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!


  1. This is so profound! Must be why some adults don't like kids or can't relate to them. Even why a lot of moms find it so difficult to nurture their children and really consider their emotional needs. Children are too REAL. Interacting with a child is the most REAL experience with no rules, barriers, inhibitions. Even with your spouse there are some of these things, and yet with children there is nothing to hide. What a great growth experience!

  2. How amazing and brave of you to write this all out! I keep thinking about it and trying to decide how I relate to it.... I think everything you said here is true, but for me, I kindof have the opposite problem, in that I feel like I give all my intimacy over to my children and don't have any available for adults.

    For me, I really do think it is the *boredom*, at least with the repetition, and the sadness on my part about my loss of imagination and creativity. When I was a child I spent HOURS completely lost in fantasy play. I could go into our yard, or my grandma's yard, and totally transform it into a world of my own creation. At first I thought maybe there was something to this, as it was mostly alone, so maybe I don't know *how* to do it with another? But then I started remembering some friends I did this type of thing with as well. There was one girl in particular - we invented our own language and used to go around the neighborhood pretending we were spies and hiding in the bushes, the game being to make sure nobody saw us lol!

    Anyway, it is odd to be able to remember so vividly some of the extended fantasies I created, and yet not be able to even capture a glimmer ability now. Maybe there is more to it along the lines you wrote about here. I think I will continue to ponder this for some time! I am really doing alot of inner work thinking about intimacy right now already, so this may add to the puzzle somehow!

  3. AJ, yes REAL is the word for it!

    Lisa, your comment sparked some memories for me. I had a best friend who I did play with and we invented our own language too. lol I actually did play with her a lot now that I think about it, and we had some pretty crazy story lines to our pretend play. But a lot of my play was alone too. I also remember getting teased for sitting with the adults, but praised by the adults. I wonder if maybe I'm remembering different ages and mixing them up.

  4. This is so profound, Emily! I can identify, but I never could have expressed it, or even thought it so well! I played as a child, but always found it difficult to do with my own children. Even as a child though, I don't think I was really "there" entirely.

  5. Yah, mom I thought of you when I wrote this because I know we've had this conversation before. It took me a lot of those conversations and a lot of digging to figure out just *what* it is about play that is such a hard thing.