Friday, November 4, 2011

Zen and the Art of Thinking Like a Toddler

I have this picture in my head.  A picture of what “thinking like an adult” looks like.  This picture is colored by many influences, both internal and external.  Often, I don’t like the picture I see in my head, yet I still feel strangely compelled to make it my reality.  When that happens, influences affecting me might include my own OCD, other people’s harsh opinions, or mainstream advertising. 

Unfortunately, this affects the way I mother my one-year-old.  When I’m “thinking like an adult,” I find mothering Scarlett to be exhausting and stressful.  She’s not following the rules.  She’s not listening to me.  She’s not doing what she should be doing, according to... somebody. 

I have this other picture in my head.  It is a picture filled with laughter, and fun, and unintentional learning.  It is a picture filled with Zen.  This picture most often takes shape when I find myself "thinking like a toddler."  No rules.  No borders.  No 'Your Baby Can Read' commercials. 

She has her whole life to learn how to do it “right.”  At one, I want to let her explore what she wants to explore, however she wants to explore it.  It sounds simple, but it is extremely hard for me.  Story time is an illustrative example of how I can suck all possible fun out of a situation by thinking like an adult.

This is an embarrassing, yet probable look at a less than satisfying story time:

Scarlett shows an interest in a book. 

I say something like, “Want to read some books?”

I grab three or four, pick up my toddler, and head for the couch.  We sit down together and read the first book, cover to cover, in 8 seconds flat.  I see this as a success, put that book aside, and grab the next one.  Scarlett ignores my attempt to move story time along by reaching back for the first book, happily babbling gibberish that can most certainly be translated as, “hey, I wasn’t done with that.”

My adult brain is already bored of Duck is Dirty and I have some strong desire to move on to Dog is Thirsty.  Or rather, you would think the desire was strong because I then try way too hard to get her to accept MY way.  In reality, I really don't care which one we read, since I have read each one a million times before and will read each one a million times again.  I just want her to do it MY way.  Because I said so. 

But even though I can use the sweetest, calmest, most enticing voice possible to explain why we should move on to Dog is Thirsty, it cannot hide the hilariously imbocilic stubborness I am exhibiting by arguing with my one-year-old over colorful cardboard. 

Scarlett expresses her frustration the only way she knows how and starts screaming.  “Resistance is futile,” her furrowed brow seems to say.  I give in, we’ll read Duck is Dirty.  Again.  How unproductive this toddler is.

This time though, we only get halfway through the book, and Scarlett wants to start turning the pages backwards toward the beginning.  My brain - the brain that tries to turn OCD into CDO - does not function well with this new turn of events. This is not the way books are meant to be read.  Must go FOWARD! Must.... Finish..... Book!

So ensues the second argument of this funfilled story time, as I try to explain to my one-year-old daughter why it does not make sense to start Duck is Dirty in the middle and read backwards to the front.  Duck simply cannot start dirty and then get clean, that is utter nonsense. 

Conclusion of story time: Well wasn’t that fun.  I should just get it over with and make Scarlett an “I’m with Stupid” onesie. 

Thankfully for both of us, these instances only occur sporadically.  When they do, it usually coincides with my feeling tired, sick, anxious, or stressed in some way.

On a good day, I’ll take the time to put on my Zen cap.  This cap magically oozes Zen through my scalp, leaching all the OCD from the exhaustingly anxious crooks and crannies of my brain.  Creativity and thoughtfulness regain control, and I try to consider story time with the brain of my 13-month-old.

Story Time Stuffed with Zen

Scarlett shows an interest in a book. 

I say something like, “Wanna read some books?”

I sit down on the floor a few feet away from her and wait for her to pick out a book.  Then I laugh at her adorableness as she toddles toward me with one of our favorites.  She hands me Duck is Dirty, then makes a perfect about face and backs into my lap.  This is a 10 1/2 on the 1-10 cute scale.

We read Duck is Dirty and she smiles at the way my voice rises and falls with dramatic inflection.  She turns the pages herself, which cuts me off on almost every page.  I try not to notice.  As “the end” is coming out of my lips, Scarlett points to the bookshelf, signaling she is ready for another. 

At my prompting, she’s up and back with Dog is Thirsty.  Once she’s back in my lap, she decides to put that book aside, and picks up Duck is Dirty again.  She must have missed something in the first reading. 

We now read the book front to middle to front.  Then we read it back to front to middle.  Then she takes one of the middle pages in between her chubby, little toddler fingers and flails the book around 2 inches from my face.  It doesn’t hit me though. 

Then she closes the book and hands it to me.  When I try to read it, she takes it out of my hands.  Then she closes it and hands it to me again.  When I put it down, she picks it up and hands it to me again.  She is very proud of herself.  Then she decides to see how the book tastes.  She has tasted it so many times, there is a Scarlett-shaped outline of a mouth decorating the spine of the book.

This is repeated with three or four more books.  She is playing.  We are playing.  She is learning.  We are learning.  She is meticulously studying each and every one of these books with all five of her adorable senses.  I am meticulously soaking up the joy pouring out of each and every crook and crannie of her smiling face.

We are having fun.

Conclusion: Holy crap, we just spent an entire hour reading five books 9 times each and now it’s time for nap.  Hot diggity dog.  Story time is so friggin’ Zen.

I am Zen; I am Not Perfect

We all have our limits.  Not reading the book 10 times in a row teaches her sometimes we are gonna do what Momma wants to do.  Cause Momma’s needs are important too.  And 9 times of Duck is Dirty is my limit, for fuck’s sake.

***This post was originally written under my previous blog name, Zen and the Art of Cloth Diaper Maintenance.***
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