Kyle is a toddler. More specifically, Kyle is a toddler who toddles where he pleases with little or no regard to external instructions or expectations. Kyle is the most recent arrival of his father’s progeny, in fact, he is the youngest of the youngest of the clan of his grandfather. Someday Kyle will be his own man, but today he is very much his own toddling young male.
I’ve met Kyle before. He’s my grandnephew, the son of my brother’s son. I’ve not, however, seen him often nor had much interaction with him as he has of recent times been an infant distant to me by some three hundred miles.
This past Thanksgiving weekend Lori and I traveled to Arkansas to share the celebration with my brother, Gary, and his family. Gary’s three children, adult children, were there with their own offspring and it was a good time. We ate well. We enjoyed beautiful weather and we did what families do.
Sometime amidst the socializing and reminiscing Kyle, who had been playing with the Lego airplane his brother had built, misplaced the toy man that belonged in the pilot’s seat. I had earlier had some conversation with Kyle regarding the aircraft. Kyle is a toddler. He speaks, but much of his speech is unintelligible, at least on the receiving end. I suspect that an equal percentage of my articulation was not decipherable on the receiving end. Nonetheless we talked.
I assisted Kyle in his search for the missing pilot. We eventually located the errant miniature humanoid. The toy consisted of multiple parts including a detachable head and removable helmet. Kyle instinctively removed the little man’s helmet. Toddlers enjoy taking things apart and putting things together. They are generally much more accomplished at taking things apart.
I expressed mock concern for the missing helmet. After I explained, energetically, how much and why the pilot needed his helmet, Kyle giggled gleefully and handed me the helmet. I placed the helmet on the little man’s head and solemnly returned the toy to the toddler. Kyle received the toy and immediately removed the helmet. I expressed great concern with much animation until he returned the two pieces to me so that I might reunite the disjoined elements. I handed the completed pilot back to Kyle and we reiterated the sequence. Again and again and again we reiterated and with each new iteration he would laugh as if what we’d done was a hilarious joke he’d never before seen. I had forgotten that precocious toddlers seem to be almost completely impervious to the drudgery of repetition.
A few times during the day, or evening, Kyle climbed up onto my lap. His Aunt Rhonda commented wryly that he’d never done that for her and then to demonstrate she spoke to him in that way that loving aunts speak. She was correct. His filter permitted him to apparently not even hear her voice.
The following day we, several adults, were again sitting around the dining room table doing the things that normally geographically dispersed related adults do when Kyle brought to my side another of the miniature Lego people. This one wasn’t wearing a helmet. As we were discussing the little fellow Kyle was holding in one hand he reached up with the thumb and index finger of his other hand and promptly pulled the head from its body. Of course, I expressed shock and deep concern. I explained in many words how the little man couldn’t hear, speak, eat, or smell without his head. After some hesitation Kyle seemed to be convinced and held out to me the two parts to be rejoined. When I passed it back to him his eyes began to sparkle, he giggled a mischievous little laugh and looking right into my eyes again pulled the head from its little plastic body.
Toddlers really can maintain interest in almost endless repetitions of the same script. I wonder how different the world might be if adults didn’t lose that ability.
Sometime during the afternoon Lori and I had a short discussion regarding whether she’d left the hotel key in the car or at the hotel. We had only one. I volunteered to go out to the car, parked some fifty feet from the house, and do what I could do to put her mind at ease. Kyle followed me to the door. I held the door open and we exchanged verbal observations and intents which were likely not effectively comprehended by either listener. About halfway to the car through the autumn leaves, Kyle reached up, he’s quite a bit shorter than I, and took my left hand. When I opened the front passenger door Kyle climbed across the front seat and into a place on the rear seat behind the driver’s position. I located the hotel key on the console, closed the passenger door, and circled the car to get into the driver’s seat.
We chatted and exchanged pleasantries as I executed a short three minute route about the property. When I had parked again, we exited the vehicle, I from the driver’s side; he from the passenger’s door. He took my hand again and we walked back toward the house.
As we approached the house Kyle’s mother, Jennifer, greeted us from the porch. I imagined she must have been concerned about where I was taking her youngest child without a proper child seat.
“I don’t think you know how special this is,” she said. “He doesn’t come to anyone.”
Actually, I did, although I was not all that familiar with all the particulars. There may be a couple or more explanations of why Kyle would attach himself to me. It’s my belief that dogs and small children have an ability to see something within a person that often escapes more mature humans. Young children begin to lose their powers of discernment in direct proportion to the increase of their verbal skills. Dogs only lose theirs as a result of intensive training.
Sometimes I need the vote of confidence. My life, my history, what is buried deep inside me often causes me to question the balance of good and evil within me, to doubt the quality of my character. Sometimes the demons still torment me. I think I’m one of the good guys, but I know I have not always been so. I’ll take the vote.
Then again, it could have been just the time and place that Kyle had chosen to become more social. It’s possible that I was just in the right place at the right time. I did witness at least once his climbing up onto his grandmother’s lap that weekend. The kid is brilliant and he could have easily sized up the available targets and accurately evaluated whom he could effectively manipulate to his purposes and entertainment.
Naw, I’m going with the powers of discernment.
Gifts don’t always wait for Christmas or a birthday. They’re not always wrapped with bright paper and ribbons or in sharp cornered boxes. Now and then a precious gift will come from an unexpected source. Sometimes it’s soft and warm. That little boy will not remember Thanksgiving weekend or how he was his own toddler before he became his own man, but I’ll remember, and I’ll treasure in my mind how special it is to walk through the autumn leaves and to have someone reach up unexpectedly and clutch my hand.