This morning, I announce that I'm heading out to water the flowers and put a few of the veggies into the ground.
Opal scurries up from a seated position, stumbling over herself and tripping her pants to a half-mass position, anxiously exclaiming Opal Hepyoo! (Opal Help You!)
She'd abruptly emerged from intently focusing on the workings of her new Duplo-blocks, namely the Dalmatian with paws that fit like a puzzle into the nodules, so I was shocked by the velocity in which she sped forth.
She is instantly at my feet repeating outside-outside to herself, the way her thoughts often leak out in a kind of a prayer-like whisper, looking up with the eager expression of a little girl who hungers for practice in Big Girl Activities. A look that is oh-so common these days.
She tromps behind me with safer, snub-nosed and plastic versions of gardening tools and crouches next to me, purposefully making messes and flinging dirt in her best interpretation of what mommy is doing. She helps me water the flowers by lifting the elephant watering can, as the water trickles from the holes in it's sturdy trunk, with all her might. Opal Hepyoo! Opal do it! She says, with eyebrows pinched with all seriousness and an impressive amount of dirt smeared masterfully on her shirt and face.
In the house, she steals items that are nestled in their proper places and delivers them to their rightful owners. Shoes from the shoe-rack, (here mama, shoes!!) laptops left overnight on the couch to charge (here mama, pyooter!) and half-glasses of water set too close to the edge are things she sees as her responsibility to announce and deliver. We usually catch her as she heads towards them but there have been a few incidents of laptops dropped right next to toes and glasses of water sloshing about in the hand-over.
She relishes making these kinds of announcements. When we had our dear friend Lisa visit with us for a few chunks of days, Opal noticed Lisa-things more readily because they were new and different. What that, mama? She would say. Those are Lisa's shoes/sunglasses/clothes, honey. To which Opal would immediately reply with LISAAA!!!! SHOOOES!!! Wanting and expecting for Lisa to materialize immediately to receive the blessed found-object.
Ever the helper.
A 30-second trip downstairs to throw the load of laundry into the dryer takes a good 20 minutes with a helping toddler-in-tow. She wants to go down the stairs herself—one at a time, some on her belly, some on her bottom, pausing to consider the cat's scratching post, notches in the paint, fuzzes in the carpet of an eye-catching color—with mama standing by to remind her to keep moving. Once we reach the end of the stairs—hurray!—she races for the cat's food and water, hollering Kitty Food! with the special sense of pride that comes with having noticed something before the adult did. After filling the kitty's food and water and accomplishing the original task at hand whilst keeping an eye on the toddler who roams a very not-child-proof basement, we return upstairs one step at a time. Opal carries an object of interest she discovered during our Voyage Below, a book or a cat toy, in one hand as she shuffles up up up.
Helping daddy get the mail is a responsibility she takes very seriously. He makes a big adorable deal out of the whole thing, saying Opal, Daddy needs help getting the mail! She squeals with delight as he scoops her up and carries her to the mailbox a few houses down. I can hear them coming back up the walk as he says this one's for mommy, this one's for daddy, this one's for Opal (junk mail). She barely waits for her fleshy little feet to touch the floor before barreling over to me with a pile of mail hollering HERE MAMA! HERE MAMA! MAIL!
The overwhelming desire of a child her age to help is heart-wrenching (if not a bit inconvenient at times). When Opal is in mid-tantrum, digging her two tiny heels in the carpet with no desire or intention to budge, moments when a battle of the wits seems immanent, there are times when a simple request for her help dissolves the entire agenda. The NEED to be of assistance trumps whatever bristly emotion was ruling the show for her.
Authors's thought: As I have mentioned before, I work giving massage to ladies with Alzheimer's. There are a few of my clients who like to wander, to walk and pace and constantly be in motion. One, in particular, gets up during our massage sessions and walks down the hall or into her bathroom to fidget with the nozzles on the toiletry bottles. The one thing that brings her back to the couch or edge of the bed is to ask her to come help me with something, something as simple folding a Kleenex.
I have another client who doesn't particularly like to be massaged but it was prescribed by her doctor and is necessary for the circulation of her aging body. When she starts to show resistance I tell her that I'm just learning how to do this and could she please help me to learn by letting me practice on her? Oh sure, dear, she'll say, where you from?
So, from where I stand, the inherent aspiration to be of service is just as present long before the rules of society are imprinted into a person as it is long after those rules have fallen away. And if this need to help is just as much a part of us—a part of our being— as muscles and eyelashes, I must admit I'm a bit curious when and why these actions become subject to feeling like a drag, like something to resist arbitrarily out of habit. It seems to me there is something about speed, the eventual learned need to rush, that threatens to bury the joy in helping, accomplishing, feeling purposeful, all of it.
I'll just say this, it requires some real effort to be humdrum about executing a task when a tinier version of yourself is executing the same task right next to you in her gleeful, unbridled, little-girl way. It also requires effort not to break out into spontaneous song or make a silly face, while the whole thing gets done as smooth as a cat-stretch.
And cat stretches, like toddlers, are not to be rushed.