Why Would I Want the Toy, When I Can Have the Box?

It happened in an instant. In the blink of an eye. One moment, a carefree man and husband, my most pressing challenge figuring out how to get in 18 holes of golf and still be on time to make a dinner reservation. The next moment …whoooosh, “WHAAAAAAAA” “It’s a boy!”…a father. That label sounded pretty good to me, “father.” No doubt there was going to be more to fathering than beaming with pride when someone referred to me as such. It was tangibly clear I was able to make a life, but would I be able to make a human being?

I was well-educated with bachelor and master degrees, yet I didn’t recall taking, or even being offered, a parenting or fathering class during all my years of schooling. I wasn’t even required to take a test or get a license to determine my fitness for unarguably the most important task we will ever face: parenting. It was clear I wasn’t at all prepared for the next two decades of child-rearing. But you know what? When I looked down at my beautiful baby boy, and he looked up me with those little tiny trusting eyes, I was pretty sure I could fake him out for a few months while I worked on it.

Seventeen years, and two boys later, I can say I have figured it out. At least some parts. Although the answer wasn’t so much to “figure it out,” as it was to “let it be.” What I mean is this. Starting at about age three I noticed a trend. My son’s happiness and attention span wasn’t set in motion when he was playing with conventional and commercial toys and games, but stemmed from situations and circumstances — quasi-activities if you will — embedded in the everyday routine. Furthermore these so-called activities were facilitating parent-child bonding. And most extraordinary was the byproduct of these seemingly meaningless and trivial pursuits, that of child development: So what did this all mean?

Without a doubt Nature has programmed our children for success. So it follows that their instincts drive them towards actions that will best serve their interests. And what have we done? We circumvent this natural process by buying every contrived game and toy we can afford. How many parents have witnessed their child turning a plain box into a play object, game or toy? It's practically a universal phenomenon, yet the majority of us dismiss this behavior as purposeless. We push the toy that came in the box back in front of the child, confused by their behavior, and determined to make sure the expensive purchase doesn’t go to waste. Better we let it be and let Nature takes its course. This scenario can be witnessed time and again in other venues.

I am in a home improvement store to find a part to fix a faucet. I find the part but my children find curiosity in all the thousands of products lining the aisles. Instead of the conventional, knee-jerk reaction of, “we need to get home,” we spend 2-3 hours exploring, learning, bonding, and having a ball. This became a regular outing that rivaled any amusement park. Another example. We are taking a walk and happen upon a vacant lot with a huge dirt pile where they are building a home. My children run over to play. Conventional response: “You’ll get dirty,” or “Come on, let’s go.” Instead, I encourage them. They spend hours playing on the hill advancing their imaginations and physical fitness. And another. I am cleaning up the kitchen, but my children are “un-cleaning” it. They are dragging out plastic containers. They proceed to build skyscrapers, beat on them with wooden spoons, trap a bug… “Hey, please put…never mind.”

I found more than one-hundred examples like these in the everyday, cost-free routine. No doubt you will come across your own unique situations on almost a daily basis. Don’t fight them because of convention or time constraints. Embrace them. Now if you will excuse me I have a date play a round of golf…with sticks, a handy round object, in the backyard, with my children.

About the Author
Rex Bowlby is the father of two boys. He is the author of the book,Why Would I Want the Toy, When I Can Have the Box? (101 Ways To Make the Most of Your Children, With the Least From Your Wallet) *For parents with children ages 3-8. www.whytoybook.com. He lives in Los Angeles, California, USA.

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