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Not its intended use!

January 20, 2015 The Wine Time Dad 0 Comments Category : , , ,

I was watching my daughter try to slap together two interlocking pieces of the old school wooden train tracks one set of grandparents bought her for Xmas. At first, she tried fitting the ends together at horizontal angles, which only frustrated her to the point of needing to scream and throw the piece away. She then picked up another piece and threw that, too. At which point, I felt like I'd seen enough, so decided to step in and show her how to do it.

"Hey baby," I said (yes, I'm referencing Dave Chappelle's weed dealing tot), "look, look. They go together like this. See? And, then you can put the train on it like this."

I showed her several times how the pieces fit together and then guided her hands to do the same--at her level of cognitive development, seeing wouldn't be enough, she would need some muscle-memory practice. Plus, she easily gets frustrated when she can't do something right away--something she picked up from me.

Task accomplished, I turned back to my original project, building a badass tower with her oversized lego blocks. (It's my understanding that you should try to get toys both adults and toddlers can play with, hence the blocks and the train set.)

While we continued to parallel-play for several minutes, I noticed she'd moved on to the using the trains that go with the wooden train set. Sweet! I thought, she figured the tracks out. I turned around to look at her handiwork and was pleasantly surprised by her progress. She had gotten a few of the track pieces together without managing to lose her patience and throw something.

Then I noticed that the end piece was turned upside down, displaying the flat side. That mismatched area of track and I stared at each other for what seemed like several minutes, and I was struck by two overwhelming instincts at the same time. I immediately went in to show her what was off about that section of track, until a nagging realization stopped me. Who cares if the pieces were mismatched? She's not even two. Just getting the pieces to fit together should be accomplishment enough, right?

Besides, fixing it for her belittled her accomplishment. I may irrevocably altered the course of her cognitive development by reinforcing the idea that everything has an intended use, despite how you desire to use it. Isn't it written in some book about early childhood development that you shouldn't over-direct your child's play or they'll turn in serial killers? Or, develop uncontrollable OCD later in life? Surely some professional has written about this?

But, by achieving a correct fit--you ensure maximum usage. In achieving maximum usage, the little train can go around and around, forever. Thus, bringing our total enjoyment up to near rapturous levels. My daughter and I can sit there until the cows come home, madly laughing in pleasure as we play with the train set. Correctly. Furthermore, if she could restrain her Godzilla-like tendencies, then towns and maybe a city could be built in and around the perfectly put together train set. Imagine our pure ecstasy then.

So, there I sat. Looking at those oppositely matched track pieces, starting to sweat with concentration, and wondering when my daughter would come to this same epiphany.

At odds are two fundamental concepts: A developing child's free choice and discovery vs conformity to the rules. Yet, conformity, in this instance would make it possible for us both to enjoy playing with the tracks. Even if today isn't the day she learns this, she will inevitably learn it in the next decade. Probably sooner.

But, no! She must be free to put the tracks together as she chooses!

How did playing with a wooden train set become some sort of existential crisis? The world wouldn't end if things, especially toys, aren't used in their intended factory specified function.

Then I think, Sweet Cosmos above, I'm getting ahead of myself. She's not even two. She doesn't need to know any of this. I should be satisfied that she's even trying, and duh, she, like, has the rest of her life to learn to be stifled by conformity in human society.

Furthermore, this isn't the point of us playing together. We aren't supposed to achieve a perfect play symbiosis, a symbiosis through which we can construct grand feats of toy engineering. Let's be honest with ourselves. Currently my daughter's greatest communication feat is yelling, "Go away! Daddy, go away!" We have a while before we can communicate how to build block towns with our toy train running supplies between destinations. There's a reason chimpanzees haven't built cities: advanced communication. And, she still says yes to requests like, "Hey baby, do you wanna eat poop?"

I need to stop projecting my existential crisis and just let playtime happen. Clearing my head, I let my 2 year old do as she pleases with her toys.

Until she looks at me putting my piece of the track together (I finished my tower, which she mercifully ignored). She turns back to her part of the track with its mismatched pieces and hands them to me with her request hum (goes something like this, "Hm hm hm hmmmm"). I ask her if she wants me to help with the track and she says, "D'yeah". I ask her where she wants me to put the track and she points to my side and says, "Here".

Damn. She was reading my mind the whole time--uncanny. I always thought children were supernaturally perceptive.

All she really wants to do is move the train up and down the track. Putting the tracks together is difficult and does not make her patience satisfied. Ergo, daddy does it. Daddy does things right and quickly, so give those tasks to him. Daddy is ultimately the subject of the toddler's will.

Seems like we both learned something about our roles from this experience.