Sunday, February 15, 2009

Nothing stays constant but the changing

While we were in Abu Dhabi a couple of weeks back, Sonny's uncle swung the little fella up and onto his shoulders, expecting to reap a squeal of delight. He heard only a wail of terror as Sonny - unfamiliar with the stunt - clambered desperately to escape the unwanted boosting.

Funny, the change a couple of weeks can bring. Yesterday, Pa yanked the little fella skyward again, depositing him so he could pull on his father's ears if he had a mind to. This time, there was no shriek of fear. There wasn't any explosion of excitement either; Sonny simply surveyed the newly-adjusted environs calmly, a confident smile on his face (or so it seemed to Pa, upon trotting up a flight of stairs at a hotel so as to access a large mirror). He might have done this a thousand times, going by his relaxed demeanour.

It just goes to show the truth of the comment often made by sundry experienced parents, including Pa's mother, that a young child cycles through a dizzying succession of changing dominant moods, characteristic behaviours and even general facial appearances: Sonny, on that last point, can apparently look more or less like one parent, then the other, with each passing week. The almost-10-month-old, we must conclude, has no set "personality", whatever we may like to believe. He goes from being a "happy, generally placid thing" at two months to a "grumpy, demanding monster" at four to a "jealous, withdrawn creature" at six. Scanning through this disordered series of posts, we are struck by how often our pronouncements about Sonny's behaviour, preferences or quirks are effectively negated sometimes a few days later as the wheel of fortune turns.

It could be argued, of course, that even adults are immune from this phenomenon; that our character continues to evolve throughout our lives. Naturally, the swings are typically less violent and less frequent - and the factors that bring about alternation need to be much more pronounced. This would contrast with the apparently random switches seen in toddlers, which can leave us reaching for empty generalisations or cliches like "well, that's just how it is", or "growing up is like that" by way of (non-) explanation.

At the end of the day, however, Mum and Pa must somehow pretend that the set of their child's characteristics is fixed, if they are to ever go about their parental duties. How could we plan meals or structure our days if we foreground the fact that Sonny's tolerance of different foods, or his sleep times, vary like the wind direction in autumn? Could we ever buy a toy or plan activities if we continued to remind ourselves that his preferences might change in a twinkling? No, we have to stay nimble and perpetuate this great myth of there being something called "what Sonny is like" - even though if we wanted to be exact, we should add to that descriptor the words "... at the moment", thereby upending every tenuous hold on control.

Hey, it keeps things interesting, right?