Toddlers and desire 1
The other day at the aquarium, little one wanted this truck. It was in an outdoor gift shop — the kind with no doors or walls.

We had just bought a plastic penguin about thirty minutes ago inside, so I didn’t even bend down to look at it. We moved along (under protest) to the shark touch tanks and the penguins and the submarine movie. But he was so sad and so out of sorts. I chalked it up to being hungry or overtired. “Want to go back outside!” he told me, after we left the submarine movie early. Thinking he wanted to see the touch tanks again, I carried him out, but as soon as his feet touched the ground, he ran to this truck. This time, I bent down to look at it with him. I was going to sympathize about how much he wanted it and how hard it was not to get it. But as soon as I saw it at eye level, I realized how cool it was.

If I was two and loved trucks, I would want it so badly. I actually kind of wanted it myself. You fill up the truck tank with water and the fish can FLOAT in the tank. And there’s a submarine that floats in the tank with them.

So we got it. And then the morning was easy. He wasn’t overtired. He wasn’t hungry. He wanted a plastic penguin and he really wanted an aquarium tanker truck, and that was that.

When he picks out his own toys, he chooses things I would not have picked out myself. And he loves them. He doesn’t play with them once or twice and forget about them — he plays with them over and over and searches them out in our house and talks about them. Sometimes if he’s watching a video of a particular kind of truck working, he’ll find the toy version of that truck and try to copy what it’s doing on the couch or our patio table. It seems like he is collecting little models of the things he wants to learn about, and then works really hard to try to get them to do what he sees them do in real life.

The point I’m trying to make, though, is that he knows what he wants. And he’s right. He doesn’t just have a million flickering whims that come and go. He has desire — focused and lasting.

Sometimes — like yesterday — I hear a voice in my head saying, “I don’t want him to be spoiled. He has to learn…” But I never know what exactly it is that he “has to learn” because that phrase — even though it runs through my head — it isn’t really mine. It isn’t really what I think, when I think about it. What does he have to learn? That he’s powerless? That he can’t have what he wants? That even though I could easily help him get what he wants, I just don’t feel like it and don’t care about how urgent and important it feels to him? I want him to have an appetite. I want him to follow his desires. I want him to yearn and to be satisfied, over and over. I want him to reach, to ask, to try. I want him to play with his models of the real world.

And maybe part of me wants to play with them, too.