Nearly every day Raj and I spend quite a bit of time on the balcony of the 13th-floor apartment where his family lives. It’s above a major intersection with a couple dozen lanes of traffic meeting and surging with cars, trucks and buses most of the day. To the east between the high-rises we can see a slice of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. When my grandson sees a jet take off he squeals; a few seconds later we see it emerge from behind tall buildings to the north, and much smaller to the eye. But he is still watching it.
Emergency vehicles sound their sirens in the neighborhood at least a couple of times every day, and sometimes we will hurry out and try to spot them. If not, we’re sure to see one or several of Raj’s favorite Metro buses waiting at a stop light just below. We’ve shared the delights of cement mixers, dump trucks, car transports and motorcycles. Once it was three police cars in a line, lights flashing. On the balcony itself is Daddy’s bicycle, a vehicle he can even put his hands on, and examine small parts like wheel, reflector and pedals.
All of that transportation stuff would be exciting enough for a toddler, but there are a surprising number of experiences of flora and fauna as well. Pigeons and sparrows land on the rail. Spiders spin webs during the night and in the morning the birds swoop down and eat the spiders. One day we watched a slender and elegant fly as it crawled along the edge of the balcony for several feet, and as it made a left turn to cross the span and continue up the wall of the building. We watched it go all the way to the top of a window and disappear into a crack, and Raj waved good-bye. Then it came out of the crack again! He never lost his focus on that creature until it vanished again for good.
Raj doesn’t talk yet, but he uses many signs to communicate; some of these are standard sign language that many parents nowadays teach their babies, and others he has invented himself. By signs he can say “please,” “thank you,” “more,” “all done,” “Daddy,” “hot,” “cold,” “I like this food,” and at least several other things I can’t think of or that he doesn’t use as often. One experience he can indicate is of the wind.
Many times when we are looking over the balcony, a breeze will come up, and a few times when that happened I have mentioned it to him. One day we were standing at the railing in silent contemplation, punctuated by the occasional “Hmm!” from Raj that seems to be his comment on anything positive. This time, when the wind came up, he was the one who first noted it, by making sweeping, large and circular movements with his arms.
The balcony is the place to experience (and “talk” about) the heat of the metal wall at one end, when he runs the length of its patio and bangs on it with both little hands. There is an overhang above — perhaps the balcony of the next apartment up? — but not extending so far that one can’t stretch an arm into falling rain, or find very shallow puddles to splash in. Even with many high-rise buildings all around, the sky is huge and ever changing, often with clouds that are well worth talking about.
Our boy is never on the balcony without an adult companion, and from my first time out there with him we have enjoyed and refined our game of copy-cat. First, he would merely run full speed from one end to the other and back, and I would follow exactly. Raj added a certain arm-swing to his choreography, and the next day dance-y hops. Lately he likes to lead me in walking backward the whole way, sometimes stopping suddenly to line up our feet just-so, so that we can look at our toes side-by-side.
I’ve been impressed with the richness of this child’s life overall — full of stimulation and human warmth and at the same time very ordered and routine. Having a nanny to push you to the park almost every day is a boon, and currently several adults to make sure that you can eat and sleep at regular times even when there is a new baby in the house.
For a short time in his life, his days will include this simple balcony with no furniture typical of a patio area. His parents don’t want any items that he might learn to climb up on. Until this week when a larger plastic fire truck came into the household, no toys were allowed out there, because they could fall through the spaces or be thrown over the top.
For an even shorter time Raj has this grandma to play our particular balcony games with him. That space is simple and plain, and many adults not carrying a phone wouldn’t know what to do there. But it’s a fun playground where a toddler can exercise not only his short legs but his attention span. He can tune his senses to the life of the city and participate in a vast world.