Category: Play

Days of Play

Big boy reading to little boy. The lovely thing about this was that it happened after supper, when CJ was begging for entertainment, and Albus right away offered to read him a book: Green Eggs and Ham. Albus has become such a reader over the past year or so, devouring chapter books, but reading out loud is yet another step.

I gave the kids a mental health day awhile back, and this is one of the activities we did: colouring, water-colouring, and drawing on a large single sheet of paper. The end result was not overwhelmingly amazing (I did not hang it on the dining-room wall, as the kids requested), but the process was a lot of fun. Reminiscent of the kind of hands-on directed-activity parenting I used to do on a regular basis, that is now fairly rare. It’s nice that it’s rare, because it means the kids play independently and creatively all on their own, but occasionally it’s also nice to get to be a part of that play, too. But only occasionally).

Snow day/P.D. day play.

Fooey was out for an hour, along with several other kids (I was babysitting that day). They ended with a game that involved jumping off the porch and swinging on the chain that in summertime holds up one of the hammocks. I didn’t find out about that til later. Hands-off parenting/babysitting has its downside. Though everyone came in unharmed, glowing, and happy, and devoured a snack of hot chocolate, marshmallows, and apricot cake. Is there a lesson in this?

Tuesday and Thursday mornings. As soon as the big kids head out the door, the little kids throw themselves into play. (What will we do next year when Fooey goes to school all-day, every-day?). This morning. Started with puzzles. Moved on to cooking and baking.

Followed by eating, of course. And nope I’m not involved in this game. I’m sitting at the computer nearby, typing this post. (They’ve moved on to naptime right now. Sounds good to me …).

Catch-me-up

Kevin is crafting the kids’ Halloween costumes. Praise be, ’cause crafty, I isn’t, and the man has talent. We now have an eerie likeness to the real Spongebob Squarepants grinning at us from our dining-room table. “Paint the rest of me!” he’s chirping. “Don’t forget my pants!”

On Thursday, it was just me and the two little ones home all day, and though we had several appointments to go to, we also had time to play “storytime.” I did not set the chairs up like this: it was Fooey’s doing.

This afternoon, the neighbours might have been forgiven for thinking our children were doing violence to each other in the backyard. The shrieks, the screams, the ongoing mayhem. And people are worried about the noise a few backyard chickens might make. Just try living next to us. You’d be begging for chickens. Let the photo evidence show that, in fact, fun was being had, if at ear-splitting volume. The three biggest were playing some sort of sandwich game on the motorcycle swing, while CJ hung around and gave me panic attacks every time he stepped too close.

Good Mother/Bad Mother

I am typing this in the office/playroom while the two littlest play Playmobil by themselves (with occasional mediation from me). In other words, I am basically ignoring them. I am not playing with them. They are fending for themselves, imaginatively. Is it possible that this good mothering?

Or is this good mothering?: Yesterday, while waiting in the hallway outside music lessons, I played with CJ. Within five minutes, I’d created a monster. He refused to play by himself. He roared when I attempted to converse with a nearby adult. Introduced to the high of mama-holding-a-Lego-guy-and-together-sliding-the-guys-down-mama’s-pantleg, he instantly progressed to attention junkie, incapable of sliding Lego guys down pantlegs all by himself. Yes, I looked with envy at the kid on the floor doing puzzles while his mother talked to a friend.

A few more good mother/bad mother examples, just for fun …

This morning, Albus called me “the worst mother ever,” and dramatically declared, at 8:28 AM, that his day had been ruined. Because I clipped his nails. Then I made him brush his teeth. Apparently, from the perspective of a nine-year-old boy, bad mothers insist on good hygiene.

Last night, while folding laundry on our bed, I initiated a conversation with AppleApple, who was also lying in our bed, reading a Harry Potter book for perhaps the 77th time. “How was soccer?” (She’d just come back from her first soccer skills session). “Fun!” “Wonderful! What was fun about it? Was there a particular drill that you liked especially? Did you know any of the other girls? What were the coaches like?” She was mostly silent, or monosyllabic, glancing up vacant-eyed from her book to respond. Finally, she gazed at me with deep weariness, and said, “Could you please stop asking all these questions so that I can read my book?”

