Anyway, this struck me most recently on the playground. We had a couple of nice coat-free-weather days in the last week and were able to get out of our forced indoor routine for some playground visits, and Speck showed a jump in her exploration and initiative since last we went out. It gave me just a glimpse over the first crest in the foothills of her trek to independence and a sense of how strikingly different that parenting terrain may still become.
In the first few months of life, your baby is mostly a sack of potatoes -- it just lies wherever you put it down, perhaps turning its head to look about, and it becomes your parental responsibility to be or provide the entertainment and stimulus in an active manner around your inactive recipient. So you talk and make faces, provide visual patterns and musical sounds, dangle toys within reach of early batting, prop the kid where there are things to see and people to smile at.
Then there are a few months when the kid can sit up, and maybe scoot around a bit. It's still basicall stationary, but now it can reach and lean and pick up toys for itself. Now you are no longer the provider of action, but a participant in the baby's more active interaction with its world. You still need to put interesting things within reach, and play games and talk and be a clown, but now the baby is choosing things to pick up and manipulate, is doing its own exploration of the feel, smell, taste of objects. However, at the playground, one still feels that one is putting the baby through the paces -- swinging it in the swing, setting it on top of the climbing turtle, sliding it down the slide. It's capable of handling objects but not yet of taking charge of its own explorations or of moving itself through the physical world.
And now we've had a few months of active crawling, along with some standing up and "cruising" along a couch or other support. The interaction with toys is largely unchanged, although now the baby can go over to the toy box for herself, pull it over and/or sort through its contents for just the right thing. And she makes additional games from, say, chasing the cats (slowly) around the coffee table, or putting things through the baby gate and then stretching to get them back. But the playground was much the same, with my moving her from place to place and one potential entertainment to another while she expressed her degree of amusement and watched the other kids play.
But something different happened this week, all at once. She decided for herself that she wanted to leave one area of the toddler yard and just crawl on over to the other area where we usually go next. And then she wanted to stop and play with the gate. And then, when I finally put her up on the platform of the play structure, rather than just looking around, or maybe venturing into the short tunnel that connects two platforms, she crawled out onto the shallow slide and just went on down, head first (with a look of amazed happiness). And then she wanted to do that again and again, me hoisting her up and she launching herself into a stomach-slide (sometimes rotating slowly like a fat starfish on the way down) and then immediately trying to crawl back up the slide or come around to the stairs for assistance to do it again.
It's small, a tiny increment in her abilities among many that are constantly occurring. And yet I can see that we are only days or weeks from her ability to climb those stairs herself and slide at will, the transition from my showing her things and helping her play, to her playing for herself and my watching. And it strikes me that this is a critical transition that will play out again and again through the years of raising a child -- from doing things for her, to showing her how to do them, to watching her go and do them on her own. And in this tiny thing I can feel the echoes of all the joys and tinges of sadness that will accompany each letting go, seeing the heedless and natural way that she absorbs each thing and makes it her own, ever so gradually taking her leave.
A moment of piercing insight. A perfectly ordinary day.