February 8, 2008

NIBEM 8: Simple Pleasures

I don't get to spend much time with kids these days. Oh, except for the 421 students I see every day. What I meant to say was, I don't get to spend much time with little kids these days. I have a new great niece and a new great nephew but they live far away from Goleta. My contact with them comes in the form of pictures and occasional ear-splitting shrieks when I'm talking on the phone with their grandmothers. Not quite as much fun as playing with real live babies.

That's why I was so excited to see my friend Heidi yesterday. She has two adorable boys, a 2 month old and an 18 month old. This is a woman who definitely has her hands full. Her older son is lively, energetic and gifted with a terrific sense of balance that allows him to ride a skateboard at a very young age. Maybe this doesn't mean he is the most coordinated baby in the universe, but as a lifelong failed skateboarder, I think it's an impressive accomplishment.

The newest addition to the family is sweet-tempered and also the spitting image of his older brother when he was younger. I have a feeling he'll probably have to toughen up in a hurry to survive the regular affections of his skateboarding sibling, but I think he's up to the challenge. He's already showing off his neck strength as he holds his head up straight to stare out into the world. He looks like a little buddha swaddled onto his mother's chest and contemplating the passing scene.

I had forgotten how observant babies can be. The 18-month old sat, or rather squirmed, in his collapsible stroller as we walked beside the ocean and then around the UCSB campus. His direct line of sight was limited to the knees of passing students but this little guy knew how to maximize the experience. The roaring parade of small planes taking off from the nearby airport always prompted a turn of the head and a finger pointed skyward, and when he figured out that the campus was loaded with fellow skateboarders he was enchanted. Every single student who rolled by him was rewarded with a smile and a comment. He loved the sound of wheels rolling on smooth concrete or the raspier sound of wheels on the asphalt bike paths. When we passed a display rack of skateboards in the bookstore he said shouted "Da" when he saw the bottom of a board that matched the one his dad uses. This kiddo knows his stuff.

I love how Heidi has taught him to use sign language to express himself. He patted his chest to thank her when she picked up this favorite blanket and tucked it in the stroller. He signed when he wanted to drink some water and by tapping his pinched fingers together, "more", he kept me playing a game of toe-kissing for as long as he wanted. It must reduce some of the frustration of childhood when you can communicate specific information. Instead of just crying and waiting for mom to figure out what he means, this little guy signs exactly what he wants. He's already empowered by language.

Our walk ended in the parking lot as seagulls squawked overhead. They probably were looking for the trail of food that follows most strollers. They were out of luck yesterday. No food to snack on, just another pointed finger and a smile from my young friend. Motion is this little guy's passion. He responds to anything that moves--planes, skateboards, birds, the tractor working on the new entry gate to the campus and even the joy of pushing his own stroller. He's a kid on the move. Hope the rest of us can keep up.

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