That Can Do Spirit

Being a parent of a toddler is hard work — no one who’s ever seen, heard or smelled a toddler would argue with that. But it doesn’t have to be as difficult as we modern parents tend to make it. Respite can come from an unexpected place…the toddlers themselves.

Looking to lessen my own stress and find some solutions, I recently completed a Parenting Preschoolers class, taught by the fine folks at PEP. In this class (and the many others offered), instructors champion a philosophy that expands how most of us view a child’s role in everyday life. And it doesn’t include a remote or an iPad.

Nowhere is this more apparent than PEP’s CAN DO KIDS FAIR. This annual event (for children 3-10) showcases PEP’s ideas on parenting, putting them into live, kid-operated action. This year’s Fair took place just a couple of weeks after I completed my class, so it was a great opportunity to practice all these new Daddy skills… and hopefully spend a Saturday afternoon getting JJ good and tired.

I’ll admit it was overwhelming at first. Held in a nearby church’s education building, every room on every floor was packed with parents, kids, instructors and volunteers busily trying or explaining a different activity.

We headed to the first of three floors, and not surprisingly I led us to the painting station. I was a little shocked to find it wasn’t full of easels and finger paints. I was even more shocked to watch my three year-old not only roller paint, but also drill a hole in drywall and then spackle over it. Yes, I used the words “3 year-old” and “drill a hole” in the same sentence. It was pretty amazing — and a little frightening — but he was flanked by a PEP volunteer and Papa, and was being given simple, clear instructions. And he was, of course, loving it.

Drill, baby, drill!

From there we went to the woodworking room, where participants built a boat while learning how to hammer, screwdrive and other basic construction techniques (no band saws just yet). JJ needed a little more help than the older kids, and the safety goggles would have fit him better as a belt, but together he and I ended up with a pretty cool craft. The butterfly stickers added a particularly nautical touch.

If I had a hammer… Oh wait, I do!

Up one flight, instructors were demonstrating bike maintenance, recycling, gardening and numerous other cool projects (making a fruit-kabob looked pretty tasty), but JJ was immediately drawn to the supermarket station. Almost since birth, JJ has been accompanying Papa on the weekend shopping trip, so this was his turf. I lost count, but he probably ran his toy cart through the store 4 or 5 times, collecting any and every item he could load up. Then it was on to the checkout counter to “beep” them all. At one point he went behind the register to help the (very patient) volunteer “beep” other customers.

It took some persuasion to get out of the grocery store, but the promise of more activities seemed to do the trick. However, JJ was getting close to critical mass — we knew our time was limited and we needed something low key to finish out the Fair.

The top floor was abuzz with domesticity: youngsters busily ironing, folding clothes, learning to sew and all manner of helpful home chores. But after stopping to introduce JJ and Papa to the instructor and other parents from my class, we ducked out of this more hectic environment to a side room where they were teaching table setting. This was my favorite moment of the day.

A Family Affair: The son of my classmate Christine, is receiving sweeping lessons from the daughter of our instructor Linda.

Initially it was my favorite because Papa and I got to sit down! They had a larger “adult” table for the older kids, but they put JJ at a kiddie table with a young volunteer, probably 9 or 10. She proceeded to tell a tale of a king, a queen, a castle and a moat, using each piece of the place setting to illustrate the story, and elements of the story to teach where each item went. While I thought this was a clever way to teach a rather mundane task, I wasn’t sure how helpful this was going to be to our kiddo.

After the story ended, the girl asked JJ if he wanted to tell the story. He resolutely grabbed the knife and declared, “This Superman!” Ugh, none of it had stuck. But the young lady was wise beyond her years and quick on her feet; she picked up the spoon and said, “And this is Lois Lane!” She retold the tale, substituting the castle/plate with the Fortress of Solitude, the fork became Batman, and our Super Boy was immediately sucked back in.

Okay, enough princesses. Where are the superheroes?

JJ was still a bit young to pick up the skill in one short lesson, yet it was the 9 year-old’s patience and ingenuity that gave me hope for our little ball of emotion and energy. The promise of what we could teach — and allow — JJ to accomplish… that was my favorite part. And I liked the superhero story better, too.

At that point JJ was slipping into crankypants mode, so we slipped out of the Fair. But not before running into a couple of PEP’s    Executive Director Cheryl Wieker and Board President Trish Pannuto, who were there to take our photo and give JJ a balloon. I had met Trish already, just not in person. It was she who jumped in to Tweet her help a few weeks prior when we tried 31 times before getting JJ to stay in bed. I won’t bore you with that saga again, but you can read all about it here.

As we’d hoped, JJ fell asleep in the car during the 5-minute drive home… with a boat in his lap, a balloon in his hand, and a whole new skill set in his dreamy, tuckered-out head.

We Came, We Saw, We Can Did.

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Check out a few more photos from the Can Do Kids Fair on Designer Daddy’s Facebook page.

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