04/23/2012 03:29 EDT | Updated 06/23/2012 05:12 EDT

Paper-Pushing Toddlers


Have you noticed how much kids enjoy the mundane and bureaucratic aspects of life that we grownups hate so much? Pushing buttons, inserting coins, handing over tickets? How when you give them some old business card they hold onto it for dear life, how they go bug-eyed with excitement over old receipts you let them keep? Today on the train, I observed my toddler just vibrate with excitement when a man took his ticket, made a mark on it with a pen and returned it. I was about to take the piece of paper away from the toddler when he looked at me and, with the most solemn and self-important look on his face, said, "Mommy. Don't touch IT. It's MINE."

When I was a little girl in communist Poland, one of my favourite toys was a crappy little "postal office" in a box -- a cardboard fold-out with two cut-out windows, and on the sides a couple of cut-out slits where you were supposed to deposit letters and forms. You wrapped this little contraption around the box ("the office") itself and voilà -- let the bureaucracy begin! Mini envelopes. Forms. So many, many different forms to send packages, to receive packages, to send telegrams (look it up, kids), to send money and receive old-age pensions (for reals). Stamps. Stamps! Stamps! Air mail stickers, play money, stationary, notebooks, notepaper and ink stamps. It was an orgy of officialdom.

Last winter, we went to the Ontario Science Centre. On the kids' level the busiest place by far was the kiddie grocery store. There was total chaos at the cash with big, strong kids shouting and slamming the buttons on the register, pushing each other out of the way to take turn in ringing the less fortunate through. The less fortunate however still enjoyed having to stand in line with their cans of beans and fake bananas and boxes of fake cereal. My kid lined up as well with his little basket of groceries -- we caught each other's eye and he gave me the most resigned, grown-up look. I rushed over to pull him out of the lineup, thinking he'd probably enjoy doing something more interesting (like maybe help with the plumbing or other kiddie house repairs going on right next to the kiddie grocery store?). But as soon as I suggested we leave, he went wild-eyed and screamed, "No, leave me alone!" What was I thinking? So I apologized and I left him to finish his chores.

Because I remember what it was like (that postal office) to be a bureaucratic little goofball, I don't discourage my son's desires to push buttons and paper, pretend-clean and pretend-shop -- I know it makes him feel important and adult-like. Whenever we go to a toy store, I notice his eyes fixating on horrible little toys that mimic our everyday grown-up struggle -- the fake kitchens and fake toolboxes and fake vacuum cleaners. One of his favourite toys ever is a kid-size yellow plastic shopping cart. He likes to fill it with toilet paper and apples, and we play a game called "Mommy-do-you-want-some-bread?" It goes like this: "Mommy do you want some bread?" I say yes and he goes and pretends to buy the bread. Then he says, "Mommy do you want some bread?" And... Well. Yeah.

It's the end of tax season here in Canada. Taxes, as we know, come every year, like that stupid cold that you just have to get before officially starting to enjoy the warm weather. As usual, I've delayed filling my taxes till the last minute and even though it's never as complicated as it used to be when I worked as a freelancer, I have some kind of a block about it (and not an HR block... ba dum tss!). There aren't that many forms to fill and I've only two envelopes to deal with. Still, I wish that there was some way I could channel my toddler's obsession with the establishment and make both of us happy. Because I'd love for someone to give me a nice bath and read me a couple of bedtime stories and then hand me a glass of warm milk with honey before brushing my teeth and putting me to bed, while my son sits in the badly-lit basement punching in numbers on a calculator, ecstatically filling in forms and hoping that we've run out of bread so that he could go to the store before it closes.

Originally published here. Where there's more.