like him to stop. We’ve yet to experience anything even remotely resembling a tantrum. He’s independent, in that he can often play for half an hour or more by himself while we make dinner, but at the same time he really loves spending time with us, and if we’re in the kitchen and he’s reorganizing his books in the living room he’ll often pop back around the corner just to touch base. There are points in the day when he really wants you to just sit right next to him while he does his own thing. He’s affectionate and loving- he gives huge, open-mouthed kisses- but not particularly cuddly- he’s got too much else to do. It’s funny to think that for the first three months or so we basically never put him down except to sleep at night. When he had his first bad fever, he was so sad and lethargic and miserable that all he wanted to do was lie on our chests, and both Q. and I admitted to each other that although we felt terrible that he was so unwell, secretly we were relishing all the baby cuddles.
I was watching him tonight after dinner as he pushed his little car around the couch in the living room and I thought my heart would explode with the strength of my love for him.
He is becoming his own little person.