Catch the pigeon (toddler lessons in mindfulness)

February began, for the toddler and I, with snotty cuddles and coughing competitions. ‘Dry January’ was an easy win for both of us (aided by pregnancy and not being tall enough to reach the wine rack), but our current glow owes more to contamination than bountiful health.

We’ve been home more than is usual. We had some craft afternoons (grandparents: you have been warned), we made cardboard crowns for stuffed toys (Minnie Mouse: you have been warned) and I attempted to teach the toddler some basic yoga, with a heavy focus on ‘resting pose’.

We read the papers. The toddler was particularly interested in Iran’s nuclear deal: this made more sense when she began pointing at President Rouhani, saying ‘Grandad!’. Our respective families have both undergone a certain amount of ‘reconfiguration’, and the toddler is blessed with nearly enough grandparent figures for a football team (albeit one with some knee issues). It’s no wonder she gets confused sometimes.

But, being British, I have an innate belief that ‘a bit of fresh air’ cures everything, and so we still walked on the common most days. Plus, I wanted to try a mindfulness technique known as ‘follow the bird’.

Designed to introduce meditation to children in a fun and simple way, ‘follow the bird’ involves noticing a bird, approaching it slowly on tiptoes until it flies away and then watching it until it becomes so tiny that it almost disappears. For some reason I am reminded of my social life.

The toddler is enthusiastic. Along with getting her hands on my most expensive face cream and emptying all the bath water using only her hands, catching a pigeon is one of her top three goals.

Step one, ‘noticing the bird’, is easy: they are everywhere. Step two, the bit about approaching slowly, is where we get stuck. The toddler lurches towards a pigeon with the stealth of a charging rhino and sure enough, it flies away. Ever-pragmatic, she shrugs her shoulders before conducting her usual post-chase debrief:

‘Too high. Too fast. Can’t catch it.’

I wonder if I’m damaging her self-confidence by letting her persist in trying to catch something that has such an unfair advantage. I keep an eye out for pigeons that look particularly fat, old or infirm.

We manage to watch the birds for a while, talking about the colours of their feathers and watching them eat the remains of organic, salt-free, powdered vegetable snacks hurled from passing buggies. I’m surprised by how captivated she is.

There are too many pigeons for us to follow just one, plus they are unlikely to fly off and fade into cloudy skies when the streets are paved with golden corn snacks. Our neighbourhood allegedly boasts the highest concentration of babies and toddlers in Europe and, alongside the need to fill out nursery registration forms for embryos, I assume this also means rich pickings for our feathered friends.

As we track the birds across the grass and through tree tops, I realise that, at this stage at least, I really don’t need to teach my daughter anything about mindfulness. Quite the opposite.

For her there is no moment other than the present. I see her delight as she runs towards the pigeons with a maniacal battle cry, looking back to check I’m watching, and think how lucky I am to share this moment with her. I think about the slow passing of her childhood years, and promise myself that I will make time each day to join in her wonder at the world.

The more we stopped and looked, the more we saw. I noticed a small patch of blue sky in what had felt like a flat, grey morning. As I focused more on our surroundings so did the toddler, and we seemed to feed off each other’s interest and excitement. Afterwards she was happy and strangely cooperative: I resolved to allow more time for more slow interactions like this.

Next week’s ‘pause’ is more project than practice, but I think it fits well. When our daughter was born I decided to write her a letter for each birthday, summing up the year with a few stories and memories. I plan to give them to her when the time feels right. Nice thought, but little progress so far, and with her second birthday a few days away I now have two letters to write.

Letters of love

Part gift, part diary and part gratitude practice; this is simply a letter to a loved one (or even yourself) written with a focus on preserving small memories that could otherwise be lost in time, as well as reflecting on the year that’s passed. I plan to write one to each of my children as their birthdays approach, with a view to digging them out myself sometimes (maybe on the more, ahem, ‘challenging’ days), and eventually passing them on as a gift.

I’ve set a word limit of 1000 words per letter, to avoid the danger of writing a novel about nappy changes. Other than that, the only rule is that it will be 100% honest.

I used the following ‘recipe’ to give a bit of structure. It sort of worked.

1. Something that made us laugh
2. Something that made us cry
3. Something you said
4. A challenging time
5. A regret
6. A hope for the next year

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Read more about Parenting Calm here.

Read more about mindfulness here.

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