Toddler Without a Cause

“Here, look at this one! It turns foot odor into chocolate!”

“I want to do another one.”

“How about this — you can build a tower out of ostrich eggs and then watch them collapse into a big scrambly mess!”

“I want to do another one.”

“Upside-down brain—“

“Another one!”

* * *

You’d think I’d have learned this lesson by now, to wit:

When my child of the bizarrely long attention span can only spend four seconds at each station of the hands-on science museum, when even the act of enveloping daddy in a tube of pure bubble is not enough to send her into raptures of the giggles, then something’s wrong.

Usually, Boobaby’s loss of vim points to a biological lack: not enough food, not enough sleep, not enough diaper craplessness. As we strolled the Exploratorium today, though, I was sure all those bases were covered. (I long ago lost all compunction about public diaper checks.) Nonetheless: fussy, sad Boobaby, who soon became fat-lip Boobaby after whacking her face against a railing.

Well, that was enough of that. We ditched the museum for the great outdoors, and Boobaby stopped fussing completely. We sat on a lawn by the ocean, freighters cruising under the Golden Gate Bridge in front of us. We munched sandwiches. Boo spent forty-two minutes solid (seriously, I timed it) chasing birds away from the puddle they’d commandeered into a bird bath, then chasing them back again, pausing only briefly, of course, to chat with a couple of boys. (About four and six years old — Boo’s favorite ages.)

It turns out that all along Boobaby had just needed to maneuver into plain adventure mode: no agenda, no exhibits or classes or reading circles, just plain play. Memo to myself: at least once a week, “plan” an “unplanned” day.

In the end, clueless ol’ me figured out what Boo had needed all along: not food, not sleep, but freedom.