When we played, it was loud and hysterical. Me facing him, holding his hands as he stood upright, back pedaling as he matched my steps, feigning exhaustion with exaggerated noises and gestures as we walked together across the room, and finally, collapsing onto the floor with him, just madmen laughing at the absurdity. Each time, the stumbles to the floor got a little funnier. Each time, the baby steps got a little more confident.

When we ate, it was distracted but particular. Him eating banana slices, holding less desirable items over the tray for the dog, stealing glances at Sesame Street with mouth open, looking to me for assurance, then pointing and babbling and expecting me to provide water (pronounced: mama) at the proper time. There was a happy face when I produced more bananas and a sad face when I returned from the kitchen to tell him not to feed Watson. There was no shortage of smeared food on his chest, and no bib in sight because he would remove it in approximately 2.3 seconds anyway.

When we practiced, it was as a team. Me holding him up as he repeated his own curt version of the word “door” (pronounced: duh), watching as he deftly (for a 12-month-old) turned a dead bolt from the locked to unlocked position, providing the extra leverage as he pushed down the handle to open the door. At one point, the door was shut and he knocked on it. “Knock-knock” (or something like it), he said, looking at me. Then came a knock from the OUTSIDE. It was his grandparents, who just happened to show up outside at the same moment he was knocking inside. The kid is gonna think he has powers he doesn’t have.

When we explored, it was with the utmost concentration. Me hovering, slightly paranoid. Him moving from one station to another. Trucks and blocks in the living room, cupboard contents in the kitchen, radios and humidifiers in the bedroom, the nastiest spots in the bathroom. His hands are his life. He presses buttons, turns knobs, stacks blocks, sticks magnets, unplugs power cords and then–under close supervision–comes awfully close to plugging them back in. These days he moves from wall to wall–flat surface to flat surface–like a spy trying to avoid tripping an invisible alarm system. He is now on his feet as much as he’s sitting or crawling.

Every day we play. And every day we eat, practice, and explore. Some days it feels like a grind. But every day–at one moment or another–it feels like a gift.

There was no Goodyear blimp with my name on it. No epic domino game. No MTV Raps. But to quote Ice Cube: “Today was a good day.”