Toddler logic

Yesterday A and I went for our first summer hike; or so I had planned.

In fact we threw some rocks into water.

Then, we rambled around in these woods for a while.

In total, we traveled less than a half mile, which is fine. It has to be. While last year my nature baby and I had endless (low-angle) summer adventures, nature toddler and I might spend a little more time at the park.

Don’t get me wrong: This little girl travels fast and she travels far, but that’s kind of the problem. Wherever we go, she wants to get there with her own two feet. My baby backpack and list of adventures have been rendered useless; I am setting them aside.

Baby A narrows and expands my world in a way that is hard for me to explain. It takes us forever to get outside, but once we are there she shows me an entire world that exists in the length of our driveway. Because of her I finally paused long enough on a warm day last fall to hear the popping sound of lupine seedpods bursting their ballistic seams. I had waited to hear that sound for years.

When I became a parent my friend S told me about the idea of flow. Flow, she said, is a parent’s ticket to enjoying their child. Find that state of flow with baby A, and you’ll have a great time.

Dr. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the Hungarian-American researcher who first coined the term, describes flow as the intersection of your interests and talents; that thing that happens when you are challenged but perfectly at ease; the space between anxiety and boredom; that zone where hours tick by like minutes. “Hard work is fun,” my friend’s dad likes to say. That’s flow

I know the feeling of flow: It’s why I write. It’s why I refuse to clean during naps. Only one problem: Flow requires quiet time and working through challenges toward an attainable goal. Parenting is really more about trying to stay sane and focused enough to get dinner made despite the day careening endlessly toward chaos. This precious flow state-of-mind is exactly what became scarce when A came into my world; so it’s strange to think about how to find flow in the days A and I spend together.

Despite the comment from my friend S, parents reportedly spend very little time in flow; especially when they are with children. Jennifer Senior talks about this loss of flow among parents in her book, All joy and no fun.

Missing flow is what sends some of us scrambling for childcare and headed back to work before the end of our maternity leave. It’s all true. But as I read I remembered what S had said, and thought, No no, no. Something is wrong here.

The biggest misconception I had before I became a parent is I thought the day would be spent as I wanted and my child would also be there. Instead, it’s the opposite: A spends the day as she wants to, and I am also there. Finding happiness in the trajectory of my day depends on linking my sense of flow with my kid’s. Flow happens; but it’s her flow.

Toddler flow, of course, is based on toddler logic: Always do whatever is the most fun in the moment and accept no substitute. Scribble all over the wall with this highlighter? Check. Walk off the edge of the meadow and into the lake? Check. Don’t trust them. Ever.

There are also beautiful life’s lessons to be learned from toddler flow: Like leave no puddle un-stomped.

Try on large shoes at every opportunity – why wouldn’t you?

Sit on every bench; especially if there are snacks to be had.

In a state of toddler flow, I have very little say about what we do with our day. I just drive the car.

I can plan from afar, but when the day’s adventure arrives fun requires complete and total surrender of my expectations. As long as I have no expectations, it is fun. Super fun.

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