I’ve always been the kind of person whose motto is “expect the worst, but hope for the best.” I know, that’s totally not positive and seems counter to the general vibe of this blog.
But that’s me, in reality.
I really try to avoid getting my hopes up, because I would rather be joyful at an unexpectedly good outcome than bummed at an unexpectedly bad one. I believe this is what we call “self-preservation.” Here’s why:
I love talking to him—he’s so funny and creative, conversations are usually pretty interesting.
I love reading to him—he is a very enthusiastic book lover, and that gives me an insane amount of joy.
I love snuggling with him—we snuggle every morning, and it always starts the day off right.
I love watching him draw—he has this crazy innate talent (and love for it) that I can only assume was a recessive gene from his grandmothers, because neither Josh nor I have much in the way of artistic ability!
I do not love playing with my son.
Okay, before you get all, “How can she say that?!” on me, let me explain. I like playing with him, but I for sure don’t love it.
It’s almost always the same thing, and I almost always do it wrong, regardless of what I’m doing! Let me paint you a picture (with words since, as noted above, I have zero talent in the visual arts):
It’s a beautiful Sunday morning. Josh is still sleeping, and Z and I have been up for a while. Z’s done watching Daniel Tiger and eating breakfast. He’s ready to play!
We get into his playroom, and Z makes a beeline to his drawer of cars. I desperately try to convince him to do anything else.
Me: “Hey, you know, we haven’t built a train track in a long time! I bet that’d be really fun. We could even put trees and dinosaurs around the track. Doesn’t that sound cool?”
Z: “No, I want to play cars.” Blargh. I tried.
I sit and wait for direction. I would never just grab a car and start driving it around the room! That is strictly forbidden, let me tell you.
Z: “Mommy, why aren’t you playing with me?”
Me: “I don’t know what you want to do yet.”
Z: “I want to play cars!” Oh . . . Duh.
Me: “Okay, but how do you want to play? What do you want to do with the cars?”
Z: “Let’s race!” Yes, that’s what I figured.
I pick a car from the two choices he’s offered me. He decides that’s actually the car he wanted, so he takes that one and hands me the other.
We race. And race. And race.
For. Ev. Er.
Now, to be fair to Z, I will admit that sometimes playing with cars is not racing. Sometimes we crash over them with monster trucks or put them down the big ramp with the loop in it. Ahh, such variety—the spice of life!
I’m going to give myself a bit of a break from guilt here:
I don’t hate playing everything. There are lots of things I happily play with him—soccer, catch, puzzles, board games, roughhousing on the super-soft, pillowy blankets on our bed, hide and seek, and many more like those.
But he never wants to do those things!! He loves to hang in his playroom and do the very things that bore me to tears.
So how have I been handling this situation?
Here’s where I get real with you.
I have found myself doing two things lately that I am totally not proud of.
1. Making excuses to either shorten playtime or get out of it altogether.
For example, “Oh I’d love to buddy, but I have to start making dinner!” or “Yeah, just let me get this one thing done first.”
Ugh. Even writing that out makes me feel like a horrible person!!!
2. Bringing my phone in the playroom and looking at it when he seems engaged in his own play.
This has gotten worse since I started the blog, unfortunately. I have a lot of social media irons in the fire, in an attempt to get this little blog noticed, and I get notifications that, well, have to be checked right away, you know.
Otherwise they’ll go away. Or something. Or I just suck.
Every time I do either of these things, I feel absolutely awful afterward. But I continue to do them anyway! What is wrong with me?
How can I (and you!) become a reformed play hater??
I’ll start by listing a few things I have been trying lately:
1. Infuse his play with my own style of play.
While playing cars, I’ll engage him in some kind of funny word play, or maybe I’ll pull him into my lap and cover him with kisses and tickles. It breaks up the monotony and either puts our brains to work or adds an element of physical affection, which is always a positive thing.
2. Break his “rules,” just to switch things up and keep him on his toes.
I’ll introduce monster trucks to the race, even though he explicitly stated it was only for race cars! Gasp!! Most days, this elicits a fit of giggles . . . If it doesn’t, and instead becomes a battle of wills, I drop the idea and play by his rules.
I’m not cruel. 😉
3. Set time frames for how long I’ll play before I go do whatever else needs to get done (usually dinner).
I got this idea from an article by Joshua Freedman, in which he suggests that we basically establish the ground rules for when we play and how long we play. This act can help us to more fully embrace and make the most of the playtime that we do give.
So far, I’ve found this to be a pretty useful strategy. Z and I have quality time together, and I know that (and this is going to sound terrible) my commitment to playing cars will end.
And here are a couple of suggestions from others:
1. Don’t let our kids boss us around.
Peter Gray Ph.D. asserts that it’s actually best if we basically stand up to our kids during play and try to get them to play the way we want to. He says that when a child is confronted with a playmate who does not bend to his will, he begins to develop valuable social skills, like being aware and considerate of the needs of others.
I have to admit that I’ve tried this a couple of times, with very little success. As I have mentioned previously, my little man is very willful and things can escalate pretty quickly. Playtime is generally one of those times when I choose not to fight battles if possible.
There are plenty of other times that I have to assert myself. I hate the idea of fighting during play.
But, since I’m actively trying to develop social skills in my kiddo, I may have to revisit this and give it another go.
“Same thing we do every day, Catherine. Try to take over the workforce.”
I like to be busy, and I hate monotony. When I got laid off in December, it was easy to stay busy because Christmas and Z’s birthday were just around the corner—so many little projects and tasks awaited me, I was actually kind of glad for the forced “time off.”
As the craziness of December becomes a distant memory, I find myself with fewer and fewer things to occupy my time. And, worse, I have no idea when I’ll earn a stable paycheck again, so spending money makes me feel sick to my stomach. I can’t just go out and spend the day in San Francisco, browse at the outlets, get a hobby (most of which are actually more expensive than you’d think), or whatever else I might do with my free time.
Ever since I was in fifth grade, I’ve suffered from moderate anxiety and depression. (Interestingly, the National Institute of Mental Health notes that the average age at which people begin to suffer from anxiety is eleven years old.) In my case, the depression usually follows an episode of high anxiety.
In this post, I’m going to delve into my own struggles and explain why I (and others) think it’s worthwhile to talk about them. I’ve noticed that there’s been a movement lately to get people talking about mental illnesses, to bring individual experiences out into the light in an effort to remove the stigma. I think that sharing our internal struggles with others is a kindness to ourselves, but is also a kindness to those who may feel alone.
We’ve all experienced setbacks. This is just a fact of life. It doesn’t matter how smoothly things appear to be going—something, at some point, will trip us up. How do we dust ourselves off when this happens? And, once we do, how easy is it to stay standing?
My exploration of self-kindness today is through the lens of my (not-so-recent-anymore) layoff. I had found my dream job for a really wonderful organization with a mission that I truly believed in. I was writing language arts curriculum with a social-emotional focus, and I was just beginning to feel like I was becoming competent.