Many times, we put what we think are unreasonable expectations upon our kids. Sometimes, it turns out that those expectations are A-OK.
My father is not the best with age-appropriate gifts for his grandchildren. For Peanut’s fifth birthday, for example, he gave him a box of chocolates, two hand warmers, an antique compass, a pair of elven ear clips, and a wooden trebuchet kit. As you can imagine, many of these items have wandered off into hiding or storage: the chocolates are being slowly doled out, the hand warmers are hanging out in our winter emergency kits in the cars. I took one look at the trebuchet kit and stored it away. It was clearly designed for older children.
As you can probably guess: we did, indeed, end up putting together that trebuchet kit after all. The Polar Vortex that drowned Kansas City in snow made me turn to the kit in desperation: the children were not in preschool, could not play outside, had watched far too much TV, and needed to be entertained.
It was an utterly unreasonable expectation for my father to think that Peanut could put this kit together on his own–this kit was challenging for me, an adult who’s geeky enough to already be familiar with trebuchets. It turned out to be completely reasonable as a family activity. I broke down the parts so that the kids could help where they could. They helped sort out the pieces, applied glue messily with Q-tips, and happily counted out pennies and loaded them into the counter-weight. They really enjoyed putting this unreasonable kit together with their mom and one another–it turned out to be a good experience.
The best part for me was when the kit was done and Peanut could finally launch the little balls that came with the kit. He and his dad got on the floor and shot balls all over the living room. We explained the science of how the trebuchet works, and he got to feel the pieces and figure out how to load the machine. He even got to be a relatively good shot. Seeing him and his dad get excited about a toy together was magical for me, even if I did have to run to get out of the way of a few projectiles.
Our success with trebuchet #1 has inspired me to be unreasonable again: I have a trebuchet kit that I’ve been saving since before Peanut was born that I never have found time to put together. It’s substantially larger, and it uses clay for ammunition instead of small wooden balls. We’re going to put it together and see which trebuchet is better and talk about why. I imagine it will be frustrating in places, but the family time with the munchkins and early STEM education will absolutely be worth it. We’ll see if the cats survive!