"Can you help Daddy put the dirty clothes in the washing machine?" I asked early one morning. Astrid toddled off and came back a few seconds later grasping clumps of clothing in her mitts. She opened the washing machine door (the clasp was not clipped shut) and put the garments inside. After I had stuffed more clothes into the drum, I shut the door and added some detergent. Astrid stood next to me, poised like a trigger finger, waiting to prod the control panel. She turned the dial to select a programme - delicates as it turned out - and set the machine going with a flurry of jabs from her extended digit. I was, I confess, impressed.
Imagine the possibilities. Imagine the catalogue of drudgery that Astrid could churn through merely by marshalling her boundless, youthful energy in inventive and entertaining ways. Don't get me wrong - I'm not condoning child labour or encouraging some kind of Dickensian throwback, but if she simply does things, some of which help and some of which hinder domestic harmony, so much the better. A few days later Astrid started doing some sweeping. It was spontaneous and unprompted. She traipsed around the apartment with a dustpan in one hand and a brush in the other. Every now and again, she stopped and scraped the brush along the floor. Most of the time she raked the plastic edge against the tiles, but occasionally she held the brush correctly and managed to trap a few crumbs between its bristles.
It kept her entertained for a few minutes. It was less ruinous than drawing on the walls and less dangerous than climbing on the sofa, so I just left her to it. My view of Astrid began to alter around this time. The change, I have come to realise, was nothing short of momentous. She developed in my mind from a baby to a person. Looking back, it is easy to see why this transformation occurred. She could understand a whole host of things. She could follow instructions. She could work though a series of tasks from start to finish.
Washing and sweeping were some of the most visible manifestations of these developments. They were adult tasks, which Astrid had easily grasped. This sustained bout of domestic chores was the tipping point of my perception. No longer was Astrid a baby driven by a handful of basic wants and needs; she was a complex, free-thinking human being. Once this change has taken place it is difficult to go back. My natural inclination is to treat children as adults in many situations, with the exception of emotions. I think it makes sense to nurture their natural inquisitiveness by not dumbing things down.
But already there have been times where I might have gone too far, particularly in moments where I find myself mildly irritated or downright vexed by something Astrid is doing. She might be flicking a switch on and off over and over again. She might be banging a cupboard door shut repeatedly. She does not respond to requests to stop. Her attention cannot be diverted to do something else. How can she comprehend the process of washing clothes but not understand how annoying it is to bang a door shut over and over again, I think?
Of course, such comparisons are ridiculous. Astrid is only 15 months old. She has barely learnt to walk and cannot talk. She is fresh from being a baby. She is only weeks into being a child. Yet it is so easy to assume she understands more than she does, simply because she understands so much.