When Ariel Met the Joker…

Confession time:

I don’t like playing with my kids. It took me a long time to be able to admit this. I always thought of myself as someone who was pretty tuned into childhood. I had a great one; I was the type who secretly (or not so secretly) got my Barbies back out of storage and played with them when I should have been trying on lipsticks or going to a New Kids on the Block concert. I couldn’t wait to have kids so that I could revisit childhood. But apparently my affinity for childhood has its limit: right about age 5. Apparently I can’t remember what it was like to be a toddler, because toddler and preschooler play is a little bit torturous for me.

I will do it; I can get into it; I can come up with scenarios worthy of the play scenes in Toy Story. But a half-hour at a time is my limit.

Part of the problem is that I have so many other tasks to do, all of which seem more important, so it’s hard to let go and venture into the land of Ariel, Cinderella, the Joker, Legos, giants, ghosts, and earthquakes (all at once). I know it’s good for me and for them to stop and get silly together, so regardless of what’s going on or how much I might be groaning inside, we play together every day, at least for that half-hour, if not more. But I decided over this past year that I’m not going to feel bad about not liking to play with toddlers. You want to color, read books, make a turkey out of a brown paper bag and construction paper, take a walk? I’m down. I will even push you on the swings for as long as you want. But I’ve got grown-up stuff to do, and you two (my 3 y.o. and 4 y.o.) are now the perfect ages to play together.

While we’re on the subject, I’m not going to toss you up in the air or invent any kind of game that involves high velocities, because I have spent every minute since you were born trying to protect you from harm.

That kind of playing is what your dad and your Aunt Lulu are for.

My desire to avoid having to talk in a squeaky voice, combined with my frugal/cheapskate ways, has resulted in some interesting activities.

If we are looking to get out of the house, we might spend some time at PetSmart, checking out all the animals, and picking up needed supplies to boot. We might drive down to a spot on the Delaware River where we can watch planes landing at Philadelphia International Airport, throw rocks in the water, and investigate the shells and creatures on the beach. When the kids were a little younger, we could kill time just walking two blocks down the street to the highway and watching the cars and trucks fly by. The garden hose, some dirt, some buckets, some old Tupperware… hours of fun.

The worse the weather, oddly enough, the more my kids want to play outside. I’m all for it, as long as frostbite or lightning is not an issue, so you will see them outside in pouring rain, sleet, high wind, really low temps, etc., for as long as they can handle it.

When we must be inside, forts are highly encouraged. Big cardboard boxes and bubble wrap = good times. If you’re a parent, you’ve probably heard the advice to rotate your toys instead of letting them always have access to everything. This is good advice. My kids get so excited when I let them go down the basement and bring up a “new” box of toys, you’d think we were at Toys R Us. I try to get them to help me or be involved with what I’m doing whenever I can, whether it’s cracking eggs or picking up the toys so I can vacuum or bringing groceries in from the van and figuring out where they go. My 4-year-old son really likes to do jobs for me, at the moment. Last Sunday, he helped me and my husband rake leaves and cart them from the backyard to the curb, for quite a long time. He also likes to set the table for dinner, and will pretty much do any other task that fits his abilities.

One of our favorite things lately is the “Have you ever…?” game, which I started one day when I got bored with playtime. They could do this for hours. “Have you ever seen a monkey driving a car?” “Have you ever seen a chicken play basketball?” On and on, everyone trying to come up with the silliest statement. Any kind of game like this where I can talk with them while doing other stuff is great.

I guess I have my new parent friends in mind as I write this. If you like to get down on the floor and make the Power Ranger ring the doorbell at the Princess Castle, go nuts. But if not, don’t feel bad. Your main job is to facilitate play, facilitate exercise, facilitate use of the imagination. You make it happen, one way or another.

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