I always worry when we leave our home-base in Chicago that my toddler won’t have enough toys and books to keep her stimulated and occupied. We can only fit so many toys in a suitcase for her, and if we are traveling for more than a month or two I know she will quickly grow bored, and generally outgrow, her toys. As my daughter is now 14 months old, I’ve finally realized that she isn’t going to be worse off because she doesn’t have a constant supply of toys, and in fact may even be better off because of it.
We left Chicago on January 15th with Veda’s favorite books and toys that filled half her suitcase (the other half was occupied by clothes and cloth diapers). After only a week of playing with them in South Africa, she grew bored and they for the most part sat in the corner. Her books she still loves, and they are part of her bed time ritual, though. Now we are almost one week into being in India, where we came straight from South Africa, and she also could care less about her pile of toys.
I’ve watched an amazing thing happen. As we travel and make our temporary home in new environments, Veda delights in simply exploring her new territory. In South Africa she loved chasing the ducks, playing with rocks, and running barefoot in the grass. She loved to just hang out with all the animated cleaning and laundry staff, picking up some new dance moves and saying “hi,” to everyone.
In India, within 4 days she has learned how to open the dog kennel to let the dog out and they chase each other around, Veda squealing in delight and the dog (four times her size) is careful not to knock Veda over. She pretends to answer the phone, finds pens and paper and draws on them, she opens and closes containers and drawers in the kitchen, and practices eating rice and chipati with curries with her hands. She practices going up and down the stairs, plays with the water during bath time, and watches her cousins playing cricket and riding their bikes outside. She hasn’t once picked up her toys, yet she is constantly stimulated by learning about new things in her new environment, and most importantly- is learning about human interaction and cause-and-effect by learning that people that love her respond to her when she is crying, angry, happy, or proud of herself.
Most of all, she loves the red plastic swing that my sister-in-law purchased for her and hung from a large steel hook in the ceiling of the dining room. Ok, I suppose that counts as a toy in a way, but it’s so different from the swings we get in the U.S. with stuff and lights and music. This is just a simple plastic swing (that probably for one reason or another does not meet U.S. safety standards). She loves swinging, and it calms her. She jabbers with whomever is swinging with her, and when her two cousins (age 8 and 10) are home from school, they lay under the swing and make faces at her and she giggles in delight.
The swing has also become her favorite napping spot where she sleeps sometimes for two hours straight. My mother-in-law pushes Veda gently in it, and if Veda begins to stir from the noise of an auto-rickshaw outside, “Amuma” (Malayalam for “grandmother”) gives her a faster push to keep her eyelids shut. She sleeps so pleasantly there in that swing, lulled to sleep, and as I watch her looking so peaceful, and afterward so rested in eager to find something more to explore, I am at peace myself.
It’s really ok that my daughter doesn’t have the latest age-appropriate toy with spinning lights and 50 bright colors. She has something even better: her own imagination and curiosity exploring her world with lots of stimulating human interaction and a whole world of things to look at and inspect. Can toys really beat that? For now on when we travel I’ll pack her favorite books for bed time reading and a few of her favorite toys, relax, and look forward to watching her flourish by creating her own play in a new atmosphere.