A Walk on the Child Side

8 Jun
Getting out in the sunshine - just one of the advantages of kids.

Getting out in the sunshine – just one of the advantages of kids.

For the last year and a half I have been looking after my wee niece, since giving up the office job at the start of 2012. Now my sister is on maternity leave again and my services are temporarily not required. It seems like a good time to review this period of my life. It has certainly been challenging, financially, emotionally and at times physically, but I want to focus on the positive aspects, since they far outweigh the negative ones. Looking after my niece has been for all intents and purposes like being a parent, albeit part-time. So here are the best things, in my opinion, about having small children.

1) Getting outdoors. One of the worst things about a nine-to-five, Monday to Friday job is that you have to languish in poorly air-conditioned rooms on the best days of the year, and by the time the weekend comes the hot spell has almost always broken. Not so when you are looking after kids. You can kick a ball in the garden, go for ice cream, or play in the park. They do not get bored with playing in the park even when it is the fourth day in a row. Toddlers are good that way.

I’ve got far more fresh air and exercise these last few months than in the years before. Of course, I’ve also been rained on a lot because I can’t hold an umbrella and push a pram, but I think hours spent pushing a swing in the sunshine make up for that.

2) Kids are extremely portable. So are babies. This means that I don’t have to wait until the evening to go the supermarket, or the weekend to go to town. That’s not to say I made my poor niece tail around after me the whole time – mostly it was the other way round – but if I needed to go somewhere or buy something, or I just wanted to meet a friend, my niece could be popped in the buggy, or later just clasped by the hand, and taken with me.

3) Toddlers are easily amused. You’ve heard the one about how the wee kid always prefers the box to the present that came in it. That’s not necessarily true, but it is true that things like boxes, pieces of paper, handbag straps and train tickets can distract them for minutes at a time – which is good, considering their attention spans.

When my niece was a baby I didn’t need to take any toys with me when we went out because she would happily play with the clip and zip on my handbag for the whole train journey. Even now she’s happy to be read the same slim book again and again. Even housework is fun! If I sweep the floor, she wants to join in. I can kill quite a lot of time by getting her to help me take hang up or take down the washing – and she loves it!

4) Kids learn so much! I am constantly amazed at the way my niece picks things up – and not just her, but all kids her age (although I reserve the right to think that my young relatives are particularly advanced). At first, of course, it’s just stuff like moving their hands in the direction they want them to go, then rolling, sitting up, crawling and so on. That’s interesting enough, if a little predictable.

Soon, though, they’re learning amazing stuff. When they learn to talk they pick up words all the time (so be careful what you say in front of them). It’s so exciting to hear my niece put together her own sentences from her own thoughts, insights into what’s going on in that freshly minted mind. I’ve written before about how she copies me putting on make-up and so on, but she also learns much more useful stuff.

From her Ballet4Babies class she had learned to plie and curtsey (sort of) and from me and her parents she has learnt her way round a kitchen. At two years and two months she can (with a bit of assistance) make coffee, tea, toast and scrambled eggs (!) and does a pretty good job of cutting out and decorating gingerbread men. If it wasn’t for the fact that she’s not allowed to touch the “burny” oven or pour hot water, she could set up in business as a caterer.

5) Kids love you. This is the best thing of all. When I arrive at the station to pick her up, cold, wet and scowling, my mood is immediately brightened by my niece’s smile of welcome. She’s genuinely pleased to see me, even though she only saw me the day before. She doesn’t care if I put her in the naughty place earlier for some misdeed, or that I’ve run out of yoghurt – well, actually she does care quite a lot about yoghurt, but she loves me anyway.

And now she has reached the point where she can tell people that she loves them, and can give kisses and hugs. It would melt the hardest heart. And the other day, my sister tells me, just before bed, she sleepily told her one-week old baby sister that she loved her. Adorable!

See? Wee kids are great.

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