We walk a lot. Mostly we walk to get from one place to another. Namely, from our house to 1. The grocery store 2. The Parenting Center 3. The park 4. The Children’s Library 5. The bakery for a berry brioche.

I put both kiddlets in my beloved double stroller, and off we go. I walk at a deliciously adult pace, blithely ignoring all but a small fraction of the interesting things we walk through. Often the Toddler asks to walk, and I let her out on the condition that she actually walk, as in keep walking. “We actually need to get to the ______.” I say in my oh-so-important-grown-up-voice. This more or less makes no difference, by the way. If she’s out of the stroller, we’re meandering. But with an impatient mama. Which is annoying to both of us. And then I am constantly looking for an opportunity to get her back into the stroller. Oh wickedness.

So, at least once or twice a week, I try to make sure we take a Kid Walk. This means, I go out the door with nothing in mind. No place to get, no thing to do. She gets to be the leader. I follow and make my best effort to be half as interested in the world as she is. Occasionally, if she’s in a running mood, we might make it around the block. Other times we don’t make it to the end of our street.

I don’t get to say any kind of hurry things until it’s time to turn around. In fact, I try not to say much of anything. For her to truly lead us, I have to keep my trap shut with all the grown-up leading questions I might ask safely inside. Once out the door and on the sidewalk, I try hard not to ask which direction she wants to go, that would imply we need to go a direction. I just wait, and watch.

Lise of In the Purple House has been doing a series on getting outside every day with kids. I have really been enjoying it! She’s got a great way of expressing the wonder kids have for the world. I suspect she finds it easy to play with kids this way, just as My Man does. But for the record, and to encourage any other mamas out there like myself, I will admit to the fact that I don’t. I find it really very difficult to slow down to kid-pace. I get bored. Yes, I will admit it, playing bores me. My mind wants to keep jumping around to Things I Could and Should Be Doing. It fidgets. It plans. It fantisizes. Anything to keep out of the subject at hand, which is to say– the here and now.

All the more reason, right? It’s not just like meditation, it is meditation. If I could do it, that is. If I could really slow down and open my soulself up to the world the way my babes do. But it’s good practice. Maybe someday… though my life only seems to spiral away from that quiet place.

Although I like to think I would have come to the Kid Walks on my own, I must credit a good friend for the idea of an unspoken follow-the-leader game. When the Toddler hit two (err, I mean, Two) and the epic, twice daily, 40 minute screaming sessions commenced like clockwork, I pled for advice of any kind. And my best mama advisor, who thinks in a very ’cause not symptom’ kind of way, recommended doing “even just 15 minutes a day” of imitating the Toddler. Reversing the roles we usually play. Watching her every move, and trying to follow suit. I loved the idea. Made perfect sense to me that her screaming fits had to do with feeling powerless, and therefore anything I could do to help her feel powerful would be great.

But oh! How can it be so hard?!?! I never even came close to fifteen minutes a day. I did however try to infuse my general parenting with a sense of following her lead whenever possible. And the Walks. Somehow I find it a bit easier to follow when we are outside. More to distract my high-needs brain I guess.

And did it help? Who knows. Maybe? Her twice daily fits did fade out after about a month. Now they’re more occasional. But like I said, considering how inconsistently I managed to pull it off, I’m not sure I can credit the following game.

What I know for sure is, she loves it. And I do too, after the sluggish/forceful start, and before the squirrel-brain-boredom, I do get to share a few moments of blissful wonder. Absolutely worth it.

Cautionary Note: Kid Walks involve a lot of NOT walking.

Of Toys and Not Toys

the hangin' bar

Just saw one of Riana’s old posts with a little video about kids and consumerism. Holy Crapola! I forget how extreme that all is, we lead such a sheltered life. I feel wicked enough setting the toddler down in front of a video once a day (ever since she stopped napping at 1 1/2!) I forget how much of America exposes their little kiddos to several hours a day of commercial laden TV. The toddler doesn’t know yet how bad off she is, with only a few baskets of toys, mostly second hand. She’ll figure it out though, TV or no TV. I grew up with hippie parents and all thrift stored clothes and toys, and it didn’t take very many years of school (even though it was an alternative school) to become mortally embarrassed by our lack. Sad but true. I did at least grow out of it, eventually.

We have a few baskets of little fidgety toys which mostly just get dumped on the floor and kicked around. And she has some larger toys that she seems to get more use out of– a plastic kitchen she plays with a lot, a little table and chairs (a real favorite, definitely worth the money and space), a rocking bear she never uses that I need to just get rid of, and a couple of riding plastic thingies. Oh, and some art supplies and leggos which she gets into now and then. But her favorite thing to play, hands down, is jump on the Big Bed with mama or, especially papa. She and papa can spend an hour on the bed, jumping, hiding under pillows, making a tent out of the sheet, or just pretending stuff. This seems to be her most fertile grounds for imaginary play, which she has just recently gotten way into. She has no qualms about size or relativity yet. Any item can be any other item. A pillow might be a boat, or a spoon. Once I put my fingers a certain way and said, look, it’s a giraffe (which it really in no way resembled), and ever since she asks one of us to “make a jaf” at least once a day.

Then there’s the things that weren’t meant to be toys. Tools are one of the toddlers faves. Especially the tape measure (although it would be the saw if I’d let her). I generally let her explore anything that’s not going to hurt her. In the kitchen I leave the bottom shelves for things that can’t get broken– tupperwares, mixing bowls, canned food. She really likes the cans, which she can stack like blocks. My yoga ball (never once used for yoga) had it’s day, when I was pregnant, and she needed to get out her rough-house energy. I’d sit on the couch, pinch it between my knees, and hold her hands while she jumped up and down on it, squealing.

I heard somewhere that the humble stick recently made it into the international museum of toys in New York. Ha! I hope they got sand, dirt, water and string in there too. Oh, maybe string is considered too dangerous for a toy nowadays.

Anyway, shortly after watching the kids and consumerism video, the toddler started trying to hang off the edge of the desk and then with a bright look in her eye said “I want to hang on my hangin bar!” The ‘hanging bar’ was an idea I had several months ago when she started trying to hang off of everything in sight, most of which was not made for hanging on. It’s just a sturdy dowel, hung with some rope from two screws on either side of the doorway to the kitchen (we just hang it up when she asks for it, ‘cuz, yes, it does block the doorway) This turned out to be one of my most brilliant mama manouvers ever, turning a problem behavior into a fun, healthy game, which also helps work out some extra energy.

This set me to thinking, let’s us mamas pool our brilliance. What toys do you find yer kiddos actually play with? What regular household items have been reborn as toys? What’s yer best yet mama manouver?