A few weeks back, I found myself expounding on the theme of a small plastic duck. This is in accordance with Sally Ward’s Baby Talk, which is based on the principle that the best way to spend constructive time with children and improve their language skills is to talk to them, in short simple sentences, about exactly what they happen to be showing an interest in at the time. When Jamie’s interest in said duck outlasted a few repetitions of "Yes, it is a duck, isn’t it? A black duck. And ducks say quack!" I expanded further on the duck theme, and thus it was that I found myself mentioning the possibility that Jamie might, at some undetermined point in the future, go to feed bread to the local ducks.
I hadn’t actually meant this as anything more than a passing comment, much on the level of "Wouldn’t it be nice to have a holiday in Spain some time?", but it captured Jamie’s imagination. Over the next few days, he would repeatedly muse, to nobody in particular and often apropos of nothing very much, "Maybe go and feed some ducks some bread". It seemed a shame not to follow up such an obvious interest, so that has been our weekend activity for the past few Sundays.
Jamie loves it. He still isn’t very good at throwing, so a high proportion of the pieces of bread have been landing on the edge of the bank and I’ve spent quite a bit of time leaning precariously forward to pick them out of the thistles (meanwhile, Barry hurls the occasional handful of pieces further out into the river in order to keep the ducks interested enough to continue to mill round) but he’s been visibly getting better at it in the few weeks we’ve been doing this. When it comes to tearing the bread up, he’s almost too good – we had some trouble convincing him that it’s actually OK just to throw the last fragments from the slice he’s working on and go to get another out of the packet, so, several times, he continued tearing the last tiny piece in his hand into smaller and smaller crumbs, until Barry restrained him for fear he’d end up inadvertently splitting the atom. When I tried telling him that perhaps the ducks would like a bigger piece of bread so that they can get a proper bite, he would obligingly hurl half a slice in. Toddlers are not great at finding a middle ground. But he’s nothing if not dedicated and enthusiastic. "Hello, Mr Ducks, let’s have some of Jamie’s bwead!" he called to the ducks, who swam over, happy to oblige.
The swans have also been coming to share in the spoils, which gave Jamie a chance to learn something he’d been asking about recently – what noise a swan actually makes. Barry and I backed this up with loud "Ssssss!"s of our own. "Said swans," concluded Jamie, who has a devotion to this particular narrative style that strikes me as somewhat unusual in a two-and-a-half-year-old. (A few weeks ago, when Jamie was in the bath and I’d been a little slow about passing him the bar of soap I usually give him to play with while I wash him, he came out with "’Would you like to play with the soap, Jamie?’ said Mummy". Bloody hell – it’s not long since I was struggling to think of things to say to him because he was so non-verbal my attempts at keeping the conversation going felt hopelessly futile, and now he’s reached the stage of supplying my part of the narrative as well and saving me the trouble.)
I think the ducks know us by sight by now. Or perhaps it’s just that they’ve learned that swimming rapidly in the general direction of small children approaching the edge of the river tends to be productive and worthwhile. Anyway, it looks like they’re going to be in luck for a good few weeks to come.