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Don't Forget About Bugs

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Yes, bugs—the little insects that crawl and, true to their name, cause mischief. Now, put a toddler and a bug together, and you might witness a little bit of magic. The two year old’s spirit shines with recognition when he encounters another living creature. It is innate and pure, the seeds of empathy untouched by life outside his small world.

As a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and specialist in child development as well as a mom and grandma I’ve encountered hundreds of toddlers. They touch my heart every time, sometimes their innocence brings me close to tears. One might think the emotional impact the little ones have on me would wane over time. Not so. They are fascinating. Theories I have studied describe a toddler’s emotional and cognitive development, but I have yet to find an explanation for their sweet soul. The true essence of toddlers is goodness. Just look into their eyes and you will see it.

Oh, bugs! They are nice too. I just discovered that the other day.

I went to visit my friend’s new granddaughter and her big brother Patrick who is two years old. Patrick was nicknamed Puppy by his Gigi (grandma). He just got a new baby sister two weeks ago (Gigi calls her Indian Princess). Technically Puppy should be pretty pissed off and have major sibling rivalry, but he’s too busy for such nonsense. There are more important things happening in his world. He does love his sister though—I saw him offer her a cracker.

I didn’t know Puppy very well, and he was a little shy at first. I came to welcome the new baby, and since I love babies I expected to be enamored by her sweet cuddly self. But Puppy was keeping an eye on me, and I was watching him out of the corner of my eye. I always do this at first with the little ones—make them think it’s their idea to engage me. He was playing with some bubble packing wrap and laughing with delight each time he popped one of the bubbles. I took another sheet of the wrap and put it on the floor and walked on it, making the sound of shots going off. Puppy shook his head “no”—this was his party and that wasn’t one of the party games.

We went outside and Puppy began exploring. He saw a couple of planes fly overhead and was excited, pointing and saying “OOOhhh”. He heard the trash truck on the next block—his mama told him that it wasn’t on their street so they couldn’t go see it. He munched on a snack, and felt the grass under his feet. He was using all his senses to explore the world.

Puppy toddled down the side of the house, along a cement walkway, where something caught his attention. He squatted down, pointing to the ground, looking at me as if to say “You’ve got to come and see this!” So I did. He had found a small bug, about a half inch long. It lay on its back, waving its legs in the air. Each time Bug tried to get on its feet it flipped back over. Bug had a broken leg. Puppy’s brow was furrowed, and he kept pointing at Bug—he’s not totally verbal yet so we relied on “sign language” and facial expressions to communicate. I could see he was interested in Bug. But more than that, he was concerned about Bug.

We spent some time with Bug. At one point I tried to flip Bug over a couple of times with a small twig. This bothered Puppy, and it took me a minute to see that he felt I was torturing Bug. Ah! I finally got it. He wanted to nurture Bug; he loved Bug; Bug was alive and moving, so Puppy loved Bug. This changed things completely. We made a small bed of leaves for Bug and tried to settle him in for a “nap”. We covered Bug with tiny leaves, but his flailing legs kept kicking the covers off. On hands and knees, Puppy with his chin in his little hands, we explored a tiny part of the world through his eyes.

Puppy is pure love. He loves his mama, his daddy, his sister. And he loves anyone who will get on his level and enjoy the world with him. If it moves, it’s worth loving! I can only hope Puppy will stay innocent and sweet. But the world will mold and shape him no matter how much mama tries to prevent it. And someday, being a boy and all, he might experiment with torturing a bug.

Puppy is displaying an essential skill in social functioning—empathy. Watch toddlers and pre-school aged children as they play with dolls, holding and feeding them. When they look into your eyes they are searching for a connection with you. If your brow furrows, theirs does too. They worry about people who are sad. Boo-boos and owies are serious things that need to be kissed. Sadly, the young child will grow up in a world that doesn’t always value this kind of connection. We lose some of it along the way. That’s when we need to spend a few moments with a boy and a bug, and feel our souls again. The world would be better for it.

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