To sum up: let’s just say I’ve resigned myself to getting some bad reviews, as a mother, while remaining convinced that I’m doing a reasonably good job. Is there any job on earth that is as controversial, as subject to criticism and debate, as judged on both a macro and micro level, as well as judged generally, ie. mothers are [fill in the responsible-for blank]?

Please note: this is an observation and not a complaint.

Get Your Hands Dirty


We need some photos up here, a snapshot of our past week, a sampling of all the family activities we’re burning through on a regular basis. Above, what remained after the neighbourhood street party last weekend: face painting and tattoos.

This year, Albus and AppleApple are both continuing with conventional piano lessons (ie. reading music, music theory); but both are also being taught by my brother Karl, who is a professional musician (sample my siblings’ band’s music; they’re called Kidstreet)–Albus is learning guitar, and AppleApple is learning the drums. Karl is teaching them by ear rather than by sight, and Albus has started learning “power chords,” and is playing along with songs, while AppleApple is learning the basic drum riffs (the child is a drum machine; her foot on the bass sounds a thump that would reverberate in a dance club). CJ really really really wanted to play both drums and guitar; above, his big bro is letting him practice strumming.

Oh, and we had friends over for supper the other night, and it ended in a mud bath in the backyard (sorry, parents of friends). Of course, the kids were having the most fun ever, going primal and painting themselves and throwing mud balls. It all ended in the bath, but there were no tears.

Lemonade Stand and Dilly Beans

A good way to direct our energies on a humid and hot day earlier this week: take one grumpy walk to the grocery store for supplies, whip up a batch of lemonade, popcorn, throw in some homemade banana bread, haggle over the pricing (5o cents per item, or 75 for a combo of any two items), and make some signs. Sit in the lawn and hope for customers to pass you by. We waited for awhile, and had some long periods of doing nothing much, except for reading and playing on the picnic blanket, but in the end each child had earned a small share of the pooled profits, and we’d gone through three pitchers of lemonade, and met a few passersby not previously known to us. (A special thanks to friends who went out of their way to stop by and to drum up business for us!).

Today, I had the brilliant idea to can dilly beans. Really, why not? So it’s hot. Let’s add some steam to the kitchen. Actually, it was happifying to remember, as I do every year, that canning isn’t impossible, or even that difficult. Within an hour (or a little more), I had seven jars of dilly beans on the counter. The kids helped to clean the beans, but spent the rest of the time getting into trouble. Canning isn’t the easiest task to invite kids to participate in, involving as it does a great number of hot things: boiling water, simmering liquids, steaming jars, etc. But I’m inspired. What if I put up seven jars each day for a couple of weeks every August? Do-able? That would be a lot of food by fall. Left on my to-do list: canned tomatoes, and tomato sauce; relish; maybe some canned pumpkin or squash; grape juice. Easy-peasy. Right? Ask me in a month.

