Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Story E Told Me Today

Once upon a time there was a story about monsters who said "raaawwrrr" very quietly. Then they said "RRRAAAWWWRRR" very loudly. Then they said "Oh!" and ate the dinosaurs. They said "rrraawwwrr! Where did my baby go?" The baby was under the box. Then the mommy saw it eating the box. They went to sleep, then woke up and yawned. They tickled each other. The End.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Why play is the most terrifying thing I've ever done

I was hanging out with some other moms tonight, and I mentioned that I couldn't imagine sending E off to school because we are having so much fun. Then we were talking about playing with kids and how they want to do the same.thing.over.and.over and how we feel like our inner child is dead because it's so hard to play these pretend games. My friend Lisa said, "but you said you have so much fun with E. What are you doing that's so fun if the pretend stuff is so hard?" I tried to explain that we have fun doing things like games or playing on the computer or looking things up on youtube or going places and doing things. But the get down on the floor, wrestle, play, pretend to be a dog for the 3 millionth time today kind of play is really hard for me.

I thought about that more on the way home, and the same theme keeps coming up over and over again. It's hard to connect. It's hard to be open. IT'S LIKE GETTING BURNED WITH HOT COALS!

Activities are....well... active, but in a distracting way. If I'm thinking about the rules of a game or how to keep E safe and entertained on an outing or getting a craft set up, then done, then cleaned up, I can be present but I can also check out. It's better if I'm present. Everything goes smoother, I feel better, she has more fun and is more cooperative. But I can have moments or even entire stretches of "uh-huh, yes, that's nice dear" while I'm off in my own little world. Thinking. Always thinking, my brain always going a million miles an hour.

But if we are playing with no rules or distractions, the "original play" way, I need to be fully engaged for it to work. She NEEDS me to be fully engaged. Aware, present, connected. Lots of eye contact, lots of hugs, lots of role play and pretend. This is so easy for her and I envy it. She completely loses herself in the roles that she plays without ever losing *herself.* She's completely open. Her body moves with grace and fluidity or sometimes she falls down, but she gets right back up. There's no shame or ego to protect or self consciousness and certainly no self depreciation. The thought never occures to her to make fun of someone else's idea or that anyone would think that hers are anything less than wonderful. Some ideas are "silly" but those are wonderful too in their obsurdity.

When I play with her this way, part of me feels like I'm opening up and letting down my guard. It feels good and freeing. I never played much as a kid. When the other kids were playing, I was always sitting with the adults listening to them talk. It became a point of pride that I was "mature" and "responsible" but I really missed out on a lot emotionally. I don't know how to play. E is like a patient teacher, gently guiding me through the fascinating world of child's play. At times, it's like we connect on this spiritual level. She and I become the only people in the world and the most important thing in that moment is BEing there, doing whatever we are doing.

But those are also the moments I want to run from. It feels like my body and heart are drowning in a wave of joy, connection, love, but it's all painful and claustrophobic. At the same time that I'm enjoying being with her, my whole body also has this visceral reaction to RUN. I feel like a caged animal that must escape the intensity. It's scary.

It seems so absurd typing it out. After all, I'm talking about playing pretend with a 4 year old. But it's so much more than that. It's actual connection with another human being with no boundaries or expectations or conditions. She doesn't care how dorky I look or how much work I need to get done or what my political beliefs are or whether or not I can manage to get out a coherent sentence. She just wants to PLAY with *me.* She sees right through all the mommy-wife-friend-coworker-social crap-I'mFINE,howareyou-bullshit games, and sees me. And even when 5 minutes before that I yelled at her or forgot something that was important to her, she still throws her innocent, open, trusting heart right into my hands and invites me to come play.

That is the scariest, most amazing, powerful, intense, awakening, and freakin' terrifying thing I've ever experienced. It's all that mushy emotional stuff that I never deal with cause I don't know how.

So, there it is. Why I have a hard time playing with my kids. Or playing at all. Or BEing in the moment. All I can do is let myself open up one little, tiny bit at a time. It's scary, but it's good!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mermaids, forts, maps, days of the week, bugs......

On a message board I'm on there's a thread about our unschooling days and I posted this. Thought I'd copy it here too.

Today we made mermaid cookies. Dd watched Little Mermaid last week and had the idea to make these cookies, so I finally got around to it today. They were just sugar cookies that we cut into mermaid shapes, though they looked more like snakes and sea horses. We discovered that no one in the house actually like sugar cookies, so we'll use the left over dough tomorrow for playdough.

I made her a fort this morning by putting a blanket over the table. That was fun! She's been wanting me to play pretend games with her stuffed animals. I do the funny voices and she keeps the story line going.

