Adventures in parenting, lesson #157: Patience, Play-Doh, and Preschoolers (read this is you want to laugh today)
*Note: I wrote this a few months ago, but my daughter is still very much into Play-doh, and has since lost the pink one by flushing it down the toilet (my favorite color. Figures) . Yes. The whole tub. Thank goodness for my husband’s daring plumbing rescue. Read on to find out why the heck I’m talking about Play-doh, and why you might want to buy yourself some before the day is through.*
I thought it would be a fun idea to get my 22 month old daughter, Madison, Play-doh for Christmas. She still likes to eat things she shouldn’t (rocks, coins, and frankly, Play-doh), so I was a little skeptical about it, but my childhood development expert of a friend, Sarah, assured me it was great for sensory development.
Done. Play-doh for Christmas. Thanks, Amazon.
(cue whodunnit music: dun, dun, dun!)
To my surprise, she liked it. And she didn’t eat it. At least, not right away (cut to a few weeks later when I turned my back and turned around to find very fluorescent pink teeth where my toddler’s white ones used to be). Over the course of the last week, her love of Play-doh has gone from playing it cool to overbearring lover. She knows where it is, and begs for me to take it out for her at least four times a day.
When we play with it, we sit at her new Madison-sized table. Morning, noon and night, we play with Play-doh.
“Ara! Ara! Ara!” she says to me (which is her way of sounding out a dog barking, which translates into, “please make me a dog.”)
“Meow! Meow! Meow” she immediately demands with conviction (which, in case you weren’t clear, means, “and make me a cat too.” I’m really starting to get this kid talk thing down.)
I’m not an artist. I don’t do Play-doh dogs. I don’t do Play-doh cats. And especially when it’s 7:30 in the morning and we’ve been since just before 6am, and I’m sleep deprived and completely devoid of patience, I especially don’t do Play-doh animals.
But she’s my daughter, she’s excited, and so eventually, my grumpiness fades and I relent, attempting to make a freakin’ Play-doh freakin dog and cat.
The first few times, I kind of got into it. I ended up making an entire collage of clouds, sun, trees, flowers and grass. Hey, turns out I’m a Play-doh artist after all. Who knew?
But this morning, things took a turn. She kept saying, “Ara! Ara! Ara! Meow! Meow! Meow” (clearly the kid was spinning out) and I grumpily obliged. But the minute I would start to roll out a piece of the dog or cat, she would snatch the piece of Play-doh out of my hand.
“Madison!” I whined (yes, whined), “I can’t make a dog for you if you’re going to take it from me before I’ve even started making it!”
This is met with a blank stare with absolutely no understanding or sympathy whatsoever.
Cold as ice. Tough crowd.
I let it go, picked up another color, and attempted to roll another piece.
Once again, Madison ripped the Play-doh out of my hand.
“Arrghhh!!!” grumpy mommy exclaimed again.
Blank stare, almost as if to ask, “What’s your problem?”
This goes on for another four times until I’m finally about to lose my freakin’ mind. Here I am, tired, sitting on a stool meant for someone a hundred pounds lighter and much, much smaller than I am, trying to be interested in playing with this Play-doh that is now stuck under all of my nails and smelling up my hands, and my boss baby is saying she wants one thing and then doing another.
“Madison, how do you expect me to make you a dog if you keep taking it out of my hands!!” I repeat with agitation.
Yelling at an almost two year old usually yields one of two results.
- Said almost two year old stares at you and then laughs hysterically, because clearly she’s getting a rise out of you, and by gosh, this is fun. Let’s do it again! (snatches another piece of Play-doh out of my hands. My blood pressure goes up. The cycle goes on. Send help.)
- Said almost two year old begins to cry hysterically, because, well, listen you crazy broad! I’m not even two! I only just learned that I have arms, and I still don’t even know how to say the word. I have absolutely no control over my emotions, and zero impulse control yet either (which explains why I keep trying to trust fall off the couch when no one is there to catch me. Excellent.). And aren’t you supposed to be the adult? Why are you yelling at me?
Madison waivers back and forth between the two, usually choosing to laugh at me instead (smart girl).
It’s infuriating, but today, after a few seconds of being stared down by my two year old, it made me stop and laugh at myself. It made me think about how rigid I can be, how much I try to control the outcome of a situation by making a plan, following it carefully step by step, and not being able to handle it if a single one of those steps is missed or messed up.
At the end of the day, Madison was having a ball, so did it matter if I couldn’t finish rolling even a single piece of Play-doh in order to create a Play-doh animal for her? Of course it didn’t. Not to her, anyway. For Madison – and I assume for most two year olds – it’s about the journey, not the destination. But in my rigid conditioned mind, I had my mission: make a dog. Anything that got in the way of that mission was an assault on my senses, on my burning desire to cross all of my t’s, dot all of my i’s and get to my destination.
I cannot help but wonder (and cringe as I do): How often do I do that in life? How often do I try to control myself, others, and the world around me in order to feel some semblance of safety and order?
Too often. Every day. Multiple times a day.
It takes a lot of energy to resist it when the plan stops going my way.
But it takes almost no energy to just let it go and lean into the change. It’s like swimming upstream, or getting out of a rip tide. If you go with the flow or if you just go with the current instead of against it, you’ll find your way out gracefully with energy left to spare. And you may even enjoy yourself along the way.
Ah, parenting. A fine mix of surprise, delight, frustration, fear, and an all around sense of wonderment. It’s a beautiful, bumpy, Play-doh filled ride.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Your bruised and battered parent who is learning to go with the flow,
See Madison’s escapades in this quick video: