Friday, March 2, 2012

Bad Mommy Don't Play That

One of the things I love about my friend Claire is her complete comfort with being brutally honest. I was eking out a confession recently that (shh! don't tell anyone) "I don't really like to play with children, even my own." As I waited to be struck by lightning from the hand of a displeased God, Claire said loudly, "Ugh. I HATE playing with Veronica. I used to feel so bad about it. But then I talked to my mother-in-law and she said, 'Please. Do you really think I played with my children? I had no interest in it. And besides, I was too busy cooking and cleaning and running the house.'" Ah, the old days, when the line between the world of adults and the world of children was intact.

My husband and I used to call each other from the park we took our daughter to each and every day for years (each and every living day. for years) and say, "If I never see this God forsaken place again it will be too goddamned soon. Okay?"


"Okay. I gotta go. She wants me to push her on the swings."

I remember one Saturday afternoon, digging a hole in the sand with my daughter and thinking, I can't take this any more. The only thing that could possibly counterbalance this experience for me is a three hour discussion with a deeply intelligent adult about Kierkegard or the implications of the French Revolution on American Foreign Policy in the 1800s... Help me. Somebody. Help me, please.

Meanwhile, I judged myself for not enjoying digging a hole in the sand as much as she enjoyed it. Why am I not more patient, more relaxed, more playful? But then, I had this aha moment: I am not supposed to enjoy this. She is. This is fun for a three year old. She's learning. I learned all I needed to learn from this experience of digging a hole in the sand about 35 years ago. It's not a parenting issue; it's a developmental issue. I need to talk to a grownup! Help!!! Get me out of here!

The other thing my daughter loves to do that I want almost no part of is wrestling. Meanwhile, her father can wrestle with her for close to an hour before he's over it. So that's his job. I don't want to play Barbies or pretty ponies or pet shops. I don't want to "make guys talk" which is what my friend Caren's daughter Olive calls giving voices to small plastic figures. Don't make me make guys talk! I'll go crazy.

Basically, what I realized is that when it comes to playing, I have to pick my poisons and pick them well. I can't afford to do things that significantly deplete my energy and my will to live, like getting on the play structure at the park. I drew the line in the sand on that one: That's for children. Mommy doesn't play that. You play that while Mommy drinks her latte and talks grownup talk with any adult who will engage. Mommy glares at the other adults who get on the play structure. Don't they know that's for children?

And just in case you think you're going to make me feel guilty that I'm not connecting with my child enough by giving me "the look", think again. I read out loud for hours. I braid hair. I pack a mean lunch and sometimes I get creative and put love notes in her lunchbox. I make art and draw. I facilitate the making of books. I talk about feelings and snuggle in bed. I connect in a million ways. Digging a hole in the sand at the park just isn't gonna be one of them. And if you do dig holes in the sand, and that works for you, you go for it. But I hope you're cutting yourself slack somewhere else, then. Not joining the PTA, for example, or saying, "Sorry, kid. I don't make Halloween costumes from scratch. And guess what? I don't even feel bad about it."