Patterns of Joy
Off we go to the park. There are several parks we can walk to, spoiled city kids that we are. There is one we go to several times a week through the summer, and because we seit so often, a pattern has emerged.
Of course it has.
Toddlers love patterns.
Toddlers need patterns.
Patterns around bedtimes and meals are called “Consistency”, and parents should manipulatively maintain, cannily create, and certainly MILK those patterns for all their behaviour-shaping potential.
Patterns around favourite activities are called, variously, “cute”, “methodical”, “a pain in the arse”, or “OhmyGOD, my kid is so damned OCD!!!”, depending on the time, need for speed, agenda, and patience level of the parent in question.
You all know what I mean. Something like this:
“I KNOW you like me to make all the noises of all the animal on this page in this book — this book which we must read every morning after breakfast — but you had TWO ginormous poops today, the second requiring a mini-bath, we’re way behind schedule and have to be at daycare in ten minutes and THERE IS NO TIME!” [Cue screaming meltdown, so you can bring tear-sodden tot to daycare and feel like a total parental loser.]
Not so fun, that one.
I use the patterns that work for me, ignore the ones that don’t, eliminate the ones that are simply bad behaviour (ignoring often eliminates them, come to that), and bask in the ones that amuse me.
Today’s post is about the basking kind.
So, we’ve been at the park. Going to the park, there are not many rituals, because we are focussed on getting to the park. Coming home, though? I have learned that, done right, coming home requires a solid half-hour.
Now, I did have to learn this. At first, I fought it. I’d allow 15 minutes for the walk home (on my own, as an adult, it takes a little less than ten), and then they zigged and zagged and raced off down tangents from that agenda. I pulled them back, and redirected, called them over, called them back, hurried them up … and got pretty damned exasperated, truth be known. Because when we got home, we still had to eat, change diapers, tidy up and read stories before they could start their naps. At Mary’s house, naps are sacrosanct. We are very, VERY consistent about naps.
So. I had it all mapped out in my head. Park, walk home, lunch, pre-nap activities, nap. This was the Agenda, the goal was (and is!) NAP ON TIME, and I did not want to be distracted, deterred, held up. AT ALL.
However. The point is Naptime to start On Time. It took me a week or two of impatient prodding before I realized (duh) the trip there and back is part of the outing. It’s not simply transit time. With that wee mental shift, we could leave the park half an hour sooner, because I belatedly noticed what the toddlers knew all along: leaving early doesn’t cut down on playtime, it just shifts the venue. Duh, again.
Here is how our walk home goes, now.
We leave the playground. There is a row of trees on the path that leads from the playground to join with the path along the river. This row of trees starts maybe four metres from the park. Poppy, Grace, Daniel and Jazz must run to a tree, cup their hands around the sides of their faces, and press their noses into the bark. They stand there, tense and giggling, waiting for me to call out, “WHEEEEERE’s JAZZ?? WHEEEERE’S POPPY? WHEEEEERE’S GRACE??? WHEEEERE’s DANIEL???” And then they POP! their faces back off the tree, fling their hands out wide and giggle at me as I say, in TOTAL SURPRISED DELIGHT, “THERE you are!!!”
We have to do this on Every.Single.Tree. There are four of them. I have to call it for each child, separately, for each tree. Traversing this path to the river can take, oh, five to eight minutes. (It’s a one-minute walk for an adult; two with a walking toddler.)
But it is SO!MUCH!FUN!!!! (Yes, some days I do this on auto-pilot, my mind on other things, because (I know you will find this hard to believe) I do not find this as RIVETTING and full of UNIMAGINABLE DELIGHT as the toddlers. But I do it because there is great reward in their joy-filled faces. Even when I’m a teensy bit bored.)
We get to the junction of the two paths. There is a sign here (“Dogs must be leashed past this point on pain of $150 fine”, I think). There is a medium-sized bowl-shaped depression beside the sign. We must race into the bowl, lie down, and yell out about how “I’m swimming! Mary, I’m swimming inna pool!” Another 2 – 5 minutes spent here.
And then we are at the path along the river. There are benches at intervals on this path. And here is what happens next.
“Mary, may we run ahead?”
“Yes, you may. You may run to the next bench, and then wait for me.”
Because that is what The Script requires. Off they go, charging ahead to the bench. Then they must (the MUST, I tell you! It is TRADITION!) climb up on the bench, and then sit on it so that they face backward. They are in a train. Every bench is a train, and they must needs ride ALL THE TRAINS!
They scramble up on the benches, the arrange themselves, they sit with their feet swinging as I approach. And then they swarm down, and ask again,
“Mary, may we run ahead?”
And so on, until …
We reach the CLIMBING TREE. Scrambling around on the Climbing Tree takes, oh, a good ten minutes, often more. I watch the children, I text friends (yes! I am THAT caregiver! the one who SHAMELESSLY IGNORES the children in her care), I watch the geese on the river, I plan the afternoon’s craft. And they scramble up and down the gentle slop of the giant trunk, sit on one stump, deke around behind, pop up, ride the bus. See, while the benches are trains, this tree? Is a bus. A school bus.
You know? I do not need to give you details about ALL the homeward-bound activities. But be assured: there are rocks to inspect for pee and then jump on, there are fields to fall in, there are saplings to race around, there is one particular spot where we MUST all lie down like cordwood, so that when Mary approaches, she MUST call out “Wakey-wakey, rise and shine!!”
I could fight this. I could insist that we walk in focussed attention to get home promptly and efficiently. I did do that, for a week or two. We got home sooner, sure, but I was motivated by impatience and thus mildly exasperated the whole time.
Now, though? Once I decided to allow them their patterns? Okay, so I do sometimes feel a fleeting boredom, but mostly I revel in the JOY.
Walking home from the park … brings not just happiness, but JOY to these children.
Toddlers are wonderful for joy. (Yes, they’re wonderful for rage, too, unfiltered little primitives that they are. It’s the flip side of the same coin.) But when they do joy, they’re wonderful.