In the late afternoon the four of us went upstairs to the bathroom. I took Wally on my lap. Caroline had the clippers. Jay played the part of court jester, jumping up and down and making funny faces to keep his little brother entertained as the sweet, soft curls fell to the tile floor.
Wally was a boy transformed with his close-cropped hair. It was a reminder to me and Caroline of how much he’s changed over the last ten months.
All along, the line on Wally has been that he’s smiley and cheerful, a boy with just two moods: happy and tired. It took two tries, but on the second infant we got one thing Caroline had been hoping for three years ago: a baby we could bring anywhere.
This was the simple story we told about Wally and just as it is with many narratives that parents tell about their children, we continued repeating it long after it had ceased to be true.
A couple months ago Caroline and I started remarking to each other that Wally seemed to be whining a lot and that he’d become more demanding. He was always scampering across the floor and pulling up on our pant legs or complaining loudly when we put him down. He’d started to become possessive, too; more than once he melted down when I pried a fork out of his hands.
And each time our once placid Wally expressed his displeasure, Caroline and I asked each other: Is he teething? Tired? Does he need to eat? What’s wrong with Wally?
A few nights ago Caroline and I were in bed and we admitted to each other that Wally had started to feel a little like a stranger. He clearly was no longer the simple, smiley guy we’d known since his birth.
The new Wally—the one Caroline likes to refer to as Wally 2.0—is more spirited and energetic. Spunky is a word we find ourselves using often to describe him. At mealtimes, in his booster seat, he creates a cacophonous racket when he spies bits of food on other people’s plates he’d like to try. And sometimes, when he’s done eating, he’ll rock back and forth in his seat so hard we’re afraid he’s going to tip the chair over.
As I’ve written before, Wally gets around pretty well. He’s quick on his hands and knees and he pulls up like Spiderman scaling a building. He’s also got a good sense of balance. I love watching him on the floor. He’ll go from crawling to sitting up on one knee and then pick something up, turn around, and crawl back the other way. It’s all very fluid and controlled.
Wally’s favorite obstacle is the dishwasher. After mealtimes he makes right for it. He climbs up on the opened door and grabs hold of the tray. Then with one hand hanging on for balance, he uses the other to send dirty silverware scattering across the floor.
When Caroline and I talked in bed the other night we also realized that we haven’t been paying very much attention to Wally. It’s rare—in fact, incredibly rare we realized—that either Caroline or I, or the two of us together, spend time alone with Wally. Jay is around for pretty much all of Wally’s waking hours and Jay is pretty effective at controlling our attention when the four of us are together.
So over the last few days Caroline and I have each made an extra effort to spend time just with Wally. Yesterday afternoon I set Jay up in the playroom and then brought Wally upstairs for his nap. But instead of putting him down right away the two of us played for half an hour. Wally spent a lot of the time crawling on top of me. Then he crawled out of the room, turned around, and crawled back in. He had to do it two or three more times before I realized he was playing a game.
Even when I can’t get time alone with Wally I’m trying harder these days to see him—to make sure that in the thrum of our days I let my eyes and thoughts rest on him a little longer than I might have.
And what I’ve realized so far is that Wally is still cheerful and smiley—but that’s just not all he is anymore.
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