Grit your teeth, it’s playtime!
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.facebook.com/readilyaparent