Where She Leaves Me

At home Nora spends most of her time in the playroom, which I decorated with blue and orange throw pillows and original artwork highlighting William Wadsworth Longfellow’s endearing poem “The Children’s Hour.” At almost nine months old, Nora expertly crawls across the room and fearlessly pulls herself up on the couch, the fireplace gate, and even the sliding glass door. She squeals and screeches, her energy endless. In preparation for helping her with learning how to observe, building up her curiosity, being comfortable with independent play, and even tackling problem-solving skills, I neatly arranged a toy shelf with puzzles; stackable cups of purple, red, and blue; and blocks. I carefully selected books about colors and shapes and numbers. I even bought a number of bead mazes, and maracas and a tambourine. Unfortunately, these toys are not interesting her at the moment. Instead, she is taking to the battery-operated large pieces like the sports center that cheers her on when she throws a basket into the hoop (she’s never done this) and the music table where she stands at while rolling its knobs with the tip of her fingers and slapping her thigh as the programmed table sings There was a farmer who had a dog…B-I-N-G-O. Each evening Danith and I watch her head bob and her bum bounce to the music. We admit that she possesses rhythm. We are pleased at the sight of our daughter dancing and prancing and squealing at her own ability to “play” the guitar and the accordion. But I still tell Danith that I am worried. I hadn’t intended on accumulating so many electronic toys for her, and now I feel guilty, fearing that I have failed at instilling in her the importance of imaginative and creative play.

Outside the house, Nora is more reserved, pensive. We registered her for Gymboree so that she could practice socialization skills and gross motor skills. Our second class was a couple of weeks ago, and it was small with just three babies and their parents. Nora and I were the newest members. The spirited teacher began the session with a song and a bucket of rain shakers and crinkly papers. While the other two babies crawled towards the toys, Nora remained on my lap. During the class I sang with the other moms about the bubbles being up high and down low while holding Nora’s fingers up high to the sky and down low to her toes. Later, after the circle, with my hands firmly securing her arms, I guided her down a wooden slide. Over and over I did this. She grinned during each ride down, but she did not bounce or screech with excitement like she would normally do at home. Then, at another slide, I set her on her tummy on a blanket, and the teacher and I pulled her up the incline. Nora kept her eyes on me the entire trip up the slide. At the last station, I carefully placed her on her stomach inside the hole of an inflated tube that was hanging from a low beam. The teacher instructed me to get on my knees so that my eyes and Nora’s eyes were at the same level. “Her seeing you here builds trust,” she said. While on my knees, I gently pushed Nora as she lay parallel to the floor inside the tube, never taking my eyes off her. We ended the class back in a circle, and Nora returned to my lap as we waited for the teacher to prep for parachute time. I was holding a rain shaker to Nora when, suddenly, she leapt from my lap and crawled to the center of the circle, where another baby sat. I watched her sitting there, admiring her courage. She didn’t stay at the center for very long, though, before getting back on her knees and tracing her steps backwards. Midway to me, she turned her head around — not stopping for anything — until she found me. The corners of her lips lifted. I was there, where she had left me!

Later that evening, while Danith and I watched Nora dance at her music table, I relayed the afternoon at Gymboree to him. “She came to me!” I exclaimed.

Danith was not impressed that Nora had searched for me. “You are her mom.”

I didn’t agree that the reason was that simple. From my own experience as a child, even at a very tender age, I knew that a mother didn’t automatically mean security. “When she was crawling back to me, I could feel the tears coming, but I didn’t cry.  I tried so hard not to cry.”   

He patted my hands.

I understand enough biology and psychology to understand that, usually, an infant knows how to scout for her parent — the familiar scent, the familiar facial features, the familiar cadence of speech. Still, I couldn’t overcome the pride swelling in my chest that evening. I must have done something correct for my baby to want to seek for me when she needed to feel safe. How lucky was I to serve as her never-faltering base. The concern surrounding her toys and what they could or couldn’t teach her relocated to the background of my mind. Instead, I began to consider what it is that I must continue with in order to teach her what is most important for her to learn: that she will always be able to find me, because I will always be where she left me.

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