They've left me in charge of Tim.

Mum (Tim's "nanna") and I went down to the Perth airport to meet Fran (Tim's mum) and Tim himself as they got off the plane from Karratha, the mining town 800 km to the north where Fran, Jayson and Tim live. We picked up their baggage, including the baby seat for the car, which had cunningly been wrapped in black plastic for the flight by airline baggage handlers, thus making it appear identical to every other baby seat. We had a brief conversation with the young family standing next to us at the carousel as to the wisdom of this behaviour, but we eventually sorted out whose car seat was whose, and departed. We dropped Fran at an El Cheapo car rental place on the way, and Mum, Tim and I drive on home. Tim travelled with us because it's highly unlikely that a randomly chosen rental car will have the correct mountng hardware for his seat.

Tim is developing his language skills. His head is nearly the same size as mine, so the hardware is all there, but some of the software is still being written. He's getting beyond the babbling stage, and on to the semi-coherent noise stage. Fairly frequently on the trip home, Tim will say something like, "Uck!"; and we are required to respond, "Yes, Tim! That's a truck!"

So we got him home, and Mum set up his porta-cot ("Cot!" "That's right Tim! That's your cot!"), while Tim wandered around. Mum had given Tim some plastic toy pipes to play with, ones that I remember playing with when I was presumably his size. They are hexagonal in cross-section, different colours, and interlock with each other. He can answer simple questions: "Show me the yellow one, Tim. Which one is the yellow one?" "Ellow!" But as soon as he got into the house, he was more interested in exploring. He'd been here before, so he knew right away where all the good stuff was. He went right to the kitchen cupboard, opened it up (he evidently understands how cupboards work), and started picking up brushes. There's a rack of hooks on the inside of the cupboard door, upon which are hung three assorted bottle brushes, one long-handled scrubbing brush, and a tea straining sieve. He picked up each one, examined it, and put it carefully back on its hook, until he found the one he liked best: the fattest bottle brush. He then carried this around the house, until Mum intercepted it. This did not faze him, however: he toddled straight off to the laundry, and emerged carrying three scrubbing brushes.

Anyway, Fran arrived with the rental car; and Mum and Fran fed Tim a sliced banana, which he ate reasonably solo, although he got kind of bored with it toward the end; and they put him to bed for his afternoon nap.

And then they announced that they were going shopping.

"He'll sleep for a couple of hours", Fran assured me. "If he wakes up, just stick his dummy back in, lie him down again and pull his blankie back up. If he stands up again straight away, it means he doesn't want to sleep any more, in which case you can just keep him entertained 'til we get back."

"There are some toys in the laundry", Mum adds.

So he's in the next room, asleep. The house is dead quiet, and every time I hear an unexplained noise, I sneak in and check on him. The house has an iron roof, so whenever the sun goes behind a cloud, it cools and makes a series of ticking, settling noises; and whenever the sun comes out again, the roof heats up and makes a fresh set of noises. So unexplained noises are pretty common.

Eventually, the bit of my brain dealing with the detection of unexplained noises manages to correlate in the brightness of the sunlight ten seconds prior. This allows me to flag noises caused by heat expansion and contraction as "explained", thus greatly decreasing the number of false positives.

Once, he coughs. But I peek in on him, and he is still lying there asleep, with his little chest going up and down. (I notice that his chest has to move proportionately more than mine -- square cube law, don't you know.)

And then he does wake up. I rush in to his room. He hasn't spat the dummy or thrown off his little blankie; he's just sort of pawing at the side of the cot. He seems reassured by my presence, which is in itself reassuring to me; given that he's barely two years old and that before today he last saw me a year and a half ago, I wasn't sure that he would, upon waking, regard me as a friendly.

I don't know what to do next. I have instructions on what to do if he has spat his dummy and thrown off his blanket, but he has done neither. So I ask Tim what to do. He doesn't know either. I decide to try telling him to go back to sleep, leaving the room, and hovering outside the door listening for five minutes. This seems to work.

Of course, it only works for a finite amount of time. Next time I go in, he is standing up, and not looking particularly like he wants to continue his sleep. He is still unable to tell me what comes next, so I am forced to guess. I immediately realise that he's going to need some sort of pants. He's got a nappy on, but I suspect that his chubby little legs will get cold if I let him run around like that. I locate some pants, and spend some time deciding which is the front and which is the back. I lift Tim up onto the change table, and get the pants most of the way on. The last ten or so centimetres pose logistical difficulties. I can mostly pull the pants up at the front, but the back is not possible with Tim lying down. Luckily, Tim does know how this bit goes, even if he can't tell me: when I experimentally pick him up, he shifts his weight to stand on the change table. This makes the completion of the pulling-up-pants operation simple.

I carry him out to the living room to play with some toys, and set him down. He immediately demonstrates once again his superior knowledge of the proper procedures: I have left his dummy in, and this is incorrect. He pops it out, toddles rapidly back to the bedroom, drops the dummy over the side of the cot, and returns.

We play with some boxes and tokens. This is another toy from my childhood (I later discover that Mum, anticipating the eventual arrival of grandchildren, has an entire wardrobeful stashed away). The tokens come in nine colours, with one of the first colour, two of the second colour, and so on, up to nine of the ninth colour. These tokens fit into slots on the top of each of the nine open-bottomed boxes. The boxes, which nest for easy storage, are made by my grandfather; and are painted by Mum, each box the colour of its respective tokens, with the matching number painted on the top. The sides are decorated with simple geometric shapes and cut-out pictures of animals and scenes from childrens' stories. The objective of the toy, of course, is to drop the token in the right colour box; and this sometimes matches Tim's objective, too. Often he is equally interested in dropping a token in, then picking up the box to see the token lying on the floor beneath. He seems to recognise the digits painted on the top of the box; he is confused by the number on the "6" box, as he has picked it up upside-down, and thinks it is a "9".

We play for a little while, and eventually, no major catastrophes having transpired in the meantime, Mum and Fran return.

Next: More time with Tim