This post is a part of my “Board Book Beauty – Savoring the small as I read to my toddler” series. To see all of the posts in the series, go here.
Jonathan was gone for most of last week. He left well before the hour when human beings ought to be awake on Tuesday and didn’t return until Saturday afternoon.
Business trips are difficult things to explain to a two-year-old. We tried to give her warning ahead of time. Daddy was flying on an airplane, we said. He was going on a trip and it would be just Katie and Abby and Mommy at home for little while.
I don’t know how much she’s able to understand at this age; all she really knew was something was off, not quite right in her world. Daddy’s there when she wakes up in the morning. He comes home every evening before dinner, without fail. They play chase and they build with blocks and they read books, and then he snuggles her and sings to her before bed. Every day, these things happen. And then one day they didn’t. Instead of him coming home, we went to her Aunt’s or her Grandma’s or had visits from friends, but Daddy wasn’t there. Instead of him playing with her after dinner, she heard his voice through Mama’s phone. Instead of Daddy snuggles and hugs and songs, she got Mommy.
She didn’t fuss about these changes as they happened, but it was clear they were taking their toll. Her reserves were low: things that normally wouldn’t faze her caused massive meltdowns. I heard, “I have hard time listening, Mama,” – the phrase she uses when she isn’t responding to my requests – much more often than usual over the course of those five days.
And then, suddenly, he was home again. She woke up from her nap on Saturday afternoon and there he was, on the couch. She didn’t expect this; I hadn’t told her he was coming home for fear that her excitement would keep her from sleeping.
She saw him and didn’t say a word. She stood at the entrance to the living room and looked at him, expressionless, for a few seconds, then made her way to him and climbed up into his lap. She nestled in close, her head on his shoulder, and there she stayed.
He held her and kissed her forehead and smoothed her hair and he told her how much he’d missed her. She shifted position, pressing herself closer to him, and remained quiet. For a long time – perhaps as long as twenty minutes, though I wasn’t watching the clock – she stayed there, not responding to our questions, not looking at us, just resting in her Daddy’s arms.
Eventually, she turned so she was facing forward. All of Baby, Nose to Toes was within reach, lying on the couch from earlier in the day when Katie and I had read it together. He picked it up and began to read.
All of Baby, Nose to Toes describes various parts of baby – eyes, nose, ears, tummy, legs and toes – with a catchy, rhyming rhythm. At the end of each section it asks a question – Who loves baby’s _____? – and gives an answer – Me! I do. Katie’s excitement grows as we read it and she laughs, talking over whoever is reading to say, “Me! I do” at every opportunity.
Except for this time. This time, as Jonathan reached the end of each description, he’d ask the question and we’d both look at her, waiting for a response that wasn’t coming. Finally, Jonathan and I would declare, “Me! I do,” in unison. She’d stare straight ahead, silent.
Later, things were back to normal, with tickles and giggles, with games and laughter, with a little girl who couldn’t stop talking, eager to tell her Daddy everything. Once she’d had time to soak in the fact that he was home again, to fill up her Daddy-tank, she was able to communicate again, to articulate what she was thinking and feeling.
Saturday evening, as they laughed and snuggled and played, as we all enjoyed being together again, I thought, “Who loves this man, this girl, this baby, more than words can say?”
Me. I do.
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