One of the biggest sources of guilt for me so far as a mom, is that I don’t feel like I spend enough time with my daughter. I keep telling myself it is because I don’t know how to relate to a toddler, my training is in elementary education, not early childhood- I will be much better when she is a little older, I kept telling myself.. but deep down I was so upset that my meaningful interactions with Tiny were few and far between. Then a little toy store changed my life.
Last weekend, to escape the monotony that is this teeny little apartment, Mr. Wright and I decided to take a mini- vacation to Tucson. It’s only an hour away but we thought a nice hotel with a pool and some decent shopping (our local shopping center is nicknamed “The Hall” because it isn’t big enough to be a mall) was just what we needed. I found a sweet deal on a two room suite (like that?) and packed a few bags- and off we went!
The next morning, we were in our home away from home- the mall. One fun fact about Mr. Wright and I is that we loooooove malls! While most couples look for cool attractions when they visit a place, like forests and geysers and museums and stuff, we are all too happy to while away the hours in a two story building full of the same old stores we have at home; rain or shine. I even have a pinterest board devoted to the malls we have visited, aptly titled “mall rats.” But I digress.
We learned from our research that there were essentially 3 malls in Tucson, one of which we had already been to on a day trip. The other two were still uncharted territory. One was an outlet mall, and one was a fancy shmancy outdoor shopping plaza. We decided to hit that one first. We got to La Encantada and were delightfully surprised at how nice this place was. The décor was adobe and tile, representative of Arizona’s rich Native American culture. And the stores? Let’s just say there is a Tiffany and Co. there.
So anyway, here were were meandering around this gorgeous place, window shopping (cause taxes hadn’t come yet! Haha!) and we came up to this storefront called Mildred and Dildred. The antique-ish teal paint didn’t betray what was housed inside but instead a large sign in the front window which said TOYS!!! did (yes, it had three exclamations.) I looked at Mr. Wright, who was looking at me and we nodded and pushed the stroller inside.
We got inside and I am telling you, this place was amazing… It was like Harry Potter meets FAO Shwartz. There were shelves to the ceiling of toys of ever color, age, and kind. They were divided into sections, books over here, learning tools over there, dress up toward the middle, and house play in the back. And in the back on the left was a table, with open toys that kids (and grown ups) could play with. Tiny was itching in her stroller to get out. Pointing at this and that saying “Wow,” and trying to touch everything we passed. Although she didn’t have shoes on (she never leaves them on) we unclipped her and decided to let her walk around. In seconds she made her way to that table- where all those toys were. My little toddler stood in front of the table playing with these plastic suction cup thingys- she would put one on the table and then pull one out of the basket and put it on top. She didn’t understand what made them stick together, so I got down on my knees and helped her out. I pushed down harder on the top cup thing to make it firmly attach to the other one. She looked at me so excited! How did you do that? Then she grabbed one and firmly attached it this time. Our little tower of suctiony things grew taller and taller and then it flopped over. Tiny took the other floppy end and firmly mashed it into the table! It took me a few minutes to realize it, but I was actually playing with my daughter. I was just as into this toy as she was and she could tell. We were communicating on the same level for what I felt like was the first time. I just looked at her. I wasn’t Mommy at that moment. I was a playmate. I was someone who liked the same things she did. Also, I was now expected to follow the rules of a playmate. Sharing, waiting my turn… all the things that being a mommy might override. It was actually really fascinating. In a few minutes, I found myself following Tiny around the store, seeing the world for the first time through her little eyes. I learned so much about her from watching her walk around in there.
Like how she loves animals, but doesn’t really like birds. She loves to play with housekeeping toys and doesn’t really care for dolls. She gravitates toward the color green. She can count to 2! These are things I would never have known if I hadn’t seen her “in action.”
When we left the store and it was time to get back into the stroller, Tiny screamed bloody murder. Of course she did, who would want to leave a magical place like that? I took that as a good sign as I quickly changed the subject and distracted her with the lemonade in her sippy cup. We left the store and promised each other we would take the kids back there soon.
What that store gave me was new understanding of this whole mommy thing. I realized I don’t always have to be the authoritarian and give commands or teach, or show Tiny things. I don’t even have to direct her learning. Sometimes it’s OK to just plop myself on the floor and listen and watch, or play myself, or better still, let Tiny teach ME. Sometimes it’s okay to spend an hour putting legos into piles by color, or making potato heads with tongues where the eyes should go. Or walking around the room with shoes on our hands… It’s OK. It’s part of learning, but more basically, it is part of being a child.
What Tiny gave me, was a reintroduction to the child that still lives inside me. The one who would have gladly played with toys for hours and never felt guilty about not doing the laundry or vacuuming or making dinner. She showed me the Tiny inside of me. Tiny Mommy.
I would be lying if I said that I spend as much time playing with my daughter as I would like. She has a brother and a Daddy and the three of them have other needs. But what has changed, is that I am not afraid anymore. I know now that I don’t have to be an expert to relate to my daughter. All I have to be is me. The rest will work itself out.