Friday, April 10, 2015

The Benefits and Horrors of Toddler Alone Time

Outside of leaving work early on a Friday and cracking a cold beer under the mid-afternoon sun, there aren't many feelings I enjoy more than having my son call out for me.

"Dahhhdeeee."

Corny. Syrupy. Saccharine.

I understand that this sentiment could be called any of these. But, when the boy takes the initiative to pull me into his day, or decides to jump into mine, I feel downright lucky.

I know the clock is ticking on this and, in the blink of an eye, I'll be uncool and being seen with me will be mortifying. But for now, I get to slow down and savor this oh-so-short time in which the boy occasionally enjoys hanging out with dad.

Or do I?

Mrs. Blackwell and I on a Friday afternoon when we both
took off from work. A time for fun. A time for beer.
A time to look strange while taking selfies in a public park.  
It's been a bit alarming development of late to notice that the boy is enjoying spending time on his own with greater frequency.

Now that we're comfortable with him climbing stairs (he's excellent at holding the railing) he's starting to take full advantage by retreating to his room whenever he so pleases.

There are obvious benefits to this and, so far, the boy has given us little reason to worry about his growing enjoyment of "alone time."

While he's in his room he's usually playing with some combination of books, blocks, stuffed animals or foam letters, nothing that's inherently dangerous. As he plays, his voice fills the air with a stream of toddler babble.

The other evening, as Mrs. Blackwell and I enjoyed the silence that this evolution has left in its wake, we noted that it was too silent. The boy's neverending narrative had gone quiet. So I moved upstairs and found him sitting in his rocking chair, next to the lamp, reading a book.

It was a tad absurd really, not yet three years old and he's reclined, legs crossed, quietly enjoying a book. All that was missing was his pipe and tweed jacket with elbow patches.

I told Mrs. Blackwell about this scene and we both chuckled.

The next day I thought about it some more and, because I'm me, began to find the negatives.

What if this is how it goes for the boy? What if spending time alone is just the start and he is growing up at an accelerated rate?

What if he's getting a ridiculously early start on taking after my dad, who has a PhD? Or his mom's mom who also has a PhD. Or his mom, who is working on her PhD?

That'd be fine, of course, but a little later in life thanks. I lived in a dorm a few doors down from a 16-year old who was technically a senior in college.

He was unquestionably smart and unquestionably miserable. There's all kinds of scary stories about prodigies who burn out. For every Mozart, there's a Corey Haim.

"How could this whole deal go bad?" I wondered. Then, in about two seconds, I had the whole scenario painted in my mind's eye.

Through the course of the next several months an ominous pall falls upon our home as the boy grows quieter, though more impatient. My internet history inexplicably begins to fill with Google searches for terms I don't recognize like "plastique, semtex" and "centrifuges."

Then one night, it's 3 a.m., and a faint din of clangs and crashes rattles forth from the boy's quarters as Mrs. Blackwell and I grimly and unblinkingly stare at the bedroom ceiling.

After mustering the courage to approach his door, I knock ever-so lightly and ask: "Hey buddy, whatcha doing in there?" only to be told, "Go back to bed. You didn't hear anything."

A few days after this stark imagining of my son evolving into a pint-sized and potentially homicidal scientist, I found myself in a similar scenario.

A blurry pic of the boy — after the first
attempt to clean off the marker. 
Mrs. Blackwell was out of the house, the boy had gone upstairs and things had gone quiet for a bit too long.

I slowly climbed the stairs, quietly made my way down the hallway and paused outside his door, waiting for any sort of noise that might clue me in as to what was happening on the other side.

Nothing. Just silence.

So, without the benefit of preamble, I opened the door and what I found was indeed, shocking.

There, standing on his chair (not recumbently relaxing) was the boy, his face absolutely painted with black marker.

He smiled and, given the amount of black around his mouth, it was an especially brilliant, white smile.

"Hi Dahdeee!" he exclaimed.

His hands were also covered in black and in his left hand he was clutching the offending Crayola marker. As he smiled he moved to put the marker in his mouth.

I moved quickly and got the marker and in no time, I was laughing and the boy was too.

Instead of being concerned about the potential of a Kaczynski-like toddler, I found myself in a more typical situation: in the middle of a total mess and completely paralyzed by how to proceed. It seemed that any move we made was destined to create more mess.

We slowly and gingerly made our way to the bathroom sink and went about the task of cleaning the boy off. Getting marker off of a kid's face is tough.

That said, worrying about how life is going to go for your kid is much, much tougher.

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