Reflections on a toddler granddaughter's playtime

October 4, 2011

There are so many wonderful images of a toddler grandchild today that you can enjoy. For one, it’s great that none of those images involve high-tech equipment, which is a big relief at our age. Plenty of time for that when it is needed; once those toddlers hit their tweens and teens, this will come in handy when you need them to program your car and home.

But right now you can sit back and relax as these toddlers hit the end of their first-year stride and head into the twos; you can indulge yourself in simpler memories and times.

The plastic riding horse, at first glance, appeared worn and frayed. If it were real, it would have been put out to pasture long ago.

Now the color of its coat is hard to conceive; perhaps a yellow or brownish hue remains. Years of being left out in the elements or being ridden over stones and asphalt have left the wheels torn, sticking out like bone spurs.

The face of the horse can be faintly made out, bulging eyes and a fake plastic mane. The plastic horse has a wide mouth, showing large teeth with just a hint of red lips.

But the child never gives the horse’s frailty a care, treating it instead like a pot of gold. It is a new friend that is just high enough for her to swing her leg up and over and to sit in the saddle and roll forward and backward. To the toddler, this is a miracle.

Together the plastic horse and the rider will have many hours of rolling through pastures, actually mom’s kitchen. They will hit the trails together, actually mom’s wooden floors. And sometimes they will sleep under the stars, actually the hallway light.

Eventually, the plastic horse will give way to a tricycle, then a bike, and finally the unthinkable, a car.

Although the toddler’s horse will rest for awhile in attics, closets and basements, it will never be put totally away. These are the toys that are handed down, never to fade away or become outdated.

They live to ride again for some other 2-year-old.

But the amusement doesn’t have to be large. The box is usually more interesting than what is contained inside.

The toddler loves to put things into other things. Sometimes it is just a series of plastic cups, one fitting over the other. Stacking is a major activity. Pegs go into round holes and different pegs go into square holes.

This can go on for hours; often this is accompanied by a lot of play talk as the struggle to understand concepts and images starts on its journey in what we think is a little mind, but what we now know is more of a powerful engine just waiting to be kick-started.

Toddlers still like to push things too, especially if the item has a lot of bells and whistles. I have a miniature plastic shopping cart that has seen better days. It’s been left out in the rain, stuck in the garage under a pile of rugs and fallen into the pool more times than I care to remember. It is pink and blue with some kind of torn netting at the bottom.

And yet it holds days of fun for a toddler pushing it around and around. Teddy bears are given a ride. Note cards are thrown inside. More stuffed animals find themselves atop the grouping. Perhaps a monkey or a tiny finger puppet hangs out the side. Collecting stuff comes naturally at that age.

Yes, grandmothers have the gift of spoiling the toddler. But that gift doesn’t have to be bought in a store. Instead it is good old-fashioned creativity and something called playing. I was fortunate to be able to indulge myself this month.

  • Nancy Katz has a degree in creative writing and is the author of the book, "Notes from the Beach." She has written the column Around Town for the Cape Gazette for twenty years. Her style is satirical and deals with all aspects of living in a resort area on Delmarva.

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