Putting The “Play” Back In Playtime

“If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes.”       Luke 19:42
     Joni Mitchell has a song called Big Yellow Taxi that says, “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”  I get it.  As a mom of young kids, I know I’m supposed to “seize the day.”  For years, old ladies have been stopping me in the grocery store, all saying the same thing: “enjoy these years,” “cherish every minute when they’re little because they grow up so fast.”
    Consequently, I’ve been putting a concerted effort recently into playing games with my kids two or three evenings during the school week.  This is no easy feat.  It’s a very small window between when they get off the school bus, and when they have to go to bed, especially when you have to cram in homework, after school clubs, karate, piano lessons, clarinet practice, dinner prep, dinner itself, the clean up after, and baths and showers.  It’s a marathon we have to run every day.  But I’ve been lectured for so long to “cherish this time.”  So cherish it I’m trying.
     However, my vision of “game time” is a Norman Rockwell painting: all of us agreeing on the same game, sitting criss-cross applesauce in a circle on the family room rug, smiles on all of our faces, really connecting and enjoying each other’s company.  Jocelyn and I play like this all the time when the boys are in school.  So it can happen, right?
     The real reality, though, is that ten and eight year old boys don’t do criss-cross applesauce on the family room rug when they’re having fun!  Furthermore, when four year old girls see this, they morph into crazy, energetic jumping beans.  So “game time” turns into kids doing karate moves, handstands, and wacky dance moves between taking their turns.  Weird and obnoxious noises get vocalized, for no apparent reason, and grate like fingernails on a chalkboard, but with the volume turned up to one hundred.  No one pays attention to the rules.  No one knows when their turn is.  And pouting abounds when anyone loses or doesn’t get the card or game piece they want.  I spend all of my time and energy refocusing them, trying to teach them to “dial down” the volume, lecturing them on how no one likes a soar looser, and trying to re-form the circle with these wound up little bodies bursting with frenetic energy.
     I do start out the process with patience and calm, trying to use a quiet voice and gentle manner to teach them and control their energy.  But it doesn’t take long for that well to run dry.  Before you know it, I’m yelling, tossing around threats like confetti, and have a tension headache between my eyes and at the base of my scull.  In what dimension is this scenario peaceful or enjoyable for anyone?
     I thought my job as their mom was to work with them to get them to that place where we were living out the Norman Rockwell painting.  I realize now how wrong I was.
     This scripture passage “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace,” has taught me that I have been defining “peace” all wrong.  I have been defining it as “calm, controlled, and quiet.”  That’s what my energy level at 6:30 at night is ready for.  But my kids’ energy levels are on the other end of the spectrum.  Those Energizer Bunnies are still going at full speed, even more so because their batteries were just recharged while staying in their seats and having good table manners during dinner.  “Peace” looks different to them:  it’s movement, it’s noisy, it’s freedom, it’s letting the lid off their ids!
     What I have been missing is the fact that their joy in action is their open display of just how excited they are to play with me, and each other.  I should be deeply grateful and humbled by that.  If they came to the family room rug moping, wishing they were elsewhere, I would be hurt beyond words.  If they had any disabilities that prevented them from dancing and jumping and yelping with glee, I would be pounding the gates of Heaven with prayer to make them healthy, energetic, joy-filled little beings.  I have all of that right in front of me, right now, but it has been “hidden from my eyes” because I had a different vision of “what would bring me peace.”
     I can’t live the Joni Mitchell song any longer and only recognize what I had after it’s gone. This is it – the time is now!  I need to change my approach, and my perspective, not change my kids by trying to stifle their enthusiasm.  I constantly preach to them that it “doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.”  I need to go a step further and say, “Who cares how the game is played!”  The game is just a springboard for playtime with my kids: it’s not the end all be all of our time together.  Instead of criss-cross applesauce, I have to appreciate the cartwheels and dance moves.  Instead of controlling the volume, I have to tune my ears to the excitement and delight within it.  Instead of following the rules of the game, I have to go wherever the wave of energy and joy takes us. (I do draw the line on the weird and obnoxious noises, though.  A mom can only take so much after a long day!)
     Before it’s too late and I create and cement a miserable environment where my kids don’t want to be, I have to put the “play” back in playtime!
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  1. Yes, Claire, I agree! Enjoying our kids means enjoying who they are, not trying to change who they are. Great post!

    I don’t even know the “real” rules any more to half our games, as my kids have enjoyed making up their own rules to make it more for them. My daughter especially enjoys the interaction alone and couldn’t care less about anyone winning. Which means usually there is no winner, thus no END to the game! We just play until we have to stop for some other reason.

    The benefit of this is that there are never any hurt feelings or sore losers, just fun, but that might also be the bad part. They aren’t learning those lessons at home.


  2. Thanks for your comments Deborah. I’m sure your kids have gained far more by your approach of just having fun. It has probably made them stronger people so they can easily adjust to hurt feelings from losing when they’re out in the world.


  3. When I was a kid. my family often played games together in the evening and especially during power outages. I cannot imagine my kids sitting and playing games with us. We have tried but it just doesn’t work – they would rather run around, tackle each other and make noise. I am trying hard not to force my picture of what childhood should be like on them. I often try to recreate my own experiences, but need to realize they are different kids and we live in different times.


  4. Nice to know I’m not the only one with little monkeys for kids! But I’m learning that monkeys can be very fun if I just let them be themselves and appreciate them for who they are and for what they bring to that circle on the family room rug.


2 thoughts on “Putting The “Play” Back In Playtime

  1. Your game time sounds a lot like mine. Try to get in an educational game for school time and FORGET it 🙂 This post was just what I needed. I too need to change my expectations and follow their lead.

    Love this post and LOVE the new home. It is so pretty and cozy over here!!!


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