Today was the first day of cool, temperate sunshine in a lonnnng stetch of days that felt like being trapped inside a hot, steamy monster’s mouth.
So, of course I Carpe Diem’ed the crap out of the day by taking my coffee on the porch and taking the kids to the park. I had no other agenda for this morning except to enjoy this beautiful day and to savor the last bites of summer with my sweets.
While at the park, I took the kids on a short hike to look for pine cones for a wreath I’m planning on making as part of our homeschooling adventure. Although we found nary a pine cone, I did notice that the park groundskeepers had been mowing that morning and there was a TON of freshly cut clippings laying like a thick blanket on top of the cut grass, and this gave me a rascally idea. In the spirit of aforementioned Carpe Diem, I grabbed a huge handful of that Dew-damp cut grass and hurled it at my daughter like a giant green snowball.
What? Isn’t that what every good mother does?
I mean, I’m not a savage. I started by aiming for the kids’ knees to test out the waters. It wasn’t until I saw that they were ALL ABOUT this game, that I began aiming for their heads. Haha! Oh please – they loved it! I beaned my daughter twice and even got some grass in her mouth. What??!? She was laughing uproariously and so was Caleb as he chased me all over the park with his arms loaded with cut grass. By the end, neighborhood kids had joined in on the action and I was begging for mercy from them all.
And even though I had to push the stroller home for about a half a mile with itchy grass inside my sweaty clothes (those kids have surprisingly good aim), it was worth it. I felt energized and connected and needless to say, we all had a blast.
And I realized… That – that right there was the key to being a satisfied parent. I hear a lot of moms talk about how frustrating it is to spend day in and day out with their kids. How they’re constantly trying to find activities to get them through. And I get it, I really do. I’m a huge proponent of creating structure – not just for kids, but for the sanity of parenthood as well. But free play – spontaneous, free play where YOU, the parent, are a participant in your child’s play…Is not only what your kids desperately want from you, it is what will bring this parenthood thing full circle. You will find the joy you’ve been missing when you are truly present with your kids, participating in their lives, not just trying to force them into the shape of YOUR life.
So much of the frustration of parenting comes from mentally attempting to be in two places at once. For instance; desperately wishing you were napping instead of playing dress up with your child, or burying your head in your phone while building yet another train track with your child. This mental duplicity is not fun for your child and it’s not fun for you.
I have this memory from my childhood… A nondescript summer afternoon where my little sister Becky and I convinced my Mom to play with us. On this lucky day, we convinced Mom to come outside and play PIG with us. PIG is a simple basketball game where, when one person makes a basket, the next person has to make that same shot. If you don’t make it, you get a P. And if you don’t make the next one, you get an I. That day, our rules dictated that, once you got the final G of PIG, the loser’s punishment was to walk around the driveway snorting like a pig. So for this particular game, we had a video camera and we video taped my mom’s inevitable loss and her snorting punishment. Of course my sister and I thought it was hilarious to see our mom snorting like a pig, and because we now had videotaped evidence, the fun was on instant replay… But truthfully, I don’t think it was really the fact that we succeeded in reducing our mother to impersonating swine that made that day so fun. It was the experience of playing with our Mom and watching her laugh too, and knowing that she was participating in our world for a moment. That’s what made it special.
Obviously parents are incredibly busy. We can’t always participate in the games and imaginary world in which our kids live, and truthfully, they need to build that skill of entertaining themselves and discovering independence anyway. But my suggestion is, when you are with your kids, BE with them. Get down in the dirt with your kid, be ALL IN. Let go of that mental list of people you need to call back, doctor’s appointments you need to make, the bill you need to pay, what you’re going to make for dinner. Forget it all for the moment. You can’t do anything about it then anyway. Forget it all and BE THERE. Not only will you make your kids’ day and possibly a lasting memory, but YOU will be happier and YOU will find joy in the moment instead of frustration.
Most likely, you will find out that your kids are actually pretty hilarious and really really stinkin’ creative and that you used to be that way, too. And maybe you’ll even rediscover that there’s an echo of playfulness still inside you.
Then, turn that echo into a Tarzan holler, get down in the dirt and BE ALL IN.