Life According to James

Walking up to the door, I didn’t know what to expect. Would he like me? Would I do a good job? Would it be fun? I rang the doorbell and was told to come inside. Before I even thought of taking off my shoes, a little ball of energy appeared. This animated toddler had dark brown hair, sky-blue eyes, and was dressed in a blue-striped golf shirt and khaki pants. He introduced himself in such an excited manner that I wasn’t sure he was even speaking the English language; the only piece of information I comprehended from this conversation was his name: James.

James’s mom soon began to translate his toddler gibberish and I learned that he was two and half years old, he loved tools and trucks, and he was a very rambunctious child—a characteristic that was evident without translation. After a brief tour of the house, his mom left to do chores; it was just James and me for the next three hours. I realized that it was my job to entertain this child and I had no idea how to do so. Luckily, it soon became obvious that I did not call the shots: when he wanted to do puzzles, we did puzzles; when he wanted to build towers, we built towers; when he wanted to color, we colored. After my first day, I was concerned that providing three hours of entertainment every time we were together would be a challenge. It became quite clear that this was not the case. In fact, our play was often cut short by lunchtime, triggering an explosion of indignant protests. Wishing to forgo his “big boy” status, tears would instantly stream down from those big blue eyes. The only way to reconcile the situation: tell James that I was going to eat his lunch. Protests of “No, I want to eat my lunch!” would ensue and within seconds I would be lifting the suddenly starving toddler into his highchair and fastening his bib. It’s amazing how trusting—and therefore gullible—children can be.

Some of James’s favorite activities included creating masterpieces in the sandbox, giving his truck a pretend carwash, going on nature walks in the neighborhood (which consisted of scavenging for pinecones and sticks), “fixing” anything in sight with toy tools, building LEGO skyscrapers, and playing at the neighborhood park. Much of our time together was spent at “James’s Park” (he was unaware that he did not actually own the playground). Whether we would simply sit on a bench while eating a snack, play Hide-And-Seek, or swing, James and I often spent hours at this park. I liked taking this little bundle of energy to the playground because it gave his mom time to work without distraction, and also because it forced me to be fully responsible for James. This was both exciting and scary because if anything happened to him, it would be my fault. Luckily, we managed to survive the summer with only a few scrapes and bruises along the way.

Before I met James, I was worried that spending time with him would be awkward. I mean, what was I supposed to talk to a two-year-old about? It turns out that I did not have to worry; the little chatterbox talked non-stop about anything and everything. My conversations with James were some of the most entertaining that I have ever had with another person; whether he was showing off his wide range of animal noises, relating his weekend activities, or asking “What’s that noise?” about any sudden sound, the discussion never stopped. Incredibly urgent questions of why the delivery truck just drove by, why the neighbor was mowing his lawn, or why there was a helicopter in the sky would constantly pour out of the inquisitive tyke (and trust me, he was not content with “I’m not sure” as an answer—it would only provoke further interrogation). That’s something adults lose as they age: a child’s curiosity. With busy lives, it is easy for adults to take things as they are without question; I know I am guilty of doing so. However, children are sponges, eagerly absorbing everything they can about the world around them. Imagine how much society would benefit if adults preserved this insatiable quench for knowledge.

As the summer went on, I began to enjoy my time with James more and more. His perpetual positive attitude brightened any situation. Even when we were stranded at the park in a torrential downpour, James was happy. As I worried about how to stay dry, I watched this carefree child frolic in the rain, splash in puddles, and scream in delight. It was at this moment that I learned something from James: life is a lot more enjoyable when an individual lives in the moment. As children grow up, they learn about consequences, failure, and disappointment, all of which making living in the moment quite difficult. However, while toddlers remain in the blissful state of childhood ignorance, there is no such thing as the future, no such thing as stress, no such thing as ­­­­regret. Grownups constantly emphasize the importance of appreciating the gift of life, but children are able to do so without even trying. That’s pretty incredible.

Reflecting back on my time spent with James, it strikes me how close we became. Walking up to the front door on my first day, I had no idea how big of an impact a two-year-old could have on my outlook on life. As I pulled out of the driveway after my last day of work, I looked in my rearview mirror and a smile instantly formed on my face. James’s little face was peeking up from the windowsill, watching me go.