Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Toddler Inertia

I'd meant to blog about this topic with all of the other vacation posts, but didn't quite get around to it. And that's okay, because it's equally as applicable to everyday life: toddler inertia.*

I guess it stuck out to me on vacation, however, because I wasn't really expecting it. I mean, who argues when someone says, "Let's go build (and destroy) sand castles at the beach!" The correct answer, of course, is that Eleanor does. At length, and at great volume, and with various kicks and pouts.

It's one thing when she does it at home. It has become so hard to get her out of the house. Even to do something (pick out new library books, go to the playground, visit friends down the street, etc.) that she said she wanted to do 2 minutes ago. But when it comes down to actual movement, she balks. She stalls. She doesn't want to stop doing whatever it is she's doing at that very moment. Even if she's just playing with a piece of cardboard. Or, as she was the other morning, carrying around a raw baking potato so she could do a "potato dance."

(The key, Eleanor informed me, is that in a potato dance you just jump straight up and down. There is no forward leaping in a potato dance.)

If she's wearing a nightgown, she won't put on clothes. If she's in the living room, she doesn't want to play in the attic playroom. If she's reading books in her room, she doesn't want to go downstairs, even if it's already 9:30am and she hasn't eaten breakfast yet.

I suppose, if I were trying to put a positive spin on it, I could talk about how this shows that she is living in the moment, not always looking to the past or the future. She has embraced the Now so fully that she can't think or do past this very moment. She's already a Zen master and she's not even 3!

Except, I don't really think that's true. I think she's stubborn. Which is why she'll fight to stay put, no matter how boring her current activity and how exciting the proffered one. That is what I learned on vacation. It's not just that she doesn't want to do boring, everyday activities like grocery shopping or doctor's appointments. She also doesn't want to do ... exactly what she wants to do?

A few months ago, I felt bad because I'd pretty much ignored her for the better part of a week while I frantically tried to prepare for the start of the summer semester. So, once my online class was under control, I told her that tomorrow was going to be an Eleanor/Mommy day and we could do whatever she wanted. What did she want to do?

After talking about a few different options, she eventually decided that she wanted me to run with her, in the jogging stroller, to a nearby playground where we could play and have a picnic snack outside. It sounded great to me! I made the mistake of getting excited about our plans. And then, the next morning, I couldn't get her out of the house. After wheedling and cajoling for over half an hour to get her to please put down the book she's already "read" a million times and participate in the activities she has chosen for herself, I gave up. We sat and read the books.

Obviously, sometimes I have to fight the inertia. If we need to be somewhere, I have to suck it up and drag her out the door somehow. But it's the other times, when activities are really optional, that I can't figure out what to do. Won't she be glad, in the end, if we go? Is it really worth the fight? Doesn't she need new people and activities? Or should I just give in and, in situations where it doesn't matter, just do what she wants to at that moment? Even if it is her fifth tuber twirl?

Right now, I think I probably split it down the middle. Sometimes I stand my ground and force her to have fun, dammit. And sometimes, when I'm really tired and it's been a long week, I just sigh and throw my hands up and hand over the potato. No forward progress for that day, just jumping in place.

* For the record, Keith and I disagree about who first coined the term "inertia" for Eleanor's behavior. Because it's such an apt term, we both think it's ours. Of course, I'm the one with the blog, so I think in the end, I'll get credit:) But to be fair, I thought I should mention the disputed ownership.

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