I’ve had the privilege of bonding with Greyson a lot this week. Our newborn Violet needs a lot of TLC from her mama, and as a result, her big brother needs even more TLC than usual from me. During my week of self-granted paternity leave (oh Scandinavia, how I envy you), it’s been deeply gratifying to be able to generously give this extra dose of time and affection to my little guy. Greyson is supremely fun to be with, and the emotional dividends of any investment of time with him are considerable.
Thursday was a perfect example of this. Below I want to highlight two snapshots from a single day spent with my intrepid, funny, energetic, contented, and achingly sweet 2-year-old son. It was September 20th, the penultimate day of summer, and unlike much of the last two months, the weather was dry and mild. The 4 of us spent the day lying low at our house in the countryside. Here are two of the myriad little Greyson moments (LGMs) that made my heart soar on this particular day.
While Danielle tended to Violet, I took Greyson to storytime at the library. I’ve never done anything like this before, and I was both excited and a bit apprehensive at how Greyson would respond to a crowd. He doesn’t regularly rub shoulders with a lot of people beyond family and relatives, and despite adoring storytime at home he’s also a tireless spark plug of go-go-go energy. So would he be able to sit still for 25 minutes in a circle of complete strangers? I could picture any number of outcomes.
But if I do say so myself, Greyson was the unequivocal MVP of storytime. During the open playtime, he happily arranged lifelike little people in a cute diorama — a businesswoman with a briefcase next to an elderly man with a walker next to a teenager with a leg brace next to a scientist with a beaker. (His favorite little person, as usual, was the girl in the wheelchair.)
Then “Miss Sue” began storytime, and about a dozen toddlers and their parents gathered around in a circle. Greyson was content to sit encircled by my legs, watching attentively as Sue led the group in an array of stories (very short ones, to accommodate kids with much shorter attention spans than our bookish boy) and interactive songs.
My enthusiastic little guy did his best to keep up with the clapping, the spinning, the nose-touching, and the head-and-shoulders (knees-and-toes, knees-and-toes). He particularly excelled at the silly dancing portion of the program, bopping up and down and moving his tiny hips with more confidence and flair than his Baptist-raised papa ever could.
Afterward, Greyson was enthralled by his usual puzzles and trains and animal figurines, while I sought out more great books for our insatiable bookworm. At one point, while I was perusing the stacks, another little boy must have grabbed a train from Greyson because I heard that boy’s mom scold her son for being rude. It took about 7 seconds for my own son’s stunned face to crumple into a teary-eyed visage of sheer 2-year-old devastation. I did my fatherly best to divert his attention toward puzzles (his current favorite pastime). And I resisted the urge to sternly chide the ill-mannered, train-stealing boy.
After all, diplomacy is one of the highest virtues of parenting.
Greyson recovered quickly, and the offending boy was removed from the library shortly thereafter by his frazzled mom. We checked out another 9 books to add to the 37 we had at home already, and Greyson had fun pushing the books we were returning through the narrow book return slot until they dropped invisibly behind the desk with a thunk. He waved goodbye to the librarians, and I’m pretty sure I could see in their admiring eyes that they believed they may be in the presence of the greatest 2-year-old in the history of 2-year-olds.
Or maybe I’m just insanely proud of my son.
In the evening, Danielle and I took the kids (that phrase! It has such a nice ring to it!) for a walk in the woods across from our house. Just a hundred yards from our front door, there is a 0.2-mile wooded loop trail attached to a small local park. I would guess that our family’s use of the trail accounts for roughly 64% of the overall usage by the Franklin Township populace. Living across from a quiet wooded area has made it easy to raise Greyson as the nature boy that he is through and through.
After a loop or two, Violet started fussing. So Danielle took her back home to feed her. Meanwhile, I accompanied Greyson while he ran (or to use a word coined by my dad, “truggled”) through the grass to the playground. He fell a few times and got fresh-cut grass all over himself, then hopped right back up and kept on trugglin’.
But the specific LGM that I want to share came after Greyson and I played on the miniature fire truck and then headed over to the big blue slide, his favorite attraction in this miniature theme park. To get up to the slide, you must cross a stationary drawbridge-type walkway with small openings between each slat that a little foot could slip through and get stuck. Every time I’ve ever climbed up this slide with Greyson, he has insisted that I carry him across this walkway, raising his arms toward me and with his mouth cutely formed into a circle, saying “hoooood?” (Which is to say, “Hold [me]?”)
But as every mom and dad knows, parenthood is a slow-motion process toward independence (for the child) and letting go (for the parent). And on this night, Greyson decided he was finally ready to walk across the drawbridge with his own two feet.
What crushed my heart with sweetness, though, was that Greyson ventured only halfway toward drawbridge-crossing independence. He was ready to cross himself, yes, but he insisted that I hold his hand while he did it. As a papa, there is nothing quite like the sight of your little boy (or girl) stretching his little hand out to you. The warmth and trust in that gesture is enough to melt the hardest of hearts. So you can imagine what it did to my soft, squishy, super-sentimental one.
Each time we got to the drawbridge, my son held my hand and fearlessly crossed it. Then we would bomb down the big blue slide together, Greyson encircled once again by my legs. As soon as we reached the bottom of the slide, he would laugh joyously and then start running back to the stairway leading to the slide. But once he got partway there, he would suddenly turned around, thrusting his hand out to me again. Then I took his hand and guided him up the steps, across the drawbridge, and up the small ladder to the slide. Over and over — no less than 7 straight times — we followed this exact pattern.
It was the unexpected combination of Greyson’s sudden independence with his sweet insistence on being connected to his papa that really got to me. That moment It felt like it encapsulated so much about fatherhood.
Whether we like it or not, our kids will always be veering in the direction of self-sufficiency. In our heads, we know this is good and healthy — and indeed, absolutely vital in the long run. But we also know this process will break our hearts in a thousand ways in the span of a few decades.
Fortunately, while we gradually adjust to this jarring truth, we are granted the following grace: Our kids, whether they are 2 or 9 or 16, still need us. And sometimes, especially when they are young, they even have the thoughtfulness and good sense to realize this fact.
Will I be crushed when Greyson no longer reaches his hand up to grab mine anymore? When he barrels across the drawbridge with no fear and doesn’t need me to accompany him down the big blue slide and rejects all my offers of playground assistance?
The answer is yes. Absolutely. I will be crushed by each of these developments.
But for now, I will savor the sight of that tiny, trusting hand stretched out toward mine. And I will enjoy every LGM I have with this sweet, innocent little boy. There is no one I’d rather walk hand in hand with — and eventually observe from close distance — as he navigates the various slides and drawbridges of life.
Because one thing’s for sure: This boy’s a keeper.