How much time and effort should we, as parents, spend on exposing our children to stuff? And what kind of stuff?
When Emma was 2 1/2 and Sarah was still a baby we all made a trip down to Orillia to visit Mark’s parents. The goal? To bring the eldest to the Toronto Zoo, for the first time ever. It was something we’d been looking forward to for a long time. Real life monkeys! Giraffes! Polar bears! All the animals that stories are made of - and more, regardless of their cuteness factor. (For example, Naked Mole Rats. They make my skin crawl. As do the Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches. Brr. Have I ever mentioned that I find all members of the Crocodylidae family really creepy? But this is neither here nor there.)
So there we were, at the zoo. It was a lovely sunny day. We borrowed a stroller and proceeded to pay a visit to every animal we could.
We bought Emma popcorn - which, as an aside, was mildly burnt - and she became so utterly fixated on that popcorn that she was practically ignoring the animals we’d driven all this way to see. I think we made a mistake by plunking that huge bag down on her lap. She acted as if she hadn’t eaten. Ever.
“LOOK AT THE ELEPHANTS HONEY!” we said, in that high-pitched voice that parents tend to use when (a) trying to get their kids attention and (b) trying to drum up some extra enthusiasm for the subject of their keen observation.
“LOOK! They’re like the ones in your books at home! Look!”
“Emma, LOOK! LOOK! Elephants!”
At the time I remember considering whether the whole excursion had been a waste of time, but in hindsight I don’t think it was. Maybe she didn’t notice the elephants, but she sure did notice the popcorn, and maybe she gleaned a few things from that trip, including the comfort of being wheeled around (because we ditched the stroller when her little sister came along and never looked back). But who really knows what impact - if any - it had on her little elephant-ignoring heart.
It may have been just as worthwhile (and easier) to bring her to the local pet store. She may have been more excited to see goldfish instead of a stinky old elephant. Or maybe in her mind, she didn’t quite understand how cool it is to see an elephant, and how rare a thing it is.
Here’s what I’m thinking: Parenting is work. Sometimes I find it very hard to get off my duff to go somewhere and do something, but do you know what? I am always glad I did. Even that day at the zoo.
I’m willing to argue that the more you put in to parenting, the more you get out of it later on. It’s very easy to stay at home and let your kid learn about goldfish and elephants from the TV. I think it’s important to get out of the house, no matter what. And that “window of interest” is actually pretty small. It doesn’t matter how you do it or how much money you spend, but getting out with the kids to Do Stuff is a must. In fact I bet the best experiences are free. Like feeding the ducks, or just checking out one of the many outdoor spaces your home town has to offer.
You don’t know what they’re going to glean from an outing and how it’s going to shape and change them. Any experience you have with your kids might be the foundation of a lifelong passion.
As the parent of older kids, I look back now and I can say, with confidence, that it was worth it.
Take for example, camping. We started going when they were very small … at which point it was an awful lot of work. But here the thing, they don’t remember how much work it was. They just remember wading in the lake with their boots on, and taking one step too far and getting a soaker. They remember feeding the chipmunks, skipping stones and roasting marshmallows.
All the girls remember is that we’ve been going out and doing fun things as a family, well, forever.
What do you think?
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