If I had to list the top five skills of my children as preschoolers, packing would easily make number one. Through some freak of genetics, they inherited their father’s instinct for collecting things and my predisposition to be constantly mobile, and they combined these traits into the habit of stuffing every toy they owned into any bag they could find and carrying them around wherever they went.

Sometimes they wouldn’t even play with the toys. Just pack and carry. (And leave in an unlikely place so the next time you want a particular toy it can’t be found by any logical method.)

When Ellie was four and Scott two, the habit was starting to wear pretty thin for me. Anytime we were trying to leave the house, I’d look over and two little people would be stuffing things into purses, no shoes on, no coat on, no time for hair combing. The bags must be packed!

One day, after previous unsuccessful attempts at reasoning with them, I put my foot down. We were headed to the swing set outside our apartment building, and Ellie began packing for a two-week vacation.

“We don’t need to take toys with us,” I said. “We’re just going outside to play for a while.”

“I just need a few little things,” she begged. “Please. Just a few little things.”

“You may bring one thing,” I relented. “Only one. And you are responsible to bring it back inside when we’re done.”

“Three things, just three things.”


She began to cry. “I really need these two things,” she sobbed, holding up two overstuffed purses.

Please note that each purse was filled with a myriad other items, so I felt that I was being generous when I said, “You may bring one purse.”

The tears went on for a few more seconds and then stopped abruptly. Ellie jumped up from the floor. “Mommy, I just need one minute!” she said cheerily and disappeared into her bedroom.

A few seconds later she reappeared with a giant purse, quickly stuffed both smaller purses inside it, then added a few random toys for good measure. “Okay, Mommy!” she said, holding up the purse that was now half her size. “I have my one thing!”

You know what? I let her take it. In fact, it may have been one of my proudest parenting moments.

I just figured, if you’re smart enough to find a way around the rules without hurting anyone, you should get the rewards of your cleverness. And if you’re paying attention, you’ll soon learn on your own that all that crap you’re carrying is only slowing you down.

In the mean time, enjoy the win, kid. You earned it.

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