The days of the week have been coming up more often lately. We just joined YMCA and Thursdays are going to be our swimming pool days. So when she asks when we're going to the pool, I say Thursday. Today is Monday, tomorrow is Tuesday, then Wednesday, then Thursday. Or whatever day it is. We've done this before when she wanted to know when something was happening, so now when I start naming off the days of the week, she can almost say them with me.

She was looking at her map today. It's a map of the US that I have on the dining room wall. I've told her before that she was born in Maine and now we live in Oregon. Grandma lived in California. So, today she was repeating all that back to me and asking me to name other states. Then dd2 started pointing at different states, so I was naming them for her. That was too cute!

We went outside in the rain today and they splashed in some puddles and we threw a football around. Then she went on a bug hunt and found a beetle and a worm. Usually she likes to keep them, but today she didn't want to trek back inside to get something to keep them in. She REALLY likes spiders, but for a few months now we've been talking about how there aren't many spiders around in the winter time. So, she's looking forward to summer.

hhhhhmmm what else today..... she watched Dora, we listened to a Veggie Tales cd, she played on uptoten, played with her sister a lot, we went to our church class and she went to the nursery.

Oh, she helped me clean up the house. It was so funny! She was running around saying "I'm Superman! I'll help you, what do you need help with?!" I wasn't even cleaning the house up and it was her idea. She said, "I'll rescue you! I'll put toys away!" and she did.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Playful Parenting vs. Playing by Heart

I read Playful Parenting a while ago and I really liked it. At the time, I was using some Continuum Concept ideas to reinforce my belief that "I'm just not one of those moms that gets on the floor and plays." I've never been a very playful person, even as a kid. So it was easy for me to latch on to the idea that kids are designed to want to mimic us, and we should include them in our world, not spend our time playing in their world. I do still believe that is probably the *ideal* way things should be, however, as much as I would like to, I don't live in a community the way the tribes in Continuum Concept did. I think that the community lifestyle makes all the difference, because kids do *need* to play and need people to play with and in a community it is easy for them to play with other kids *while still observing and being included in adult life* all at the same time. I simply can't provide that atmosphere for my children.

Reading Playful Parenting highlighted for me the power of play in children's emotional and cognitive development and helped me to see that I do need to be more involved in their play. Since I can't provide a Continuum Concept ideal, I need to be the playmate my children need as well as provide them opportunities to play with other kids as often as possible. It's a stretch for me, but I am learning to play, loosen up, relax.

In Playful Parenting, the author discussed how children use play to work through issues with which they are struggling, and to regain power in a world that leaves them powerless at every turn. For example, a child who gets spanked might turn around and spank her baby doll to work out the emotional trauma and feel a sense of power that was lost. He suggests letting the child do the directing and being careful not to over take their imaginary world. If they invite you into their imaginary world, you are their guest. So, when the child has you pretend to be a dog and tells you to sit and stay, go along with it. When you wrestle, give them a run for their money, but let them win. Most importantly, learn to communicate well and follow their cues, so you'll know when they need more rough and tumble play, when they need some space, and when they are working out some emotional hurt that role playing might help.

All of this helped me get on the floor with my kids more and be more involved in E's imaginary world. However, I just read Playing By Heart and it challenged some of the ideas from Playful Parenting. This author talked about all the different ways we use the word play. We play games, play with someone's heart, play war, play politics. A person can be a player in a game or a player as in a womanizer. He pointed out that most of what we call play is actually competition. Sometimes the stakes are just bragging rights as the best monopoly player in the family. Sometimes the stakes are life and death. But the goal is always *power* over another person, another team, another faction, another country.

He pointed out how adults often see children's play. It is viewed as fine as long it is constructive and doesn't last too long. Constructive might mean making something creative, playing a sport or for some it is "a child's work." In other words, it is valuable so long as it is the equivalent of work. And certain types of play mustn't last past a certain age or the child (or the adult they become) risks being called immature, childish, irresponsible, having their head in the clouds, unrealistic, foolish. And of course, play is what one is supposed to do in their "free time" when all work is done.

The author called the alternative "original play" which is more primitive and primal than what we think of as play. It is not competitive and doesn't require a winner or a loser. It's about fun! Imagine that! A lot of the book was about how original play connects people and builds relationships rather than tearing them down. It's not something we do in our free time, it's something that is a part of the way we can live. It brought me back to all the reading I've been doing on mindful living and meditation. Original play is another aspect to staying in the moment, present and aware. It's living life right now and seeing all the joy and the beauty right in front of us. Experiencing that joy and playing with that moment and the people in it, is original play. Unlike the type of play suggested in Playful Parenting, original play doesn't have an agenda. It's not a "method" to help kids work through issues (though I'm sure it does) or make them be more complient (though when I am more connected to my kids they are always more cooperative) or improve attention span or sneak in a math fact or.... It's about relationship!

