Monday, March 7, 2011

The Next Big Thing

This morning, I revisited the idea of postponing the next-big-thing with Mary. I say re-visiting because it was a lesson I already learned once, years ago, when my first child was Mary's age. But, here I am again, learning the same old things as if they were brand new ideas. Ah, parenting. Ever refining, instantly humbling parenting.

This time, things played out pretty much as I imagine they did when Ian was younger. I don't remember the exact moment it happened, but because my mother played (and still does) an integral role in the raising of my son, Im sure she was involved in the conversation.

Mary has decided that my old portable DVD player, the one that is missing a power cord and weighs like forty pounds, is her "video game". She sits down with it, opens it up and laughs hysterically at the "games" she plays on it. Her absolute favorite is the one where "the girl jumps on the man's head!" "Isn't that funny, Mama?! That's so funny!" This morning, she decided to show her Nana her wonderful video game.

"Oh," my mom says, "At what age can she start using Ian's old Leapster?!" Trying not to sound preachy, I gently replied that as long as she is happy with this "video game" I was not going to introduce the one that makes things happen for her.

Now, I totally got where my mom was coming from. I thought the same thing when Mary first started playing with her "computer game". "Hey, Ian has that old Leapster, I bet she would get a kick out of having her own REAL video game." I want her to have fun, to feel like a "big girl" and that old thing is just laying around collecting dust, anyway, right? When I take a step back and really examine my motivation, though, I think it comes from something deeper. I think it has more to do with me than with Mary. After all, she is pretty darn happy with the old broken DVD player.

This seems to be another one of those Universal experiences in parenting. We watch our children playing, say, with a wooden spoon and a plastic container and we think "Oh wow, she really loves playing "drums". I remember when I used to pretend to have drums. I would imagine the pots and pans were a big drumset. Those were such fun times. I should buy her a big, amazing drumset like the one I imagined when I was a kid!"

So, the next thing you know, you're online at some specialty toy store looking at really expensive or really poorly-made (or both) drum sets for two year-olds.
The same thing plays out in other situations. The kids are having SUCH a good time pretending that the television box is a car. We should buy them one of those battery-propelled cars! They could drive it in the driveway!

Remembering the types of things we envisioned in our childhood and realizing that they are actually available for kids today, it's pretty hard to put on the brakes and stop providing the next-big-thing for our kids. But when I stop and really think about it, the next-big-thing really isn't what my kid needs. Or maybe even wants.

That "vintage" DVD player plays ANY game Mary wants it to. All she has to do is think it up, and there it is, making her laugh and squeal and fill with pride that she is playing her "big girl game". And those battery-powered cars, well, honestly have you ever seen a kid enjoy driving one of those for more than like five minutes? There is no way they can do all the things that cardboard box car can do. No contest.

There will inevitably come a day when pretend video games, cardboard cars and bedsheet castles just won't cut it any more with Mary. (Im imagining the look on Ian's face if I had offered him a "pretend" Nook Color for his eleventh birthday.)
For now, Im practicing being as content with the little pleasures as Mary is, and doing my best to hold off on imposing my ideas of what's fun on her amazing little almost-three-year-old imagination. Cause that's what being almost three is all about. The next-big-thing can wait. And so can I.


  1. I am so with you on this! I am always anxious to improve the 'production value' of their play..."this silky swath of fabric makes a much better princess dress than the smelly dog blanket with cheesy cartoon fire-hydrants!" But if they are cool, then why should I care? I wonder how much the idea of some other parent judging us for not having *better* toys factors into it? "My little pumpkin only plays with the BEST toys and look at your ragamuffin hauling around that dirty dog blanket! Do you want some the toys that pumpkin is too advanced for now?" I am trying to let those absurd thoughts go and let my kids do what they need...but it is hard sometimes!

  2. And Id like to clarify - Ian bought his OWN Nook Color with gift cards that friends and family gave him for his birthday. I did not buy my eleven year-old a 250 dollar birthday present.