|Be afraid kitty, very afraid...|
We had two small girls join us for the luncheon hour, one aged two and her younger sister who is just one. The one-year-old, who for the purposes of this blog I shall call Daisy, is quite petite. She is only a few days younger than our Isaac but he is quite a bit heftier, slightly taller, slightly broader and with the toddler's unthinking disregard for other people's safety.
I was in the hallway when it happened. Daisy's Mummy and sister were elsewhere, Gilly was also elsewhere and only the three lads - Graham, Isaac and myself - were present. Graham and Isaac stood next to each other in the hallway, completely blocking the road. Behind them, I leant easily against the banisters. Daisy stood facing the two boys and I could discern a look of distinct unease on her small features as her eyes darted from one to the other and back again. She retreated nervously. They advanced on her, Graham with his arms flung wide and uttering reassuring noises which Daisy couldn't comprehend. Isaac held out his hand, finger pointing menacingly. Graham, towering over the pair of them, stretched out in front of Isaac to hold him back. Isaac took no notice and still they went on, slowly, inexorably. Daisy stumbled backwards, the hunted expression becoming yet more desperate and suddenly her little face crumpled and I swooped down and lifted her up to safety away from the nasty big boys who had, in all innocence, given her such a fright.
For the remainder of the day she viewed Isaac with some disquiet and sought her Mummy's arms whenever he came near, swinging along with his slightly bow-legged half-run, half-walk and grinning to himself. Even so, he still managed to whip the dummy out of her mouth with a nimble forefinger. The dummy went scuttering across the floor but Isaac didn't stop to pick it up; his investigations over ("what happens if I pull this?") he rolled on and it was I who bent down to restore the dummy to its rightful owner.
I had always looked on Isaac as being the boy who put the 'i' into 'inoffensive' so it came as a surprise to find that he apparently had a more sinister side to his character. Isaac the cheery smiling toddler I was familiar with; Isaac the terror, the bruiser, the dummy-snatcher was a new figure to me and yet it is, I suppose, as naturally part of toddler-hood as tantrums and cries in the night.
And the signs were there, looking back. It was only a couple of weeks before that he had sent the spoon spinning out of my hand when I was trying to feed him; then he did the same thing again later the same day, splattering fruit custard over my new slippers and clean trousers. A toddler who can spray his breakfast across the kitchen with a single well-aimed right hook one day, saith the Voice of Doom, is likely to be the toddler who progresses to dummy-snatching the next. And then what? Toy pinching? Hitting smaller children over the head with his rattle? Trying to jab his finger into another toddler's eye? Being mean to animals? The heart quakes at the prospect. No question, anybody seeing Dolittle at the present moment will also see the words 'Fearing Unknown Peril' flickering over his head like a neon sign.
The difficulty, of course, is preventing disaster. Toddlers don't tend to consider consequences. Actually, re-phrase that; small children as a whole don't tend to consider consequences. Life is one big playground to be investigated with flexible boundaries that need to be pushed further and further out if at all possible. This philosophy can lead to some quite terrible crimes being committed without any malice on the part of the criminal. It's all an experiment: what happens if...? Sometimes the experiment gets added fun because it draws a response. Isaac has now taken to rattling the fireguard around our woodburner, for example, knowing full well that he's not allowed to. "No, Isaac!" we yell and he releases the fireguard and turns and looks at us, a smile of gleeful triumph creasing his chubby features. Then he turns round and rattles it again. It's all part of the game.
So what to do? I doubt whether many toddlers comprehend the concept of the naughty step, or the naughty mat or even the naughty corner. A booming 'NO!" is probably the only weapon most parents have in their armoury; that and the Preventing Hand that is suspended above every child in case of need - it's astonishing how many disasters can be averted by the parent's own lighting-fast reactions. And if the worst should happen we simply have to rely on the goodwill of other parents to smooth things over:
"Oh no, don't worry, he wasn't really playing with it..."
"Honestly, she's fine. She cries about everything..."
"No, he hasn't really hurt her. She just likes to make a fuss..."
Saying all that, with daggers in their eyes. What a prospect!