Grit your teeth, it’s play­time!

The Compass - - SPORTS -

There is some­thing so sweet and mag­i­cal about watch­ing my chil­dren play to­gether: their lit­tle heads bent over a shared box of lego and the grand struc­tures they imag­ine; their child­ish de­light and scads of bossi­ness squeal­ing through the house as the play knights and princesses; the armies of in­sects and roads of peb­bles they build hud­dled un­der the shade of the house on the front lawn.

I love their lit­tle imag­i­na­tions. And as any­one who knows me can at­test, I have quite the imag­i­na­tion my­self. I’ve been known to sight mer­maids and frolic with fairies. The chil­dren love the sto­ries I make up and the ad­ven­tures we em­bark on to­gether in search of mag­i­cal be­ings.

But if there’s one thing I gen­uinely can’t stand — one thing which causes me to grit my teeth, sup­press my screams, and zone out to avoid flip­ping out — it’s play­ing pre­tend with them. I have no prob­lem be­ing an au­di­ence for their liv­ing room shows, al­though I draw the line when my daugh­ter stands on the “stage” for the 10th time and an­nounces an­other per­for­mance de­lay for cos­tume or prop change. I can play cars for 10 min­utes — long enough for them to get bored. Board games, crafts, colour­ing – love them all. I can even tol­er­ate dress­ing up bar­bies and hav­ing them act out some strange scene from the re­cesses of my daugh­ter’s mind. And I’ll fully ad­mit to en­vy­ing their dress-up col­lec­tion.

But when they in­vite me to play “ba­bies” or “dragons” or “princesses,” I try des­per­ately to find an ex­cuse.

It’s not that I don’t have an imag­i­na­tion. I’m a writer for crying out loud! And it’s not that I don’t ad­mire and want to en­cour­age their imag­i­na­tions … it’s just that they’re too darn bossy.

I re­mem­ber do­ing creative writ­ing ex­er­cises where we had to share/write sto­ries. One I started, with a very def­i­nite idea of where it should go, got strangely trans­muted in the hands of the very next per­son. My six para­graphs of de­con­struc­tion­ist his­tor­i­cal bi­og­ra­phy be­came an al­le­gory for food ad­dic­tion and later a satire of Ed­war­dian pro­por­tions.

Al­though I ap­pre­ci­ated my class­mates’ ef­forts, I railed in­side at their “ru­in­ing” of my imag­ined plot line. Be­ing an adult, I un­der­stand that ev­ery­thing — even your imag­i­nary cre­ations — must be shared and “set free.”

Chil­dren don’t get that. And that is why I can­not stand play­ing pre­tend. If my daugh­ter yells at me “no mommy, don’t say it THAT way!” once more, or my youngest son de­clares “you don’t know what you’re do­ing,” or my el­dest gives me a tongue­lash­ing for not re­act­ing the ex­act way I was sup­posed to to his pre­tend out­rage, I will swear my­self off any imag­i­na­tion ever again. Of course they’re self­ish with their imag­i­na­tions. Of course they can’t un­der­stand why I don’t “get” what they want me to do. Of course they have no em­pa­thy and want to dic­tate ev­ery­thing. They’re chil­dren. It’s what they’re known for.

I sup­pose this could be a learn­ing op­por­tu­nity for them. I imag­ine I could use the con­flict in pre­tend play to teach them to be em­pa­thetic or of­fer them con­flict res­o­lu­tion tac­tics. But frankly I’m too darn frus­trated and sick of be­ing bossed around.

And I just don’t want to. Ev­ery­thing, ev­ery mo­ment, is a learn­ing op­por­tu­nity from bak­ing to bathing. Some­times, kids just have to play. Prefer­ably they play with­out adult in­ter­fer­ence. That, in it­self, of­fers them more learn­ing op­por­tu­nity than any di­rected ac­tiv­i­ties I can pro­vide.

So as bad as I feel for com­ing up with ex­cuses to not be the ogre un­der the bridge while they plan their re­volt, I rea­son that I am, in fact, do­ing the right thing.

Some­times kids just need to play on their own. Some­times their imag­i­na­tions have to run wild, and we all know that kids run­ning wild with any­thing doesn’t hap­pen when adults are around. Some­times the worlds they cre­ate to­gether are places I des­per­ately want to join, but I’m too tall or some­thing, be­cause for some rea­son I just don’t fit.

And that is fine. I’m ready to ac­cept my place in par­ent­ing pur­ga­tory for not en­joy­ing pre­tend play with my chil­dren if it means that they de­velop their own rich imag­i­na­tions and di­rect their own fan­tasies with fi­nesse. I can stand back and en­joy watch­ing the wheels of their minds turn­ing much more than I’d en­joy join­ing in. And I’ve got laun­dry to do any­way. Dara Squires is a free­lance writer and mom of three. You can con­tact her on face­book at www.face­­ilya­parent

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