The similarities between toddlers and old people never cease to astound me, whilst simultaneously making me cringe for my own future. Both my two year old and his grandfather break wind with impunity, have scant regard for the opinions of others, and can’t be left alone in the company of sharp knives. Neither has his own teeth. But far more exasperating than any of these qualities is their inability to walk and talk at the same time. The Toddler is quite capable of covering distances at speed (as demonstrated during nappy changes and nose-wipes) yet as soon as he begins to speak, it is as though his feet are directly wired into his mouth; his legs grind to a halt and he remains stationary until he has stuttered out whatever convoluted – and largely irrelevant – sentence is in his head. My recuperative father is no better, so it was with some trepidation that we visited him at the weekend, and suggested a walk to the churchyard…
Less than a hundred yards from the house, the Toddler decided to impart words of wisdom; “look mummy tree green. Tree big. Tree green. Like tree. Look mummy”. Each syllable weighed down on him like a ten ton truck, pulling his feet to a standstill until all three of us were stood stock-still in the middle of the road. We dutifully stared at said nondescript tree, causing several passers-by to turn and search for whatever spectacle had so drawn our attention. Eventually, with a dismissive wave of his hand, the Toddler moved us on. Barely two minutes later my father took it upon himself to impart to me the reasons for the credit crunch. As he segued seamlessly from Icelandic banks to Gordon Brown and back again, his legs moved as though in slow-motion, coming to a halt in front of a woman standing at the post-box. To my intense embarrassment my father began including this stranger in his lecture, before she managed to sidle away, breaking the spell and enabling our sluggish trio to move on through the village.
Despite the ever-present opportunities for discussion (a three-wheeled car, a house painted lime green, a giant rabbit wearing a party hat…) I kept schtum, reluctant to provoke into discussion either the Toddler or his septuagenarian grandad. I forged on ahead in a vain attempt to reach our destination before night-fall. Suddenly I became acutely aware of the silence which reigned behind me, and I swung round to discover that two generations of our expedition were missing. I retraced my steps, boiling over with frustration; ready to carry the Toddler the rest of the way, so we could just get there before it was time to come home.
Back around the corner, and hidden down a side street, I found my father crouching down with his grandson; peering at something of nothing on the ground. I marched up, exasperated with our lack of progress, and opened my mouth, a protest dying on my lips. For there on the ground, half-hidden in amongst the damp leaves, was the tiniest hint of green; a crocus bulb pushing its way through the moss into sunlight. I looked around; saw a dozen more – promises of spring showing themselves to those who have the time to look for them. And I realised that it is not I who should be frustrated by my son’s dragging heels and my father’s slowing gait; but they who should mourn my frenetic pace, which leads me to miss simple pleasures and fail to appreciate the joys around me. I sat down on the damp grass and watched my son take his grandfather’s hand and lead him from place to place. Who knows for how many more months I may watch them?
It is not the destination, but the journey there that matters.