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!