You Don’t Need More MAGNA-TILES

You need this instead

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I want to buy my toddler everything.

To be clear, I don’t. But the urge to do so is strong. Like some primal motivator to provide and make him as happy as possible.

The thing is though, he doesn’t want everything. He has no idea what he wants. And he damn sure doesn’t need everything, either.

A few months ago, I bought him a 74-piece MAGNA-TILES set from Target. I opened it up, spread the tiles across the floor, and said, “Look son! Let’s build something.”

He waddled over and knelt down on all fours, picking up a couple of pieces for his growing brain to fiddle with.

Some minutes later, after showing him how they worked (and learning myself), we built a mini-house. The simplest one you can imagine. And we used less than a quarter of the pieces to do it.

While admiring our masterpiece, his eyes caught mine. I saw a glimmer of mischief mixed with excitement. He swatted that house down in a heartbeat and giggled maniacally.

Fast forward to today. He still enjoys tinkering with his MAGNA-TILES. At least once a day, we sit down and build something together. Sometimes a structure, sometimes just random designs scattered across the carpet.

While building away this morning, we finally did it. We used every last one of the pieces in the kit. My son looked at me, pointed to one of the tiles and said, “More? More?”

That familiar primal urge rose up my chest. In that moment, I wanted to run to Target to get him more. The mental bargaining began.

But then that damn responsible adult brain of mine took over. It considered that I don’t want to turn my kid into a spoiled brat, and that I don’t want him to think that there is always more just because he asks.

I looked at him and replied, “No son, that was the last one. No more.” I made the sign language motion. “Let’s make do with what we’ve got.“ I’m sure the only word he actually understood was “no”.

Then I grabbed a few of the tiles around the edge and started reshaping what we’d built. After a brief tantrum, he started doing the same, and what we finished with was something even more impressive than before (for a toddler and his MAGNA-TILE-challenged father).

While admiring our work, seconds before he swatted it all to oblivion, I came up with the idea for this story.

When a child likes something and we have the resources to do so (and sometimes even when we don’t), we get that urge to give him more of what they want.

But that’s almost never good for the kid or our pocketbooks. Instead, working within the constraints of what we have is better. It teaches the kid that more is not always an option. And it sparks creativity.

I can say the exact same thing about writing. More is not always better. In fact, it’s almost always detrimental.

I’ve written arguably my best pieces while operating under constraints. For some reason, when you loosen the knot and give me more slack, I flounder. But tighten it up and reign me in and the creative sparks start flying.

If you tell me to write an essay about parenting, I’ll get it done, but it’ll take some time to get there. And it may be lacking in creativity.

Tell me to write an essay on parenting a toddler in 300 words or less, you’re going to get something juicy.

It’s just the way my brain works. It longs to be free. To be unbound. To do whatever it wants. But that’s not when it does its best work.

All of its best work is done when locked inside a tiny cage. It’s the constraints that force the creativity out.

This works for many different things in life, not just toddlers and writing.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that your toddler doesn’t need more MAGNA-TILES, and neither do you.

You just need constraints.