So, this book brought me full circle. I imagine that the lifestyle portrayed in Continuum Concept was full of original play. When the people in that tribe wore their babies, nursed on request, let them play unhindered and invited them to join in adult work as they chose they weren't subscribing to a "parenting method." They were just living and experiencing every moment of life and putting the relationships of the ones they loved above all else. I remember a story in the book about a grown man getting badly injured, laying his head in his wife's lap and sobbing unabashedly in front of the whole tribe. No one seemed to think that this was anything unusual or childish for him to do. He had no ego to protect and they had no need to assert their power by shaming him for crying. He needed to cry, so he did, his wound was stitched up and he went on his way.

Now where does this leave me as the mother of children in an extremely competitive world? As a woman who enjoys sports and competition myself? Where does it leave us as a family who lives apart from our community, and whose community may or may not feel the same way about play? That's what I'm still trying to figure out. I'm not going to take a reactionary view of competition and forbid sports and throw out all our board games. But I will certainly be more careful with how I present competition to my children and most importantly how I interact when I play with them. Competition is a part of life in our culture, and they may grow up to be in the thick of it as a basketball player or lawyer or soldier. But I want their foundation and over-all lifestyle to be one of original play, regardless of the career path they choose or the hobbies they enjoy. I hope that their most important relationships will always be based on love, not fear-based power struggles.

I spy!

E has enjoyed playing I spy in the car for a while now. L has been listening to us and has picked up on it! Last night she started saying "I spy that" and pointing at random things and she was doing it again in the car today. It's so cute and it just cracks E up.

E and I have gotten a little bored of doing I spy the normal way, because in the car there are only so many things we can spy quickly and the other person can spot too before we've driven past them. So, trees, clouds, the sky, signs, lights, cars..... you get the idea. We started playing the game intentionally wrong. I'll say "I spy something green" and E will say "the sky!" or "the car!" and finally "the trees!" and I'll still say No, even when she got it right. Or she'll say "I spy something blue," and I'll say "the sky" and she'll say No, so I'll list off a bunch of other things that aren't blue, then say "the sky" again and when she says yes I act all offended and say "HEY! I already said that!" She gets a kick out of that for some reason and asks me to do it again and again. :)

Thursday, January 7, 2010


We just got a membership at YMCA and I'm now quite sure that my girls are part fish! They LOVE the water and are completely fearless. E is learning to swim without any prompting from us. She asked me to show her how to do it, so I showed her the basic movements of the breast stroke and whatever the over the water one is called. She's starting to get the hang of swimming underwater just in the 3 times we've been to the pool. She doesn't want any help, in fact she doesn't want us to touch her at all. She'll be in the water up to her chin and bouncing up and down holding her breath every time she goes down and when she pops up she'll say "don't (down again) touch (don't again) me (down again)." But she does want us to watch and play along as she pretends to be all kinds of animals in the water. She also did some underwater flips for the first time today. I'm glad she's having fun, but since she's so fearless I'll feel much better when she can actually swim.

L is pretty much the same way. She walks in the shallow water and just wonders around splashing while we follow her. She walks into deeper and deeper water and I keep my hand in front of her so she can grab it when she's ready, but she just keeps going. She jumps off the edge too. The first few times, I held her hands while she jumped into the water. But the last time, she sat down on her butt and gave me the grumpiest growl. So I put my hands out to offer to catch her and she turned her face away with her nose stuck up in the air. It was hilarious and she was so serious! I tried so hard not to laugh. I finally figured out that she didn't want me to put my hands out. She would only jump in when I put my hands up in the air and backed away. I don't know how she holds her breath. She keeps her mouth wide open and she comes up with this shocked, upset look on her face, but she never cries. She just wipes the water off and wants to do it again! She also sat down in shallow water and laid her head back. I thought she wanted to float, but no she just wanted to lay back under the water.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

My kid is in so much trouble!

"I'm in trouble!" E says this on a pretty regular basis and I think it's pretty cute. Why would I chuckle at her being in trouble? Because it usually involves a very imaginative game and lots of rescuing, heroism, epic battles and nurturing mommy animals. To E, being in trouble means you're a baby squirrel stuck in a tree or a dog who got lost. And there's always a princess with a sword or a mommy with the power to fight off dinosaurs there to rescue you.

I don't know if she's ever heard the phrase "in trouble" used to mean that a person has done something wrong. She certainly wouldn't equate it to punishment since there is no punishment in our house. I love that she will always know that when she's in trouble that's the time to reach out to the people who love her and that she can trust us to reach back.