What my children taught me about play

One of the four billion things I didn’t know before I became a parent and which I needed my children to teach me is that they actually tell me who they are through their play.

Loverpants has always said that children’s first language is play. So I knew that, intellectually. But seeing how my children school me in the characters that they are forming and the needs that they are expressing is just…profoundly humbling. I hear my daughter talking in a nurturing voice to her brother and I hear the echoes of how I strive to talk to her. On my best days, I try to use that voice. And she tells me through her play that she has absorbed those moments and I give thanks. Then I hear my little man falling to pieces because he cannot find Buzz Lightyear and doesn’t want to settle for Luella the American Girl doll. I know that he has seen me simmering (usually over nothing) and then suddenly bubbling over my pot in similarly graceless fashion.

I am also suddenly smacked by memories of my own girlhood and how hard it was for me to play as a child. At least not in the traditional sense, which, now I realize was my language of being a stressy kid. I had no time for frivolity. I would organize my room and all the drawers of my bureaus for hours. I loved playing school, but only if I could teach and lend order to my “classroom.” Going over to the house of some girls whose mother was a single parent was totally stressful for me. Their mother babysat children by day and their house was unfathomably messy. I would fantasize about cleaning their house, wall to wall, scrubbing floors and clearing the Easy Cheese off the countertops of their kitchen. “So. What do you wanna do?” the girls would ask, and, I would always say, “Heyy, let’s clean!” like it was the most normal activity. Like it was second only to styling Barbie dolls or riding bikes.

I see my daughter’s little nooks and nests of activity, each sacred in its purpose, “This is my library, Mama. And why did you throw away that magazine?! That was for the waiting area to my beauty parlor.” Even though the floor of her bedroom is a minefield of dolls and books and Legos (murder weapons to bare feet), I am glad to behold the mess because it means she feels free to play. She is not so anal-retentive about her space that she does not enjoy it. It is not work for her, right now, and that is what she is telling me through the Chernobyl of toy store aftermath on the carpet. At least, that is what I tell myself.

***

Went to an Enchanted Maze the other day. Or, as Little Man said, “The Chanting Maze.” There were no monks chanting, though that would have been equally awesome and contemplative. Just a lot of pumpkins and tractors and haybales. Our time there was pitch perfect.

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  • Molly

    Ohemgee. The tennis balls on that little guy’s horns. Add in your adorable family, and I’m dying of cute. 🙂

    • kendratheadverb

      I thought the same thing, Molly. The tennis balls were a cute touch, no?