I grew up in a family where there wasn’t money for anything that cost money. We were poor, but my parent’s never let that get in the way of seeing to it that we did fun things.
For entertainment, Dad used to take us out to the airport and let us sit on the hood of the car and watch the planes come in and we loved it. We also used the lid from an old 1940’s washing machine that we had in our basement for a saucer and went sledding in the winter at the local park. We didn’t have swimming lessons, but we had a small above ground pool and I learned how to swim trying to keep up with my older brothers. I didn’t have gymnastic lessons, but my mom helped me learn how to do roundoffs and backflips in the backyard. With no mat. You learn quickly that way.
Sean’s situation is different in that his parents are not young and struggling, like my parents were. Money doesn’t stand in the way of lessons and entertainment but I think sometimes it does stand in the way of creative parenting.
Last summer, I enrolled Sean at a local kid’s gym for a class designed for toddlers. As I was writing the check (that would feed a family of 400 for a year in a third world country) I imagined how much I would have enjoyed it as a toddler since all I had to play with growing up was jet exhaust and washing machine parts. I was sure he would love tumbling on the mats and playing on the miniature balance beam and bars and just running around like a maniac, like he does in my den. As it turns out, what he loved about the gym was trying to dismantle the toilet in the restroom, licking the water fountain, adjusting the audio equipment and peeling off the security sensor tape from the windows. When he wasn’t busy doing that he was busy crying to go home.
The other “fun” thing I’ve signed Sean up for is swimming lessons, which just like the gym, he doesn’t really like too much. But I make him go because he needs to learn that sometimes you need to do stuff you don’t want to. Especially when your mother has paid a lot of money for you to do it. Yesterday was our first swimming lesson after the two-week holiday break and as usual, Sean didn’t want to go and I didn’t particularly want to go either. But we went. There were a lot of tears and whining and kicking, but finally I sucked it up and got in the water.
As we were driving home from swimming, we passed the fire station that is near our house. Sean started hollering “Fatwa! Fatwa!” At first I thought he was issuing some sort of toddler jihad, but after a quick mental search of my Toddler-to-English dictionary, I realized he was saying “fire truck.” Since he had been a good boy at swimming lessons, I indulged him and made an impromptu visit to the fire station.
With wet hair and reeking of pee and chlorine from the baby pool I was as alluring as a bottom-dwelling scavenger fish. Nonetheless, we were welcomed into the firehouse like visiting royalty. A good looking
hunk of beef cake fireman, took Sean and put him up in the fire truck and let him sit behind the wheel and touch stuff until I though he would explode with glee. He was jumping up and down in the seat and wrangling the steering wheel like he was on Wheel of Fortune all the while screaming “Fatwa! Fatwa! Sean drive fatwa!” Later he even got to try on a fireman’s hat and ring the bell on the engine. It was like Christmas and Disney World all rolled into one. And it cost not a dime.
Of course if I’d paid for Sean to sit in the firetruck he would have cried to go home the entire time. I guess the best things in life really are free.