I just returned from a 13-day trip to the east coast with my 2.5-year-old son Stephen. During our trip I realized something that, perhaps for many moms is a given, but for me it was a truly amazing and significant discovery: how well I know my child.
Introducing my son to new things, people, surroundings and situations, I realized that I could predict which toys and games he would take or leave, to whom he would warm up quickly, and which activities would make him shine or whine. Likewise I could anticipate a tantrum or other scene, and often times I would know how to avert or allay it. It was a gratifying feeling.
When we went to Blue Ridge Seafood House, I knew right away he would love the big faux shark head protruding from the bar. The waitress said that many kids are scared of it, but not mine, who begged to go touch it. Same story with the hard-shell blue crabs, which he helped me eat by cracking the claws with a wooden mallet, which I knew would be a delight for him, as was his first crustacean encounter.
Later in the week, when Stephen met my dad’s brother Uncle Johnnie, I knew the two would hit it off because Stephen would be fascinated by his booming baritone voice, and he was. I also knew I could trust Stephen to hold and not hurt a delicate caterpillar that we found near my parent’s house, because he has a gentle nature, and quite literally, he wouldn’t hurt a (butter)fly.
Throughout our trip I found myself one step ahead of Stephen, telling my folks, “Watch this, he’s going to go give Uncle Johnnie a hug,” or “”He needs to lay down for a nap in the next half hour or he’s going to meltdown.”
My two-week travels with him, alone, without my partner, tested my ability to handle him by myself, including on a five-hour-10-minute plane ride, through a time zone with a three-hour adjustment to meal and sleep times. It was immensely helpful to feel attuned to his peculiarities and preferences, as when I could foresee a spate of boredom coming on during the plan ride and distract him with a game that I knew would engage his attention and keep him from repeatedly opening and slamming shut the tray table, to the appreciation of the man in front of us.
Of course, there are occasional surprises, like when he hated a floral-print sundress my cousin gave me. Inexplicably he cried and screamed for me to “take it off, take it off.” I could not get to the bottom of this odd and very pronounced aversion to my dress. I guess, as a Southern friend of mine was apt to say, “There’s no accounting for taste.”
While I don’t profess to know everything about him, I realized I know a lot about him, as his mom, and I felt proud about it. The more I know him, the better of a mom and parent I can be for him, and suddenly that old Dolly Parton song came to mind, and I smiled as it played in my head, as it was exactly my sentiments.
“To know, know, know him, is to love, love, love him, and I do…”