Monday, October 10, 2005

The independent toddler

One night when my daughter was old enough to walk but not really talk much, we were at the mall. She had a balloon tied to her wrist hovering near eye level because that was just so fascinating. I let her wander around within my sight but otherwise by herself. She got pretty far away, but she was always easy to track with the balloon, even if she walked behind a sign or bench or something. If she was about to actually go out of sight, I'd sprint to a better vantage point.

Admiring my daughter from afar, I saw the same thing over and over. Some other adult would see her but not a parent. They'd stop next to her and look around until they caught my eye staring at them. This happened every few minutes.

What would they have done if they'd not found a guardian? I don't know, but I'd like to think that they'd start looking for one more earnestly. I could be way off on this, but I generally got a feeling of concern for my daughter. These weren't people looking to steal a child.

In another mall at another time, she wandered off by herself without telling us. We noticed this pretty quickly and jointly decided to shadow her to see what she'd do without us. How soon would she notice she was alone, and what would be her reaction? She kept her cool pretty well, I thought, showing little outward sign of distress. She looked just like a loitering teenager doing whatever she wanted. Once in a while she looked around, but that was the only thing that made me think she was worried about us (or herself). That time I didn't see the same concerned strangers, but that may have been because I was more focused on her and what she was doing than anyone around her.

Today my daughter can recite her name, address, and phone number. I'm a little concerned that she won't be comprehensibly coherent if she's distraught, but that will get better with age. On our recent trip to New York, we advised her that if she got lost, she should look first for a police officer and second for a woman, especially one with children. The thought of losing her is terrifying, but these little experiments make me feel a little more confident that she'd be well if it ever happened.
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