Let’s face it. Parenting is not all fun and games. Even the games are not always fun. As a mother, I know I should embrace the opportunity to be childlike and whimsical, but for me there are things that are better left to the child. Like princesses and bad guys.
I prefer to be a spectator in the sport of pretend play but when the friends go away, the kids ask mom to play. Mom would rather color. Or play board games. Or scrub toilets.
I am happy to do anything that doesn’t require me to channel my inner good guy and shoot an invisible target who my son swears is ruining the world. It’s not because cops and robbers is a boy’s game either; girl’s games hold little interest for me too. I am the mother who was happy when I no longer had to remember what princess to call for dinner. “Ariel, please come to the table.” No response. “Cinderella?”
But my kids are relentless. They don’t like to color. Or play Candyland. So I have been forced to create games that work for me—imaginary play for adults who don’t like to imagine.
Hairdresser, bedtime and doctor are my favorites. They require little effort on days when exhaustion sets in before lunch. For example, when my daughter was three and mommy couldn’t fathom another minute of fairy princesses, I would suggest princess hairdresser. Plastic scissors were used to “cut” my hair and then a brush would style it as I was magically turned into a princess. I got to sit, read a magazine, and relax as she gave me a makeover.
Some days when I was too tired to even sit up for my beauty regimen we would play bedtime. The game has worked beautifully on all three kids. Mommy is the child, and the child is the mommy. I get read a story and tucked in. Then, lights out! If I am lucky, I get a five minute power nap before the cruel morning arrives.
Doctor was not as relaxing as my other mom creations, but I did get a little rest when I lay still for the exam. The rest of the game I would fake aches and pains and wail when given a “shot” in hopes that they would realize their real life doctor drama might be a tad bit overplayed.
I could never have anticipated how the game of doctor would inspire my children. Most four year old boys wish to be a firefighter or superhero. Mine has decided to become a dentist. This is ironic because it takes me and a hygienist to hold him down while the dentist simultaneously sings to him and works on his teeth.
It could be that he wishes to have a career in which he can inflict pain; I noticed last time we played dentist he sang and pressed on my gums quite hard while sporting a devilish grin.
But my daughter, who outgrew conventional pretend play long ago, has re-written the game of doctor to suit her ten year old imagination. And I couldn’t be prouder. She owns and operates a pencil hospital for her fifth grade classmates. Should your pencil eraser fall off, she will perform the necessary surgery to repair it. She took a shoe box and diorama style, fashioned a hospital bed and cozy room. She then made a poster advertising her services. From what her teacher tells me, she has been quite busy.
Her pencil hospital has assuaged me of an enormous guilt I have carried. For years I tortured myself with the thought that a better mommy would be able to muster the necessary reserves and participate in her children’s pretend play. Further, a better mom might spend less time scheming about how to craft self serving games and more time enjoying the wonderful world of her children’s imaginations.
Once, when playing Cinderella I considered getting my daughter to mop the floor. I did decide that this was perhaps crossing the line. But even the mere thought added to my shame. I tried to reason that everyone has their weaknesses. I have friends who hate sports and I happily relieved them of their duty to play catch with their children.
I would recall fondly my own pretend play (although I don’t remember my parents involvement) and perseverate that I should be more selfless and encourage this for my own little ones. Instead I subjected them only to fantasy worlds that I found tolerable.
But the pencil hospital has shown me, that somehow in spite of my limited tolerance for creative play with my children, and possibly, just because of my own imagination, the kids imaginations have thrived. Hey, maybe in twenty years I will get a doctor and a dentist out of it. Imagine that!