April 18, 2008

If You Want To View Paradise ...

Once upon a time there was a living room filled with nothing but a comfortable couch, a coffee table, a few pieces of artwork and a large TV. These days, though, that couch is covered in toys. And that coffee table is covered in toys. And those pieces of artwork are covered in toys. And that TV is covered in—well, you get the picture (but I don't because it's covered in toys).

At 9 months old, Ella has effectively collected nearly 7 billion plastic playthings. Some of them were gifts. Some of them were hand-me-downs. Some of them, my wife says, "Must have appeared out of thin air"—though a drawer full of Toys R Us receipts begs to differ. I'm pretty sure that if we liquidated Ella's Fischer Price collection we could retire, move somewhere on the Pacific Coast and still have enough cash leftover to support an unhealthy gambling problem.


The chief issue here isn't even that our baby has too many toys (though she does); it's that she doesn't care about them. She ignores them. Slinky? Pass. Building blocks? No thanks. Spinning Wheel that Makes Animal Noises? Ba-humbug. It's as if she'd already outgrown them all.
So what does she want? I'll tell you, but you better sit down and brace yourself for this shocking revelation:

She wants to be picked up and placed inside a $5.99 blue Rubbermaid tub. And no, I am not making this up.

When my folks first told me about the phenomenon, I laughed. It had to be a joke. They'd watched her for a couple of hours one night and placed her in the tub for "funnzies," and, according to one independent observer (my mom), she took to it like my wife took to Rico the Snoogle. But my parents, like any set of parents who have been promoted to grandparents, can be goofy sometimes, so I chalked up Ella's initial enjoyment to just playing with grandma and grandpa. Yet two mornings later I found my wife on the floor and Ella back in the tub.

"What can I say, she wanted in," Brittany said. "She's been squatting and slowly raising her head, playing peek-a-boo with me all morning. It may be the cutest thing I've ever seen." (And that says a lot, as my wife sees about 17 cute things a day.)

Over the next two weeks we spent a majority of our time at home playing in the Rubbermaid tub, exiting only for feedings, diaper changes, baths and drool mop-ups. Ella'd disappear for minutes at a time, then suddenly peek two eyes over the rim. We'd occasionally throw toys in the tub for her, but she'd lean down, pick them up and remove them like a taxi driver cleaning out his cab.

I didn't know what all the hubbub was about, so I figured there was only one way to find out: I got in the bin. It was a tight squeeze, sure, but after 20 minutes of bending, folding and dislocating parts of my body, I made it. I also learned a valuable lesson: Always pee before entering a Rubbermaid tub.

So I got out, peed, and got back in again. As I sat there surrounded in a sea of blue walls, I tried to envision why Ella enjoyed this so much. Maybe she loves the tub because it feels like her own little kingdom. Maybe it allows her privacy that's tough to come by when you're 9 months old. Maybe she's preparing for life in a cubicle. Who knows? Or maybe, just maybe, it gives her imagination a chance to run wild—and each time she enters there's a new adventure to be had.

Whatever the reason, this experiment made me realize something that Ella has already learned in her young life: You don't need fancy toys to have a good time. You don't need to spend ungodly amounts of money. You don't even need to leave the house. All you need is a little imagination.

And maybe a $5.99 blue Rubbermaid tub.

The Life of Dad is updated every other Friday (barring the call of family duties). Thanks for stopping by and following my attempts to be a good dad, husband and co-ed softball player. I hope you visit again. -- Brian