“Nooo. We have to play by the rules…” Daddy gently explains a new board game to his 3-year-old daughter who is recovering from her birthday party sugar crash.
Mom smiles to herself as she sits knitting, waiting for the upcoming meltdown, which to her pleasant surprise, doesn’t happen.
“Tell you what. Let’s just put the monkeys on the bed and make them jump off.” Daddy says.
So they toss the rulebook aside, spring load the bed, count the monkeys as they place them in the slots and “weeee” let them fly.
Sometimes you have to toss the rulebook aside and improvise, especially when you are dealing with a toddler who firmly believes that cake is a vehicle for delivering icing and that carrots and icing constitute a well balanced and nutritious lunch.
These last three years have been amazing, and my husband and I have learned so much as we have watched our baby become an incredible little girl right before our eyes. I remember writing in earlier Cheese Grits columns about all of the parenting advice given by experts and expressing my frustration at the unyielding nature of all this unsolicited advice.
The one thing that my husband I and I have learned about parenting is that our daughter is a little person with feelings and frustrations and a perspective on what is happening in her world. She has a mind of her own and her own creative ideas. And like any person, she wants her opinions acknowledged. As parents, we need to be mindful of where she is in her day or night when we are parenting.
If she didn’t get a good night’s sleep and or had an extra long day at preschool, it’s probably not a good idea to try to take her out to eat, especially not to a restaurant where the waits might be long.
If she had a toy that has one prescribed use by the manufacturer, but she has devised another way to play with it that is safe, fine. Let her be creative.
Sometimes you have to improvise.
But to improvise successfully, you have to be prepared. The best jazz musicians practice, practice, practice. Improve actors and comedians work really hard at their crafts. And the best parents I’ve observed, the creative ones, the ones who respond to their children, who handle the sugar-crashed, tired, over stimulated child without triggering the meltdown, are the ones who have thought a lot about parenting. They have read the experts. They have talked with other parents. They go to parent-teacher meetings. They have taken the parenting classes. They know where their children should be on the developmental scale intellectually and physically, and they know where their children are.
But they don’t swallow the words of wisdom of any expert whole. Everything is taken and evaluated against the larger context of personal experience, the best science and multiple expert opinions. Most importantly, though, this advice is evaluated by looking at the world from the child’s viewpoint to see the problem, challenge or excitement from the child’s eyes. Often what looks like improvisation is really just seeing the world through the child’s eyes and acknowledging that unique viewpoint.
The prepared parent can improvise and make a paper towel roll into a spy glass on a pirate ship or a microphone for a circus announcer to entertain the bored child. The prepared parent can improvise and make a game of finding colors and shapes and numbers in the airport terminal while waiting for a delayed flight—all because the parent sees the world through the child’s eyes.
Sometimes you have to throw the rulebook aside. Sometimes you have to improvise. Because, let’s face it, cake really is just a vehicle for the delivery of icing.
© 2009 Michele Arduengo. All rights reserved.