Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Mom, the Un-Awesome Playmate

"Play with meeee!"

I, like many mothers of young children, hear this approximately 300 times per day. I try to devote as much time as possible to play on the weekends, but playtime during the week is packed into small chunks here and there -- lunchtime or just before bed, most days -- because, let's face it, weekdays are busy with non-play things.

Sweet Boy plays pretty well on his own now, and really he always has. These days he passes the time with trains or cars or his favorite three stuffed animals, Liony the Lion, Ramma Rhino, and Phil (the elephant we brought home from the Philadelphia Zoo this summer). He spends long stretches of time lining up the cars in neat little rows, then crashing them into one other while yelling "Whoa! Whoa!" and laughing like a comic-book villain. Or he builds elaborate train tracks that don't connect so he can run his trains off the edge of the table and marvel at the noises they make as they plummet to the floor. And he loves to make the animals wrestle. (Are you getting the theme here? All boy, all the time.)

His independent play is good for at least two obvious practical reasons: (1) he's an only child (so far), and (2) I work at home so he has to keep himself entertained for long stretches of time. But I recently realized another plus: It's great that he can be happy playing on his own because I'm not so good at make-believe. In fact, I kinda stink! It is really hard work for me to play with cars or trains or "my animals" or even Mr. Potato Head. I have trouble coming up with playful dialogue or kid-friendly story lines, and frankly, I get bored really quickly. How pathetic.

Now I know you might say, well sure, you're a grown-up, Tall Girl, and you've long since grown out of all that imaginative play characteristic of childhood. But I'm not sure that's truly the case. Truth is, I don't know that I was ever good at make-believe. (Which might also be why I haven't yet written a bestselling novel...but we can talk about that another time.)

I'm thinking back about playtime with my brother, who is only 20 months younger than me and was my built-in childhood playmate. I remember "playing guys" with Star Wars action figures and sometimes playing with Hot Wheels or my dollhouse together. Unless Brother was directing me with his usual "now you say this," I was no good. And I got so bored. I could play hide-and-seek or tag or Uno forever. But playing guys was just not my thing.

And apparently it still holds true now with Sweet Boy. I can play Candyland or Memory over and over, I love to color or make Play-Doh critters, and I can spend hours on any playground chasing and being chased, but ask me to "play animals" for five minutes and I start to sweat. I even prefer building giant Lego skyscrapers to talking like a toy elephant. It's the pretending that just throws me!

I wonder if this is a boy/girl thing, or if it's a left brain/right brain thing; my son reminds me a lot of my brother, so it's possible they have similar ways of thinking that might just be opposite mine. Or maybe it's a I've-always-been-an-uptight-Mommy-type thing, which is really quite possible because, well, I have always been an uptight Mommy type.
Or perhaps I just don't think too quickly (scratch improv comedy off my list of possible careers).

Whatever the root of my particular dysfunction might be, I'll continue to work on playing. It's worth it just for the proud little smile Sweet Boy gives me when I have a true make-believe moment.


paddyandhenrysmom said...

You have just described me to a T. I cannot do the imaginary play thing, though I know I did a little of it as a child. I am pretty boring at play time and am so grateful for P and H's time at day care with people who are much better at it than I so at least they are not being completed shafted.

Robyn said...

I think you're selling yourself short. I think it's a confidence thing. Some little part of you, whether you know it or not, is probably embarrassed about talking to a stuffed elephant or making wooden trains scream and *crash!* and *eeeeeeeerrrhhhh!*

Just be silly. You're absolutely not boring. And you make me laugh hysterically every time we're together in a Mello-family unit. All the stuff up in that brain of yours is witty. I'm sure Phil and Liony and Ramma and Jodie think so, too.

Our brother has a wonderful, childlike imagination because he has ensured that he's stayed childlike (in the best way possible). You have also always kind of had to be a mommy-type and excelled at it (in the best way), so don't begrudge that. I've always had to be a little crazy (in the best way) to keep everyone on their toes. :)

We all have our strengths and our separate character. Strengths in one area often lead to shortcomings in others. C'est la vie.