My Mellow

When Wildling was twenty months old, she was speaking clearly, and in complete sentences. If you asked her how she was doing, she’d say things like “I’m fine, I’m cool.” Mellow is twenty months old. She can ask for ice water, or “icccce wah” as she pronounces it. She can tell us when Wildling is screaming by pointing and saying “Ahhhhhhhh. Wi.” The “Wi” is very calm and deliberate, she wants us to know that she’s not the one actually throwing a fit, it’s her big sister. She can say Mama and Da-da and Wi, and a few other small words. But that’s about it.

I’m not worried about her linguistic development. She’ll get there eventually. It feels like it’s taking longer, because she talks now the way Wildling did at barely a year old. But she’s fine. She’s normal. She’s on track.

What I don’t like though, is how other people reassure me that they’re certain that Mellow is fine, that Mellow will learn eventually, that even if she’s not talking, she’s still clearly intelligent. I know all of these things. I don’t need to be reassured. Mellow is bossy and opinionated and she will lead us by the hand to whatever she wants and then put our hand on what she wants us to do. She dresses herself, and even though sometimes she’s wearing a long-sleeved shirt as pants, that’s ok (also, I fix it). She poops in her potty without fail every single time. She sleeps through the night. She eats whatever we’re eating and doesn’t require special meals. She smiles a lot, and dances and follows her big sister around like an adoring puppy.

Mellow is an amazing child. I don’t need anyone to reassure me of that. I’ve always known.

Children and their toys: the fewer the better

Here is a complete list of all the toys that Mellow played with today:

1. Wildling’s toothbrush
2. Plastic cups (in the shower)
3. A small plastic fairy
4. A stuffed dragon.
5. Every article of clothing in her top drawer
6. Wildling’s boots
7. Books
8. A copy of Discover magazine
9. The living room window
10. A blanket
11. Wildling’s bed
12. A lego train
13. The girls’ playhouse in the backyard
14. Her tricycle
15. A small toy frying pan

That’s it. Notice how many items on that list are not toys? I tried to compose a similar list for Wildling once, but it consisted of just a piece of PVC, so I didn’t bother posting about it.

That’s the thing with kids and toys – they don’t need nearly as much as we think (and definitely not as much as a certain set of grandparents thinks!). When Wildling was young, we got her too many toys. I think we didn’t want to deprive her, so anytime she showed interest in something, we bought it. There were some toys she liked at the library playgroup, so of course I had to get her similar things for the house. She liked a toy at a friend’s house? Well, then we had to get her one of her own.

Fortunately for our wallets and our sanity, we realized early on what we were doing and we stopped. We noticed that Wildling didn’t actually play with very much, and everything was always cluttered and messy. One day, soon after she had turned two, she and I were in a store and she kept running away from me. I told her if she ran away from me again, I would take her giraffes away – those were the toys she was playing with most often at the time. She ran away. I caught her and told her if she ran away again, I would take her dinosaurs away too. She looked at me, said “ok, take my dinosaurs away,” and took off running.

On a separate occasion soon after that incident (back when I thought taking things away might help change her behavior – it never worked), I threatened to take away her toy kitchen if she didn’t do some activity (I think it had to do with potty training). She refused to do it, and when I started to take her kitchen away, she said “Here, take this too. And this. And this.” She was running back and forth adding items to the pile.

That’s when we knew we needed to change things. A couple of months later, after reading more on minimalism and decreasing toys and what children really need, Will and I decided to get rid of most of her toys. I talked to Wildling about it and had her pick out stuffed animals to get rid of (I wanted her to participate in the cull). She spent the night at my in-laws and while she was gone, Will and I did a complete overhaul of the playroom. We pulled a huge amount of toys out. Some we held as baby toys for the future baby we wanted (Mellow was born about a year later), some we set aside to sell at a consignment sale, some we added to our donation pile, and some that were not in good enough shape for those categories were just thrown out. The remainder of the toys were organized into boxes and put in the closet – Wildling is supposed to only have one out at a time (we aren’t good at enforcing that).

When Wildling got home from her grandparents and saw the playroom she was thrilled. We could see just by looking at her how happy cleaning that space made her. She had been overwhelmed by all the stuff. It was too much for her to process. With the reduction in toys, she was finally able to enjoy what she had.

I’ve had a hard time conveying this to other people (ie my parents) who believe that we are depriving both girls of a childhood by not filling their room to the brim with toys and plastic crap. My parents are of the school of thought that ‘more is better’ and ‘bigger is better’ and ‘spending money is a way to show love.’

The thing is though, as we learned through purging toys, more is not better. When Wildling was little I let her pick out a stuffed animal for her first day of daycare (they were allowed to bring one for naptime). She picked a dog. My brother Ricky came to visit a couple of months later, and he brought her two stuffed dogs. So now she had three dogs, and she liked them. My mom found out that Wilding liked Ricky’s dogs. Instead of being happy that Ricky had good taste in toys, she was upset – she wanted to be the one to give the gift that Wildling became attached to. She wanted to give the favorite stuffed animal. So next time my parents came out to visit, they brought stuffed dogs. Lots of them. One or two new ones for each day of the visit. And they sent her some in the mail. And a couple of months later, they visited again, and again brought lots of dogs. End result? Wildling stopped liking stuffed dogs. She had so many she never played with them again, not even her special school naptime dog. Most of the dogs went in the first stuffed animal purge.

Wildling is happier now with fewer toys, and I think Mellow is too. Neither of them are ever bored, they are infinitely creative, and they always have something to play with, even if what they have to play with is just a household object coupled with imagination.

Not Waldorf Enough

I am getting much better at smiling and pretending the people I’m having conversations with aren’t ridiculous and stupid.

Last night at a party, I was subjected to a diatribe against parents at a Waldorf school who were not ‘Waldorf enough’ for the mom that I was talking to.  She was extremely wound up and angry that another parent from her son’s Waldorf preschool had the nerve to offer her son a lollipop after school.  That’s right, that bastard offered her child a lollipop.  Can you believe it?  Here she thought she was sending her child to a school where everyone has the same values, but a lollipop is made out of sugar and her son hadn’t even had his lunch yet!!!!  And the parent offering the lollipop was a doctor! A doctor who apparently thinks it is appropriate for young children to have candy before lunch!* What is this world coming to?

And some of the parents at the Waldorf school let their children watch television!  And some of the parents just use it like a daycare rather than a preschool.  I guess they just go there because they can afford it, not because they have the Waldorf values (and that’s a direct quote!).

I think tomorrow when I drop off Wildling, I’m going to be on the lookout for parents who aren’t ‘Montessori enough’ for her school, using an arbitrary classification system that I will have to make up.

*I will take back any eye-rolling and criticism of this other mother if I find out that the lollipop in question was the size of a child’s head and the doctor was handing them out daily with a business card attached advertising his/her medical specialty in the field of Pediatric Type II Diabetes