Since my wife and I currently live in an apartment, our son doesn’t get much time outside because we don’t have a yard. He enjoys accompanying us down to the courtyard with our two dogs, but we don’t let him down to run around.
Several months ago, we were staying with my in-laws during a trip to Louisiana and we realized the boy had never felt grass before — partly because of the apartment, but mostly because he had been too little to be around dirt and germs. So we put him down and took pictures of his face as he reached out and touched the grass.
In all the pictures, he has this look of bewilderment that is quite entertaining. And ever since then, he’s seemed to have a fascination with plants and the outdoors.
I first noticed it when I would take the boy with me to walk our dogs in the evening. At first, he really wanted to hold one of the dogs’ leashes, but it would quickly get heavy and he’d drop it. After a few rounds of that, he lost interest and just started taking everything in.
Since I walk with him strapped to my chest facing the same way as me, it’s often difficult to see what he’s actually looking at, but he usually would turn toward whatever noise we’d hear. A car starting on the road ahead of us would get his attention until we passed a backyard with a dog that started barking at our dogs and someone else walked past and gave the boy a smile.
And then I noticed him reaching for limbs and leaves as we walked past low-hanging branches and large shrubs.
I usually get into a stride and try to keep it for as long as possible, so the first couple times his little arm came up, I didn’t realize what he was reaching for until I was already past it. But once I did, I made sure to stop and let him touch the vegetation.
I quickly realized he was mainly just interested in the different green leaves that we encountered and since I definitely want to feed that curiousity, I gave him ample opportunities to discover things about the leaves.
The first tree we passed on our walk is a large rectangular shrub that’s right up on the sidewalk. It has medium-sized leaves that are kind of brittle. I stopped and let him slowly reach out until he touched a leaf and then quickly pulled his hand back. I rubbed the leaves to show him they wouldn’t hurt him, but he was unimpressed and didn’t want anything else to do with that plant.
The next leaves within his reach we came upon were from a tree with a low-hanging branch. The leaves on it were softer and much larger. He again tentatively reached out with his little pointer finger to inspect the leaf and was not repulsed this time. He seemed fascinated by the leaf but didn’t quite have the bewildered look he got when he first felt grass.
That look came when he felt the leaves on the last tree we passed, a huge shrub that had been pruned into a round shape at the front of a yard on our route. It’s leaves were very soft and kind of fuzzy and he was absolutely enthralled when I stopped to let him touch it.
In fact, he loved it so much that it was soon clear he was going to do with the leaves what he does with everything else he gets his hands on and put them in his mouth. So I make sure to always end his leaf encounters right before we get to that point.
William C. Wadsack is the managing editor of the Herald Democrat and a first-time father. He never realized just how expensive children could be until the birth of his son. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @WCWadsackHD.