Too Many Toys, Not Enough Garlic: Another Parenting Realization

You ever notice how a kid can have hundreds of toys and yet find the most amusement from the most benign object?

Little A’s birthday party was this past weekend. I did my best to subtly hint to our loving guests that anything but toys would be appreciated. We asked for books, art supplies, a trip to the zoo, please, anything but more plastic and lights and (obnoxious) sounds. She still got a couple of toys, but she actually got a ton of awesome books (she loves to “read”). Her dad got her a ukelele and I made her a stuffed animal from her favorite show.

Even with all these wonderful, beautiful new things, it never ceases to amaze me how quickly she tires of happily playing and exploring in her play area. She seems bored. Restless? Maybe it’s because the school year just ended and she’s simply amused by the fact the mommy is finally home all day to follow around and pull me by my most proximal limb to come and play with her. All day.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to play with her. And I love that she invites me to come sit in her tent and play in her kitchen and draw with her. We have a wonderful relationship and I sincerely enjoy spending time with her. In fact, my husband and I often comment on the rare occasion that we aren’t with her how much we miss her and like hanging out with her. I feel lucky that I have such a great kid who is actually pretty fun to be around.

And anyway, I’m okay with bored. I think it’s healthy for children to experience boredom to enhance their creative skills. My friend Kayt wrote a great article about this and I couldn’t agree more.

It’s not that I’m bothered or that she’s bored. I guess it’s not really a problem at all. It just sparks my curiosity to watch her flit from activity to activity, rarely seeming to fully engage in any single game. It’s like nothing is truly capturing her attention. (Except her favorite pastime, of course, which is watching videos of herself on our phones, although I try to limit screen time as much as possible. Technology seems like cheating when it comes to measuring attention span anyways.)

So, the past few days since her party ended, the three of us have been sick. I seemed to have caught it the worst of the three, so needless to say we haven’t left the house and have mostly been doing a whole bunch of nothing (full disclosure: playing video games with my husband). On the third day of being sick (and after the party leftovers finally ran out) I amassed the energy to actually cook and decided to make soup in the slow cooker.

Of course, the moment I step into the kitchen is little A’s cue to begin pulling on my legs, pushing me away from the counter, whining, general toddler stuff. As I’m trying to peel and chop the garlic, her whines intensify. In a moment of desperation, I hand her an unpeeled clove of garlic and say, “Here you go. I need some help. Help me peel this.” I briefly showed her how to peel it but it was almost as if she didn’t need to be shown at all. She was immediately entranced. I felt like a magician of motherhood. Maybe this would buy me five minutes to finish this soup and go back to being a couch potato, I thought.

Oho, boy did I underestimate the power of the peeling garlic. I finished dumping my ingredients and was headed back to doing nothing and she was still standing there, completely focused on this tiny clove of garlic, her tiny fingers flexing their dexterity. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her so enveloped in a task. I knelt down to see her progress, and she had basically peeled the whole thing! I helped her peel the last tiny bit and thanked her for her help and praised her concentration. That was enough to impress me.

But, it didn’t end there! She looked up at me like she couldn’t believe it was over already. “Do you want to peel more?”, I asked in disbelief. “Want to peel more?”, she parroted back. Okay, suit yourself, I thought. So I gave her a bowl, broke up the rest of the garlic bunch, sat her next to me on the floor, and told her to put the peels in the bowl.

Little did I know, this intense concentration would continue for 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes until she climbed into my lap and instantly fell asleep.

A sigh of relief. Naps are so great.

Then, it didn’t stop there. She woke up from her nap, drank some water, and went right back to her peeling. Yep, that’s right. Another 15 minutes passed by before she was completely satisfied with her work and decided to move on to the next thing.

With all the toys and games a two year old could dream of, her mind was wholly captured by a simple task that I had no idea would be so satisfying for her. As I processed my amazement, I thought about how much it always means to her to be a part of whatever it is I happen to be doing. I had a flashback to my developmental psychology class when we discussed Piaget’s idea of the child as the tiny scientist, attempting to understand her world, and Vygotsky’s tiny member of her family’s society, trying to figure out her role.

It was a great reminder that all children really want is to discover new skills and sensations and feel a part of the whole. (And that we really need to invest in a learning tower because she is fascinated by the happenings in the kitchen.)

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