We took the kids to Disney on Ice a few weeks ago. We made a whole day of it. The plan? Take the train into the city, catch the show, grab dinner and head back home. We had anticipated some issues with LadyBug, who is not known for her attention span. What we did not account for was Bug bursting into tears the minute the opening music began and begging to go home. We knew our little guy was sound sensitive, but hadn’t yet had to deal with the level of horror he displayed that afternoon. The combination of lights, colors and crowds just sent his sound sensitivity over the top. We left during intermission and took the kids out for pizza. Big Guy looked pissed.
On the way home, I asked Bug if he had a nice time. He said, “Yeah, but I didn’t like that show part.” Big Guy muttered something about the $150 we had spent on tickets. I joked that we could have just taken the train, bought some popcorn (the highlight of the show for LadyBug), eaten pizza and headed home. Here’s the deal: the kids both had a great time. And, other than 45 minutes of stress at the show (Bug spent maybe 10 minutes in the room and the rest walking around with his dad), so did I. If you were to ask him today, I think Big Guy would admit to having some fun as well.
There are adventures I want to have with my kids. The zoo, apple picking, the theater, general travel, the beach, and so on. I have fond memories of those types of activities when I was young. But I have learned something very important about parenting. You cannot decree what your children are going to take away from the experiences or what they’re going to enjoy. A friend recently told me the story of taking a young child to Sesame Street live. Although he was a big fan of Elmo, all he wanted to do was play with the flip-down seats. Sure, it’s a lot of money to spend to play with the furniture, but he had a wonderful time. Isn’t that what counts?
As adults, we have been trained to believe in one right answer. I think of Bug’s physical therapist who gently chided him for putting a nose on the top of Mr. Potato Head rather than a hat. For young children, the world is a magical place. Everything is new. Letting them take the lead in deciding how to enjoy a family adventure is a great way to encourage creativity and innovation. On the other hand, trying to force your own vision of a good time on your children is a recipe for disaster. This is even more important if you have a child like Bug, who experiences the world in just a slightly different way than the rest of us.
The next time you take your kids out and things don’t go as planned, just try to roll with it. Try to find the wonder in new places and experiences. Sitting in a car repair shop could be heaven for a young child if mom and dad aren’t too grumpy to enjoy it, too. Let go of your own preconceptions about how someone should enjoy a particular experience. After all, you are NOT the fun police.