It is hot and mid-day and Mr2yo and I are in the longest shady stretch we can find in our yard, turning, step by step it into a defacto toddler run.
“Mama,” he says, “way!” And points his little arm around the adult-chest-high plastic box that holds the bike trailer and a few tools.
“You want me to go this way?” I verify even though this is the third, maybe fourth time we’ve done this.
“Yeah,” he tells me as he turns back to the other side of the box.
I walk along the proscribed route. A few steps later, as I reach his side of the box, I intone in my sing-song voice, “Where’s M? Where did M go?” I can see him, tucked between the box and a large, evergreen bush out of the corner of my eye but this routine counts on him not yet understanding how to see the world from another’s perspective. That will come later.
Just as I pass by his secret spot, he runs out.
“Oh!” I yelp, “Boo!”
And he laughs his deep, throaty laugh that seems to belie his age and innocence. But just as quickly, he’s back to business. “Again!” he commands me over the rumble of cars along the highway near our house.
I follow him back along “my” way around the plastic box and down a slight, tree-root-covered slope. He makes little, nonsensical noises as he leads me, pausing after each to give me a chance to mimic him. I repeat his sounds as best I can. He moves faster than I do, seeming to leap with each step so that he appears to float over the ground. Like a butterfly.
He reaches the four foot fence that separates two parts of our yard, ostensibly so that we can contain our dog in one area or the other. (The reality, of course, is that not even her dog crate with locks on it has been able to contain her.) He pushes against the small gate, trying to remember how to open it. “Mama, help me,” he tells me.
“Please?” I ask him.
“Yeah,” he answers. Good enough. I reach over the gate, unlatch it and show him where to push to open the gate. He pushes it open and steps through.
“Ok,” he says. “Again.”
He’s seen his two older sisters (10 and 7) on the patio with their aunt. They are reading picture books to each other as a sort of informal picture book writing workshop. I don’t know if he would have gone up to the patio had they not been there or if he had it in his mind to turn around and repeat our steps, but either way, he walks back through the gate and up the slope to where we started. Again.
By mornings end, I’ve lost count of how many times we repeat this hiding and jumping out and gate opening routine. There is very little variation in the routine and dialogue. And I don’t know what is the impetuous to him deciding to move on to another task (perhaps once the script was memorized, it was time to leave it behind?), but eventually he does just this. I suspect that it had something to do with him testing some theory or idea. Perhaps he was learning that the gate, the plastic box, the tree roots, even his mother, would be largely unchanged on each trip back and forth. Object constancy, some call it. Or maybe it was more “behavioral consistency” that he was looking for from me or from himself. Would the word “way” and pointing result in the same behavior on his mother’s part? Would she really ask, “Where is M?” In the same sing-song voice each time? Will my sisters and aunt still be there?
I suspect, as I periodically do as a parent, that I had passed some sort of unspoken test on his part. And I was glad to move on to something else. And I can only assume that he was too.