The summer Ethan was 1 1/2, we were serenaded by a familiar sound most days we'd play outside.
Whaaap. Whaaap. Whaaap. Whaaap.
It was the sound of the sliding screen door on the back deck. Back and forth. Back and forth. This was what entertained Ethan. At that time he didn't possess the natural curiosity you see in most kids. He didn't spend much time dumping, tasting, squeezing, dropping, looking.
Whaaap. Whaaap. Whaaap. Whaaap.
The next year, when he was 2 1/2, I noticed Ethan had developed "routes" in our backyard. In his toddler mind, he appeared to have come up with a schedule that went something like this: Push around the toy lawn mower. Run up the basement storm door. Climb up the swing set. Repeat. When he tired of that, he'd head back to his safe spot, the screen door.
Last summer, it was the trike, the swings and the hose. Ethan still wanted little to do with the sandbox (of course Anna never liked the sandbox either, preferring to dig her little fingers into real dirt). He still sometimes wandered around almost anxious, as if he needed a play routine or schedule or he didn't quite know what to do with himself. Once in a blue moon, he'd head back to the door.
Now the warm weather is beginning to appear once again, and again I watch and plan and think as the kids venture outside. Anna is of course bursting with ideas, many of which involve dirt, leaves, sticks, and water. And Ethan? Well, like Dr. Milanese said, like the beach erosion analogy, again I see his play style continue to ever-so-slowly change and grow. He still has his routines. He still has his set list of things he likes to do. But these past few weeks I've caught him exploring. He's moved from one thing to another not unlike a two-year-old full of ideas. They're immature ideas and he doesn't quite carry them out for long, but I catch him experimenting. I catch him inventing, and I am in awe and filled with gratitude.
He created a game in which he puts a bowling pin on the bottom of the slide and attempts to slide down and knock it over. This seems so simple...yet it's not, when your child primarily only repeats games he's seen in the exact way he saw them.
He told me there was a monster in the garage.
I caught him smashing a brick over and over, trying to break it into pieces.
I chided him for whacking a stick on tree trunks, and he told me he was trying to cut them down.
He's dumping water and watching it sink into the ground, and shouting, "It melted!" to me, trying to understand.
I found him hauling sand in a bucket and dumping it on one of the swings. How could I complain? No one told him to do that. No one else came up with the idea. He just wanted to. When you've spent over two years suggesting play ideas to your sometimes-aimless son, this is big.
And then, then minutes later I caught him with his hands in sticky but firm, dark mud, pounding it into a bucket, then flipping it over to make a sand castle. "Look what I did!" he shouted excitedly. He kept tilting his creation to peer underneath. "What's under there?" he asked. He was totally filthy. But how could I possibly complain?
I now see that I haven't been crazy to keep introducing play ideas to Ethan. As with any child, the results of our efforts are rarely immediate. But the ideas sink down and in time some of them hold fast, waiting to reappear at an opportune time.
...like the seeds soon to take root in that soil Ethan's been playing in, the ones that will settle in and start to sprout long before anyone can see the slightest hint of any change.