The father (a hulking kind of guy) came down the driveway to the sidewalk. And then I noticed the baby, the 20-month-old, trailing well behind him. When he reached the sidewalk he began walking toward the subway while the baby stood at the top of the sloping driveway.
I wondered about the dynamic playing out here. Was he so hands-off that he would leave the little one to make her own way? What baby deserves that? (I do tend to be judgmental where babies are concerned.) But he stopped and turned around to watch her progress down the slope. Tiny and inexperienced as she was, she got sucked in by the impetus of going downhill and in no time at all went from a toddler's walk to an almost baby-toppling run. Run-run-run on tippy toes—I imagined her doing a face plant (and would it be his fault?). But no, she made it to the sidewalk without falling.
At this point the father came toward her and then turned around to walk once more in the direction of the subway. And he held out his hand, as baby-lovers do, to guide her or help her or just to feel that little hand in his. And she waved her arms in a vigorous and abrupt refusal to hold hands. Both arms swept from front to back in the unspoken "No!" of an independent soul. "No! I don't need help!" It was clear that this was not the first rebuff he had experienced from her. He knew this little girl. So he continued walking on his own, and she tottered, toddled after him—perhaps relishing the safety of his nearness, but definitely choosing to walk on her own terms.
Another day I caught a glimpse of the toddler from the corner of my eye. She was standing stock still on the neighbours' lawn, a foot from the edge of the four-foot-high railroad tie retaining wall. Where was her father?
Oh, yes. There he is, running back toward the apartment building. The toddler didn't move an inch for about 30 seconds. He obviously had said, "I have to run back. You stay here. And DO NOT MOVE!"
After those 30 seconds she turned her head, one way and then the other, to examine her surroundings. Her feet did not move. She looked at the porch behind her, the tree to her left. Then she pivoted slightly on one foot.
She was calm for the first minute. And then she began to wonder whether this was a permanent abandonment. I couldn't take my eyes off her. She wore tights and a long-waisted top with a flounce at the bottom, and her sun hat protected her face. She was beyond adorable, at least from a distance.
Just as her movements were becoming a bit more agitated, her father ran from the apartment building, a cluster of keys in his hand. He went to his duffle bag beside the girl and fastened the keys on to it. He slung it over one shoulder. And then he held out his arms and hoisted her high in the air before settling her in the classic parental hip-carry.
Toddlers: endless entertainment, if you aren't responsible for them.
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