I stink at playing with Star Wars action figures. I stink even more at creating battles with little green army dudes, or constructing worlds of Lego Bionicles. In short, my kids are beginning to think I’ve lost the ability to live in their world of play-ala-plastic.
And perhaps, I have.
I admit, I’m running on fumes these days. The baby is waking up countless times a night, nursing until I feel drained of all possible fluids (I honestly have visions of waking up one morning as a prune). Max, in his three-ness is struggling not to yell every word he says (volume control is lost on this age group, I think) and is in a constant state of “mama I neeeeeeeed you.” Noah is on the go constantly, from friends to sports schedules, cello to homework. Then there is my husband. And my household. And our two dogs that pathetically look up at me as if to say, “remember us? The furry, cute, best friends of yours that you never walk or hike or play with anymore?”
Getting down on the floor and playing used to be my specialty, especially because we are one of “those” households that don’t do television or video games. In order to inspire my kids to use their imaginations, I used to take part in their miniature wars and galactic ship building extravaganzas. Lately though, I have fallen into the trap of “do what I say, and not what I do.”
“I want you to go play,” I say sternly, each time I hear the deep I-am-soooo-bored sighs come from either of the boys.
“We want you to play too, mom,” Noah inevitably responds, his big blue eyes glancing over to whatever pile of
cars/legos/action figures they complied.
Recently, after a round of “go play/come with us” that produced frustrations aplenty, Max began to get teary.
“You aren’t much fun anymore, mama,” he said, hanging his head for dramatic effect.
I wanted to shrug off his pouting. I wanted to tell myself that wasn’t the case. I wanted to say I remembered how to play. But I couldn’t.
“Okay, okay,” I said, wiping my hands on my apron and turning off the pot of pears I was steaming. “Follow me, then.”
I still had no interest in digging through the most recent mound of plastic junk the kids had fallen into favor with, nor did I want to build a Lego castle or fortress or mini figure village. I know I should….but honestly, I can’t make myself pretend that’s fun– and kids know when you fake play. In some ways, that may be worse than not attempting to play at all.
So instead of a forced 15 minutes of talking in a robot voice while destroying some town that I can hardly pronounce (compliments of the Bionicle craze), I walked up the stairs into Max’s room.
“The make believe basket?” Noah said with obvious nine-year old coolness. “What are we going to do with
Ignoring the running commentary he continued to offer, I schlepped the basket down the stairs and out the backdoor.
“What are you doing?” Max giggled as I flipped the basket’s contents out onto the grass.
I threw on a red hooded cape, and dug out a crown. I tossed Noah sword and shield. We put a peapod outfit on Lizzie. Soon, Max was donning a batman mask and superhero cape. And we found ourselves traipsing down the path into the fields—the magical, alternate universe (think Harry Potter meets Narnia meets Beatrix Potter) behind our house.
And we played. Hard.
It made me realize that being outdoors, exploring and imagining and partaking in unstructured play is not only good for our children. It brings a kind of re-charge to our parenting souls, creates this connection to our own youths, our own days of fort building (with sticks, not plastic), fairy hunting and superhero adventuring.
In what ways to you play with your kids in the great outdoors? Do you know of places that seem so magical, so full of natural wonder, that you still feel called to let go…and just play?