Feeding Ducks

New year’s Eve was a cold, grey and damp day with a mist that lingered well past lunchtime. It would have been an entirely miserable day had it not been for the promise of the new year just around the corner, and we must not forget that spring comes some time after that. The festive season had given us all a bit of cabin fever, despite the fact that I’d already been back to work and my boys had spent that particular day mostly at the park. But cabin fever we felt, so we set off for a walk.

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Or, in Thomas’s case, a bike ride. We headed, at his direction, for the local lake, nestled in woodland that begins just a few minutes from our front door.

Thomas wanted to feed the ducks.

Feeding the ducks has been a slow burner for Thomas. At first he hated it. He didn’t like these inquisitive, demanding and noisy birds. And he certainly didn’t want to share bread with them. Why do that when he could eat it himself?

But gradually, he warmed to the idea. We kept taking walks, making slow circuits of the lake without specifically stopping to feed the ducks. Gradually he liked to watch them, and imitate their quacking. Then he began watching others feeding them with curiosity. And finally, he wanted to do it himself. And now, it’s a favourite pastime. He asks to feed the ducks early some mornings. If we try to reign i his enthusiasm at such an early hour by telling him the ducks will still be asleep, he then pesters us every few minutes, enquiring “Are the ducks awake yet?”

The one thing he has never been keen on, however, is ducks and geese – especially the geese – who come too close. Early on in his duck feeding career, he’d run away, squealing in genuine fright. Boldness came with practice, but he’d still cling to my leg and say “go away ducky”. Gradually he’d allow me to feed them straight out of my hand, and when they chased after him his squeals transformed to ones of delight. It was a fun game.

New Year’s Eve, however, was a different story. Perhaps father Christmas had slipped some extra confidence in the toe of Thomas’s stocking this year. Or perhaps we’ve just allowed his confidence to build slowly and organically enough that it was inevitable that this moment would come.

He held out his hand, hesitantly at first, with a piece of bread for the closest bird. He was half turned away, and half hidden by my leg, protecting himself in case he needed to run. Yet he erupted in to infectious giggles when the bird gobbled the bread straight from his hand.

Moment later he offered another. And then another.

He was having the time of his life.

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Feeding the ducks is such a simple, ordinary and timeless pastime. Yet it still provides these milestones. These firsts. these reflections of how our little boy is changing and growing imperceptibly, but nevertheless undeniably, right in front of our very eyes.

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