It is the 20th day of February, and Mother Nature is dumping some more snow on us here in Minnesota. I am looking outside my window as I type, and I feel like I am inside a snow globe. Whoever is shaking this globe, please stop! It was pretty the first time, but I am over it now. Really, I don’t remember ever hating winter as much as I have this year. It’s been cold. My back still hurts from shoveling earlier this week. And the kids and I are going crazy in this house. Let me rephrase that: My house and children are driving me crazy. Pretty soon I’ll be trying to peel away the yellow wallpaper.
I am a workaholic at heart. Weird, you may be thinking, since this is coming from someone who could no longer take the pressure of working a full-time job and taking care of kids while her husband started an evening master’s program last winter. Yeah, weird. But it’s true. I am a workaholic. If I am not working on something –anything –I feel useless. Being a stay-at-home mom for the majority of the week certainly does require doing a lot of work. I change diapers, I am potty-training my daughter, I make three meals a day, I do the dishes and laundry, I pay the bills, I take the kids grocery shopping, I clean the house (sort of), I shovel, I keep track of our schedule of activities and events, I bathe the children, and I try to get some writing and reading done when the kiddos are sleeping. Yeah, I am running an entire operation over here. However, taking care of my kiddos also requires a lot of playing. Gasp! Yes, I have to play.
As a workaholic at heart, the idea of having to play for several hours a day is actually quite terrifying. Sometimes I just can’t take it anymore and I start making up games to play with my kids that involve cleaning the house. For example, I like to play garage sale. I tell my kids that they get to have a pretend garage sale in the living room. To play, they must take out every single toy that is in their rooms and put it on display in the living room. While they are busy moving their toys from their rooms to the living room, I am busy dusting their shelves and cleaning their floors. When I am done cleaning, I go shopping at the garage sale. I pick out items I want to buy, and then I put these items back in my kids’ rooms. For about two minutes, before the kids have noticed what I have done, I bask in the beauty of their clean and organized rooms. I feel like I have accomplished something. And then it’s time to play again, and five minutes later we are pretending that a tornado has hit their tidy rooms. This is the point where I take a hit from my inhaler to prevent an asthma attack. It’s chaos. This play thing goes against everything I have worked for prior to having kids. But you know what? This play thing also brings me down to earth. This play thing has saved me. My kids are saving me.
I like organization. I feel good when my house is clean. Routines and schedules comfort me. I had all of this before becoming a mother. When I had all of this, I felt accomplished. It was clear that I was responsible. It was clear that I took care of myself. It was clear that I had it together at home and at work. After having my son, I quickly learned that I would have to work harder to meet and exceed my expectations for myself. After our daughter was born, it became increasingly difficult to live up to the expectations I had set for myself. I began to think that I was a failure. I was no longer finding enjoyment in my work –any of it. I was no longer happy at my job, I was unhappy at home, and I was unhappy with myself. As a workaholic at heart, one would think that I had derived some sort of pleasure from all of this. However, my expectations for myself were no longer realistic and true. From the moment my son was born, I was changed forever. I didn’t know this right away, of course. I knew life would be very different as a mother. But I didn’t understand at the time how such a tiny being could teach me so much about myself that I never knew or fully paid attention to. Since the moment of their births, my children have been breathing chaos into my mind, heart and soul. It is terrifying and beautiful. All I can do now is embrace motherhood and this chaos one day at a time.
My kids have saved me, and they continue to save me every day. They do not see the dirty dishes piling up on the counter after each meal. They do not see the heaps of dirty laundry on my bedroom floor. They do not see the mess of toys strewn about the house. They see endless possibilities for fun. They see opportunities to learn. They see that they are not alone. They want to share their experiences with me because their experiences are exciting. They want to share what they have learned because they are proud. And they want me to encourage them to continue to explore the world around them. This is play. The most exciting experience of the day may include playing with a cardboard box, chasing each other while pretending to be crocodiles, or jumping in piles of laundry fresh out of the dryer. This is play. The most traumatic experience may include a skinned knee from completing an obstacle course in the basement, or enduring what seems like an eternity of screaming as I give my children the opportunity to try to resolve a quarrel without my intervention. This is play. The most creative experience may involve getting messy with paint, building fairy houses with the toys that are tossed about on the floor, or making up a new game called ‘Pumpkin Pie’. This is play. As a mother who stays home most of the week with my kids, this type of play lasts for hours every single day. Now do you see why I am somewhat terrified by the thought of another winter storm that will prevent us from leaving the house for an entire day or two?
No, we have not been stuck at home all winter long. We actually do get out of the house quite often to go to the library, the Minnesota Children’s Museum, the Mall of America, Como Zoo and the Minnesota Zoo. However, nearly all of our time has been spent indoors the past few months since it has been such a cold winter. We have been deprived of being able to run free outside at the park. We have been deprived of sunlight. We have been deprived of fresh air for far too long now. And I am starting to run out of ideas of how to keep my kids entertained and busy for 12 hours every day. I have searched Pinterest for playtime ideas and read various articles and blog posts about the benefits of play. I recently became a member of the Minnesota Children’s Museum Smart Play Ambassador program to become more involved with promoting smart play and sharing my experiences with my kids at the museum. And I have been doing a little research on play to gain new insights on what my kids are experiencing while they play and what I can do as a parent to encourage play and learning through play. I know playtime isn’t that complicated, but this is me trying to survive playtime indoors. And this is me learning from my kids that playtime is good and necessary, even for adults.
My kids have saved me, and they continue to save me every day. We have built stronger connections with each other through play. I learn more each day about who my children are when I watch them play. I see their strengths. I see what challenges them. And we create more happiness in our home when we play. Playtime with my kids has saved me because I feel a stronger connection with my kids –a connection I had longed for last year when I began to feel overwhelmed by work and family life. Playtime with my kids has saved me because it allows me to become more engaged with my children and less focused on the mess in my house and my to-do list. Playtime gives me the opportunity to feel free and to be more creative and imaginative. Playtime opens my mind; it helps me to see my potential. Playtime with my kids saves me from focusing too much on work and serious matters. Play does not come easy for me, but my kids have no problem showing me how it’s done.
This is me today. I am not the same person I was yesterday, and I will not be the same person tomorrow. My kids will not allow it. In their minds, there are endless possibilities in life. They don’t see boundaries and obstacles the same way I do as an adult. They do not have the same fears I have. Their minds and hearts run wild and free. It’s so unfamiliar to me, but it is beautiful. All my children want is for me to see what they see and to feel free like them. I no longer possess their innocence, I have limitations and responsibilities as an adult, and I live with many fears; however, I need to try. I need to try for my kids. I want to try. I want to try for them and for myself. I have many flaws – I always will. But I can show my kids that there is much to gain from trying. I can show my son and daughter that it is never too late to pursue new goals and interests. I can show my children that we are all creatures of God. We are not perfect; we never will be. There is always time and room to become better and happier people. And there is time to play and explore the world, because these experiences do help us to learn, to open our minds, to connect with others, and to become better and happier people.
What do you say? Come play with me? Forget about the yellow wallpaper that is starting to peel.