think outside the playpen

The girls had a favorite game during Christmas that I see in lots of our photos. I see daughter #1 teaching it to daughter #2 in a couple shots. I’m sure daughter #2 taught it to daughter #3 as well, but we seem to have no photographic record of this. As #3 will tell you (with great dramatic effect), she got shorted in the picture taking department.

The game was called, “Let’s tear all the bead garlands off the tree and watch Mommy put them back up again.” In those first few years, Mommy must have replaced the bottom foot and a half of the tree’s decorations approximately two hundred times a season.

There had been a time when we failed to take our tree down until, maybe, sometime around Valentine’s Day. Now began the era of taking it down shortly after the new year, solely because it was already half way down anyway and looked horrible, so what was the point in fixing it up one more time?

Finally, I hit upon a solution. Put them in the playpen for the duration of the Christmas season. The tree and it decorations, not the kids. Sure, it looked a little odd. Kind of like a rogue Christmas tree that Santa had to corral before it did any more damage. But it worked.

I could have spent years fixing the tree several times a day. I could have put the kids in the playpen since its obvious design was for kids, not trees. (That might have been considered child abuse, though, for two months.) I could have left the bottom half of the tree naked. Or, I could have looked for a solution to the problem outside the way we normally look at things.

One of my friends recently posted a link about situation that all can relate to. How do we make people do what is better for them when they want to do what is easy? In this case, if taking the stairs is clearly much better for health than an escalator, how do we change peoples’ natural behavior of preferring escalators? Public education? Admonishments that exercise is good for you? Tearing down the escalators of the world? The first two haven’t worked, and the last, well, it may come yet in some presidential job stimulus package, but perhaps not the best solution.

The problem solvers came up with a solution—make people look at it another way. You can see the results in this link.

We don’t normally envision trees in playpens. We don’t think of stairs as musical instruments. We often don’t even bother to solve those ‘little problems’ like messy trees because the solutions seem so overwhelming and fixing the tree one more time doesn’t take too long. Or changing peoples’ patterns seems impossible. Not to mention our own highly-persistent patterns. But impossible is only impossible if we keep looking at playpens as if they are only for children. Sometimes, solutions are right there in front of us, just in a way we never looked at it before.

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