There are those moments when Little One’s needs teach me something about my own life.
Picture the scene: a rainy Saturday evening, empty stomachs and a last-minute plan to head to Nando’s (it’s already an hour after Little One’s bedtime). Even for those of us blessed with usual levels of sensation Nando’s is noisy, busy and fast-paced. For Little One the sensory input of music, conversation, the clatter of cutlery and the whirr of ice machines is only one part of the picture. She’s fascinated by details many of us would just gloss over – the baby in the high chair five tables away, the texture of the wooden chicken on our table, the woven basket hanging on the wall.
Especially when she’s tired, Little One finds it incredibly difficult to settle and focus in such a magnificently stimulating environment. As we waited for our food to arrive, I had the feeling we were on the precipice of a meltdown if we tried (and failed) to coax her back to our table simply because it’s “good behaviour” to sit with your own family and not go and stare at someone else’s baby.
I happened upon the ice cubes. We spend a lot of time in cafes asking Little One not to dip her fingers in her drink and play with the ice cubes. This time though, the little chunks of melting ice in her glass were the tools she needed to help her tune out. She sat in my lap and I felt her muscles release their tension as we experimented with the ice, swirling it with the straw, holding a tiny piece in our palms to see how it turned back to water. I enclosed her with my body, spoke softly and attentively to her as we turned our focus inwards.
I really needed that moment. So often as we try to mould her behaviour to our social norms – don’t play with that, sit still, come back to our table – I feel overwhelmed, tense, hyper-vigilant. In this space, playing with ice at the table, I joined her world. The hubbub around me melted away. The fears of judgement from other parents melted away. Little One doesn’t yet have the skills for a mindfulness practice such as the breathing space, but she intuitively sought the ‘mindfulness of the ice’.