Different

Our family meeting was so good, yesterday, that I was buzzing for hours afterward. It wasn’t that we’d solved problems or perfected the use of the talking stick (NO TALKING STICKS! was my decree). It was that we talked. There was conversation. Back and forth. Ideas flowing.
It all started earlier in the day, when I picked the kids up from school for swim lessons. If we walk fast, we can just get to the pool in time. I had fresh-made banana muffins to offer to grumpy eight-year-olds, pining for play dates.
“This is the worst day ever! I hardly have any time to play with my friends!”
Mondays and Wednesdays (and Fridays, sometimes, too) are days we currently keep free for after school play dates. Tuesdays are music days. Thursdays are swimming. And those days are also family time.
“But it’s not like we’re really together, is it? It’s not like real family time.”
No, not during the actual in-the-pool swim time. But let me assure you, we’re really together the rest of the time, and it really is family time. Walking to the pool and then home afterward underlined the togetherness of the venture. There we were, walking and talking, talking and walking. It’s an elemental combination. One of my closest and longest friendships has revolved around walking and talking. We walk, we talk. The forward motion can contain silences, time for reflection, emotion, quiet, bursts of energy and laughter and ideas.
There is no time of silence when walking with four children; but what interesting subjects have occasion to emerge. On the way home, AppleApple put on the winter hat I’d brought (one for everyone, though most declined). We passed a young woman on the sidewalk. Whether or not she noticed AppleApple’s winter hat/spring t-shirt combo, I cannot say, but AppleApple certainly noticed the young woman, and kind of cringed and hunched. And then she said to me: “I feel sort of embarrassed, Mom.” She was puzzled by the emotion. It was almost as if it were new to her, and she was newly discovering and feeling something unexpected and uncomfortable. She was embarrassed to be seen wearing a winter hat on a spring evening.
What an amazing opportunity to open a conversation about our emotions–embarrassment in particular–and how they can shape (or not!) what we choose to do. “Do you feel chilly without your hat? Would you like to keep wearing it?” Yes. “So keep wearing it.” I hope I didn’t head down Lecture Lane, but I was thrilled to be talking with my kids, in the most organic way possible, about peer pressure, being different, feeling different, and the multitude of embarrassing moments in their futures that could alter their behavior, or that they could recognize and resist. One of the most wonderful things about growing up is realizing that embarrassment is so often a projection of one’s own fears and anxieties–“what if she thinks I look stupid in my hat?”–and having the confidence and self-assurance not to change, if we’re happy doing what we’re doing. Most of the time, other people are thinking nothing of the sort (except, maybe, other teenagers; I’m not sure; I remember that being a pretty judgmental phase in my life). Most of the time, other people don’t really notice, or don’t notice to the degree that one imagines. All of this self-consciousness is heightened during the teen years–years of self-discovery, when it is both necessary and painful to examine oneself in depth and superficially, to scrutinize and question and experiment, to learn Who Am I?
We didn’t get into that. I told some funny stories from my childhood about feeling embarrassed. I warned them that embarrassment would be a sensation all the more acute and frequent in the years to come, and asked them to tell me if I were ever embarrassing them (they couldn’t imagine it! Ha!), and promised that I would never deliberately try to embarrass them … but that it might happen anyway.
And, then, this came out. Albus said: “Sometimes I feel embarrassed when the other kids in my class talk about Wii and they don’t talk to me about it, because they know I don’t have one.” He had a new friend over on Wednesday (play date day), and his new friend asked whether he had a Wii, and Albus had to say no. “Did you have fun playing together?” Yes. “Do you think he’d like to come back and play again sometime soon?” Yes. “Do you think he liked you less because you didn’t have a Wii?” No.
At our family meeting, we revisited the topic: being different, having a Wii or choosing not to. Fooey said she’d rather not have one, because then they might always want to play it (the child knows her cravings, too–she LOVES tv, and knows how hard it is to turn it off). AppleApple said we could always play at C&K’s house (uncle and aunt-to-be). Albus pointed out that if we did get one, we could stick to rules about how often the Wii would be played. Both Kevin and I were of two minds. I do think our family would be able to set limitations and stick to them. But the larger and more important point, to me, tends in a different direction altogether: why not be different? Why not be the house on the block where friends come over and play outside? (Plus, in our tightly-knit ‘hood, we’re not the only house on the block with no Wii; it’s just that this year, Albus has been separated from his best buds at school, and has had to adapt to the wider population of kids).
Coincidentally, I’d just read a report yesterday that the AVERAGE DAILY screen time for Canadian kids is SIX HOURS. And on weekends, that goes up to SEVEN HOURS. (That includes computer, tv, gaming systems).
Why not take a small stand against that, as a family, and just go without? It felt, by the end of our conversation, that everyone was willing to think about the larger implications of the choice. Childhood is so short. There is only so much time to play, and to play creatively. When I think of those kids digging that massive hole in our backyard, and the immensity of fun that was had, the enthusiasm, the dreaming and planning, the dirt, the physical labour, the cooperation … I think, yes! More of that, please! My own childhood was blessed with outdoor play, mess-making, freedom, imaginary play, and a connection to the natural world that was so natural I took it for granted.
:::
Different. It’s okay. It’s better than okay. To be unique is to be a human being. To be confidently, happily, creatively, serenely, humorously, vividly, acceptingly and compassionately unique is to be a content human being.

Maybe you’ll eat ice cream with chopsticks (as per AppleApple, above, at last night’s family meeting; yesterday, they learned about China, and the three children in her class who came from China taught everyone how to eat with chopsticks).
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