There were early warning signs. I reveled in stories of toddler exploration on Dirt and Boogers even before Miss E was born and became slavishly devoted to providing my daughter with an early childhood full of self-directed free play. Late in my pregnancy, I posed the question to a group of mama friends, “What age are you most looking forward to?” The majority answered that they just couldn’t wait to cuddle their newborn babies, and while I could absolutely respect that – these mamas had also all experienced the loss of a pregnancy, which makes bringing home a healthy baby a much more emotionally complex affair – and I, too, couldn’t wait to meet my baby, I wanted a doer.
Miss E was animated from the start, looking, learning, loving. But seeing her now is such a wildly different experience. Recent pictures of her are all the evidence I need. It’s a real challenge to capture a smile when she’s so intensely focused on stacking, sorting, sifting, building, dismantling, smashing, and shaking. I’ve loved hosting sensory play dates for my mom’s group and spreading the wonderment of seeing these little people at work. We’ve kept busy with colored spaghetti, homemade finger paint, cloud dough, plain old oatmeal or dry rice, and it’s always worth the inevitable mess (there is no vinyl tablecloth large enough to contain an experimenting toddler).
When it’s just us, Miss E is as likely to be found making her own fun as she is to play with the toys I have so carefully categorized and rotated in from week to week. Some of her unexpected favorites? Sorting cookie cutters into a plastic cereal container. Slipping business cards and canceled credit cards into and out of the sleeves of an old wallet. Pom poms and pipe cleaners could keep this girl occupied for an hour. I keep trying to introduce her to crayons, but the thrill of dumping them out of the box and lining them up surpasses that of seeing her own mark made on a piece of taped down paper. Play dough, too, is a curious thing, and I’m thinking maybe coloring it with Kool-Aid packets was a mistake – it smells far more delicious than it tastes, and the temptation to eat it has thus far proved too great.
As with everything else, I have to be sure not to rush her. I have to appreciate where she is, her interests, her capacity, right now. Before Miss E was born, when I answered the question I posed to my friends for myself, I imagined a preschooler as the absolute height of good times. But it’s beyond me to imagine her getting anymore fun than she is right now.