Saturday, 31 March 2018

Being True to Toddler You

Slimy pants!

I was looking after my favourite three-year-old this week. We made Slime – the blend of PVA glue, bicarb and contact lens solution that miraculously forms a blob of viscous, squeezable joy. Flobbery, bouncy and endlessly stretchy, it is surely the best stress-buster since Valium.

Charlie threw the Slime into the washing basket. ‘Ughh!’ I said. ‘Slimy socks!’

This led inevitably to more ‘accidental’ throws and to slimy pyjamas, slimy pants, slimy knickers, a slimy bra… Soon, Charlie was laughing so hard that he could hardly breathe.

Teddy Bunkles watching TV

Now Charlie is nearly four, his sense of humour and mine are very much on a level. He delights in word-play and nonsense rhymes, slapstick, cheekiness and the world’s funniest thing: farting. All jokes I have never grown out of.

If you are bringing up a toddler (or can borrow one, like me), you will know that at three a child’s personality shines out. Three-year-olds have got over the two-year-old’s struggle for self-assertion and world domination. They are beginning to know – and to show – what makes them tick.

My son, Ben, aged 3

My Mum has photographs of her three grandchildren at the age of three, and I can see why she preserves them at this golden age: though baby-cute and still malleable, they are already fully-formed versions of themselves.

In later life, we lose sight of this. I recently found myself a married, church-going, middle-class woman with two children, a mortgage and a very settled career. Life yawned ahead of me, a well-worn path through child-rearing to moderate career advancement to pension.

Was this the real me, living this life – contemplating this future?

No. As a toddler, I was a thrill-seeker. I’d be coming down the biggest slide in the play park while mum was still explaining that I was too small for it. I loved puddles, getting dirty and going for walks in storms. I would go exploring on the beach and bring tar back to the picnic rug. I made funny faces if people peered into my pushchair.

I was fiercely determined: I wanted to skip like my older sister before I had even mastered jumping. I stayed out in the garden with the skipping rope until I was red-faced and exhausted.

I had a vivid imagination and wild dreams I still recall. I made up gods and loved stories.

At fifty, in mid-life torpor, toddler Sophie re-emerged. I left my full-time employment to write, freelance and volunteer, and finally achieved my life-long ambition, publishing my psychological thriller Unspeakable Things this year. I am loving writing my second novel.

Photograph by Craig Matthews

Do you feel like a stranger in the life that has formed around you? Does time trudge by, weighed down by things you must do, but don’t care about? Are there too few moments in the flow of deep, fulfilling enjoyment, when the real you is out there, doing what he or she does best?

If you’re dancing to someone else’s tune, the music you could be making is silenced.

What did you dream of as a child? What excited you? You might have fallen into a life that doesn’t reveal that little person. It seems safe, particularly in later years, to stick with the status quo. But oh, the sad toddler inside, stifled, unexpressed – the real essential you that you were created to be.

Courtesy of JustMommies

I have reconnected with my imagination, my need for new challenges, my love of adventure, learning and discovery. The red-faced determination of three-year-old Sophie got me through the anxiety of starting a freelance career and the stress of self-publishing.

I’m at peace now with toddler me. And I love my mornings with Charlie.

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