I frequently see posts from mothers saying things like “i'm choosing to play with my children, even when the dishes pile up in the sink,” or “I have five loads of laundry that need folding, but I was completely present with my kids today.” That is totally awesome. Yay for mothers with appropriate priorities. I read those posts and think, “yeah. I’m totally going to do that tomorrow.”
Except, no. I won’t.
I need cleanliness and order to stay sane and also, I’m crappy at playing. I’ve always been this way, ever since I was a kid. I hated going to the beach because there was always fucking sand everywhere, and I preferred reading quietly to climbing trees, even as a toddler. As I got older, I loved make-believe, but my proclivity toward fanciful thinking now has a decidedly adult flavor. My kid can say our hammock is a boat, and I’m all “yeah…totally…watch out for waves or whatever,” while I’m busy daydreaming about how parenting wouldn’t be nearly as difficult if we moved back to California (yes, crazy person. All that sunshine and local produce would totally make-up for the fact that Caleb becomes a human whine machine whenever he’s in his car seat and it takes 70 minutes to drive 4 miles in LA).
I love to cuddle my children. I love to take walks with them and read to them, and now that one of them is talking (and one of them can say "bye bye, train.") have conversations with them. On rainy days when we’re relegated to the playroom, however, I mostly just lie on a beanbag like a sleepy swamp creature asking if they want to play “nap-time” again.
What do you do? Just, like, push the car back and forth? And that “jigsaw puzzle” has nine pieces. Am I supposed to act like I can’t do it? Am I supposed to do it for her? Am I supposed to verbally coach her through doing it herself? Saying, “no, you put the blue male part into the blue female part,” just prompts unwelcome questions. This is awkward and boring and whencanistop.
Sadie loved her carseat as an infant, so she spent a lot of time in it. I pretty much just did my life and shifted her from room to room, stroller to restaurant to carrier. Caleb required near-constant bouncing and shushing for MONTHS, and even that was no guarantee he’d stop screaming, so Sadie spent most of her time doing…good Lord, I literally have no idea. How is she still alive? I know that I made sure that the playroom was a total “yes” zone and replaced the door with a baby gate. I have a vague recollection that sometimes she shook the gate and raged like an incarcerated circus gorilla, but other than that, I've got nothing. I was wearing a furiously shrieking GERD/colitis baby who was intent upon dissolving my very ear drums (and will to live) 18 hours a day.
I mentioned above that I clean to stay sane, but for the first 9 months of Caleb’s life, I cleaned in the attempt to get sane. Sadie did whatever she did in the playroom, Caleb hollered, and I scrubbed and chopped and mopped and organized and cried the days away. Once we got his illnesses addressed, he was still a baby born 19 months after his sister to a mother for whom “flow” is a distant and laughable ideation. I was uncomfortable taking them places by myself until Caleb was over a year old, and I’m still generally unwilling to go anywhere germy or dirty or inconvenient or where other children might gather. Also, I’m not the mother who searches Pinterest for how to make sensory boxes using organic lentils and vintage marbles. So….
(You stay at home with them, though. What do you DO?)
That is an excellent question!
Honestly? Our days are filled with a lot of Sadie trying to get my attention and me saying “yes! I would love to see your Horse Dance. Give me two minutes to finish chopping this zucchini;” while Caleb shuts himself in closets and climbs coffee tables and eats whatever he’s found in the air vents, and me wiping wet hands on my pants, moving him to a safer place, then going right back to scrubbing the blender. They eat whole, plant-based homemade food and their rompers are always flawlessly stain-treated. But I’m limited, y’all. I know this.
I’ve spent a lot of time wishing I were different, resolving to do better, twisted by the guilt of “not-enough.” I know that my parenting will somehow screw these perfect creatures up, because I am human and flawed. Parents who try are also parents who make mistakes. Guess what though: in this instance, my limitations as a mother have awakened a skill set in both of them that will serve them for the rest of their lives. They are INCREDIBLE at playing independently, without suggestions or prompts, and without a bunch of outside stimuli.
Sadie will take a half-empty box of tissues and a stuffed animal into her room and play for two hours. Caleb can sit on the kitchen floor and unpack the baking paraphernalia cabinet for almost as long. I told them yesterday that they couldn’t play with play-doh because it had all dried up (Lie. I don’t feel like spending nap time picking play-doh debris off the floor), so they played with imaginary play-doh. For 45 minutes. I'm not kidding. They adapt beyond my neuroses and it’s like opening a gift from the Universe every single day.
Listen, I’m sure that there are plenty of let’s-make-mudpies-then-go-to-the-zoo-then-get-out-the-slip-n-slide-then-go-get-chocolate-ice-cream sorts of parents who have children with these same skills. I know I didn’t MAKE my children who they are. But this particular part of them is pretty stinking awesome, and I didn’t have to get dirty or schlep to the zoo or bust my ass on a water-covered tarp in the process of it forming. I’m never prouder of my kids than when they thrive in spite of their mother’s (varied and plentiful) shortcomings. Also, to those parents whose “fun” houses draw my children in the years to come, get ready: they will totally know (and show you) how to remove those grass and chocolate stains using my fool-proof 3-step method.