Ethan has always been timid but with age two came a new level of fear towards interacting amongst strangers. He is content placing his fingers over his eyelids or bowing his head in an "if I can't see you, you can't see me" stance until threat of conversation with an unfamiliar face is gone, and then he returns to smiling. He has his grumpy moments like I'd imagine every toddler does, but this kid? He's always smiling. I've tried to sit back and decide how I would deal with his irrational fear of, oh, everything and in the end, I decide that like with most parenting endeavors, I'm going to wing it with whatever feels right at the time. Usually this is explaining to the elderly woman in the grocery store just trying to get a peek at Ethan's sweet baby blues that he's two, and feeling a little shy right now, and then excusing ourselves to race the grocery cart down the next aisle. At one point, his stranger and new place anxiety was so severe that I questioned why I bothered to leave the house but it's started to weaken. The more I ignore it and stop drawing attention to it or making him feel silly, the better it gets. Holding his hands down so he can't cover his face and demanding he say hello to the woman making silly faces in an attempt to make him smile was never on my to-do list, but I'm still glad that our method of whatever feels right is working. It usually does, in most instances, I've realized in the short time I've become a parent. As long as I can make him feel safe, his smile always bounces back. At two, I am still his safe place and, at almost thirty, he is still mine as well.
Lately my sweet, timid little boy has been growing bolder. He began his swim lessons clutching onto my swimsuit and refusing to participate in whatever his instructor was suggesting the children do. This past class, I couldn't keep him above the water. He'd loosen his grip from the side of the pool and let his body plunge down into the water, popping up with a smile on his face as his tiny hands reached for me. He'd stand up on the side of the pool and jump in, all the way in, without caring my arms weren't there to catch him. He popped up with that same, proud smirk and it took me aback, a little, to recognize this brave diver as my once painfully shy little boy.
"I can't believe how big he's getting" is my catch phrase. I find myself saying it multiple times a day, both out loud and in written word. It wasn't until we babysat for a friend with a daughter who is a year and a half old that I realized just how old he truly was. "Emma need more water," he'd say, reaching for my friend's daughter's cup and noting that it was no longer full. "Emma need help off stool," he'd say, helping her off of the stool at his tiny table. At swim, he told his instructor that she needs to meet Emma and when the instructor asked who that was, he replied sweetly, "my friend." His heart is beautiful. His presence in my life has become my safe place, the backbone that I have always lacked, the confidence that I need to speak my mind when something is weighing on my heart. He is the purpose behind every move that I make, everything that I do, everything I never knew that I could want or accomplish. For so long I was scared of so much, and then there he came. And now I am so much stronger. I need to be, to be his safe place, his comfort zone, the arms strong enough to hold his struggles as he grows older; the hands that catch his when he pops up out of the blue pool water.
Recently, Ethan overheard a child refer to another child as "the black boy." Ethan giggled and walked up to a blonde little boy in a black shirt. "Black boy," he said, pointing to the child's t-shirt. "Ethan, blue boy," he said, pulling on his own blue shirt. He continued to classify the children by their t-shirt color -- "orange boy," "yellow boy" -- and it was one of those moments where I could not focus on anything but how proud I was of this beautiful, sweet little boy. How proud I always am of him. How, at only two, his heart is as pure and beautiful as every adult's heart should be. I realize that our adventures together are limited. In two, three more years, he will be beginning school and that time doesn't seem long enough. It doesn't seem far enough away. I refuse to take a moment of this all for granted, this beautiful life, these learning experiences, the way he teaches me so much about the world that I seem to have overlooked before he came into my life.