The busyness of toddlers amazes me. Their short attention spans, high energy and curiosity sends them whirling from one activity to the next so fast that it makes my head spin. No wonder they need a nap in the middle of the day to recharge.
Recently, while watching two-year-old JoJo, I took notes on her activity for one hour. Here’s an hour in the life of a toddler.
A few minutes after mom left, JoJo grabs her yellow, plastic bat out of the toy bin. She frantically looks around for a big plastic softball, and upon finding it throws the ball to the floor with all the authority her little body can muster. Then, she slams the bat against the ball, repeatedly giving the softball the biggest beat down I’ve ever seen. JoJo, a small but mighty toddler, is clearly a force to be reckoned with.
In the midst of giving her softball the business, she grabs the ball and tosses it into her tent. JoJo runs in after it, and I hear the bat wildly hitting things. With all the thumping, I’m afraid to look inside to see what other casualties may be in the tent.
To my relief, JoJo soon emerges carrying an overstuffed teddy bear that’s as big as she is and shoves it into her cardboard carriage. The cardboard carriage is big enough for her to run in and out of, and has some marker scribbles where she’s decorated the outside.
Once the bear is secure, JoJo runs back outside, grabs her drum sticks, raids her mini kitchenette and rushes back inside the carriage. I guess the teddy bear must be hungry.
It sounds like her and the bear are jamming. She counts “1, 2…” and smacks her drumsticks off each other. Before I have a chance to think about how cute she is for counting down to her drum solo, she rushes back out with her drumsticks in hand, gives her drum exactly two solid whacks and tosses the drumsticks aside. Solo over. Mic drop.
There’s a brief second where neither of us are sure what she’ll do next, but she stumbles into her mower and decides to mow the section of carpet not covered in toys. It’s at this moment that I realize how many toys are strewn about the room, pretend food, stuffed animals, the bat and ball, instruments… Everything had been picked up when I’d arrived a few minutes ago. How does such a small child make such a big mess?
My thought process is broken as JoJo stoops down to inspect the mower, giving the impression that she’s well past her two years of age and fixing a problem with the blades. Once satisfied that the mower is running properly, she and the mower disappear into the carriage and out the other side. I think that she’ll spin back around toward me, but she pauses to hit random gadgets on the busy board grandpa made for her and sing “Mow mow! Mow mow!”
Her eyes wander the room and land on a stuffed unicorn. She rushes toward the pink unicorn like it’s the thing she wants most in the world. And I guess, given her age, it is. The unicorn stands at JoJo’s chest, and she rides it saying “Neigh. Neigh.” JoJo dismounts to hug a small stuffed panda (adorable) and moves on to her rocking horse still saying, “Neigh. Neigh.” She goes from the pink unicorn and the rocking horse a few more times before settling on the unicorn. She walks with it between her legs, happily carrying on a conversation in what must be unicorn language because I don’t understand.
She abruptly stops to dump over a basket of toys. I’m guessing the unicorn told her to do it. Then JoJo climbs into the basket and sits with her legs outstretched reading a book. “Choo Choo” must be the same in human and unicorn language.
“All done,” she announces, laying the book aside. She lied. She immediately picks the book back up and continues reading where she left off. This sequence continues while I slyly scoop up her pretend food and put the kitchenette back in some semblance of order.
Noticing that my attention is not completely focused on her, JoJo comes over, sits on my lap and gives me her dinosaur book to read. She adorably roars along with the book as I try to think back to when I was in second grade and knew how to pronounce more dinosaurs than just the T-rex, which was the only dinosaur not in her book. I chastise myself for not watching the most recent Jurassic Park movie.
I finish butchering the names in the book, and she proclaims “all done” to my relief. However, my relief is short-lived as she grabs another small bucket of toys and brings it over. Where did these come from? I seriously have no idea, but the bucket contains two wind-up toys.
I forgot how much fun windup toys could be! We windup a dancing guy and a spinning elephant. I dance along with the dancing guy and encourage JoJo to do the same. She gives me a look that says, “don’t be so juvenile” but decides to humor me and shakes her hips exactly four times. Clearly a pity dance, but I’ll take it!
While I’m winding up the dancing man for the fourteenth time, JoJo gets distracted by her wooden train set and begins to take apart the tracks on the table and lay them on the floor. She interlocks some parts of the track and not others. Neither of us are sure why the tracks need to be reconfigured, but it seems very important to her that three or four pieces of track are moved to the floor immediately.
She soon gives up, stumbles over the pieces on the floor and proceeds to play with the train on the untouched portion of the tracks. When she gets to the part of the track that she destroyed, she is momentarily upset that her train track has been removed and then decides to dismantle her train and gently pushes the cars under the bridge one by one. I hand the train cars back to her, and she pushes them under the bridge again. We do this for a while.
Just when I start to think, wow this is really holding her attention for a long time, she spins around, throws her leg over the rocking horse and takes off toward the foyer. I don’t want her in the foyer because it’s close to the stairs and out of my sightline.
In my experience, the best way to get a toddler to stay in the play area is to make them want to stay in the play area. Telling them not to venture outside the play are or putting up a gate tends to cause meltdowns, so I opt to pretend to make a cup of coffee in JoJo’s kitchenette.
It works like a charm. She dismounts the rocking horse and comes over for her drink. “More,” she says. I reach to take the cup to make more pretend coffee, but she stumbles over me, pulls up her stool and puts her cup in the play microwave. “Beep. Beep.” she says, pushing the buttons. Then she steps off the stool, stares at the microwave and makes sounds like “bzzzzzz,. bzzzzzzz, bzzzzz.” Once satisfied, she climbs back on her stool, gets the cup out of the microwave and offers it to me.
“Oh, thank you, JoJo,” I say. “Yum! This is the best.” I must have sounded sincere because she makes me another cup and invites me into her carriage by holding open the door and saying, “In!”
I join the large teddy bear as well as two smaller stuffed animals in the carriage. JoJo comes in with her train book and sits down. She holds the book away from her, so that the animals and I can see the pictures and reads to us. “Choo Choo [incoherent babbling] Choo Choo.”
After the last page (or close to the last page), she slams the book shut and announces “All done!” And thus ends an hour in the life of a two-year-old. Toddler life is messy, distracting and a flurry of unfocused energy, but hanging out with JoJo was the sweetest part of my day.