I hate playing with my kids.
That fact alone causes me more guilt than almost any of my perceived maternal shortcomings.
Don’t get me wrong—I love to snuggle with them, rock them, take them on outings, read with them, watch movies, and even, when a whimsical mood overshadows my Type A tendencies, bake with them.
But imaginative play makes me shudder.
Before my second daughter was born, whenever my preschooler would croon, “Mommy? Will you play with me?” I felt my heart sink. What kind of a mother doesn’t want to play with her own daughter, I chastised myself. The idea of sitting down on the floor, manipulating a plastic doll and contributing to inane improvisational dialogue gave me the urge to pop a few Tums.
Not to mention the fact that I had so much to do—pick up the house, do laundry, get dinner started, return a few emails, call my mom. I felt myself starting to twitch as I plopped down next to my eager offspring, pushing back thoughts of all the things I could be accomplishing with this time.
I’m quite certain my resistance to playing with her speaks volumes about my spontaneity and imagination. But where did I go wrong? When I was a child, my inner world was unmistakably rich. Not only did I write short stories and poems, but I was constantly inventing new games, plays, and characters for my minions, I mean, brother and cousins, to engage in with me. My creativity seemed boundless, and I enacted my visions with unabashed enthusiasm.
Somewhere along the way, that free-spirited little girl who lived for playtime became a 35-year-old mother who is unable to get into character.
I was relieved when my second child became old enough to participate in her big sister Izzy’s schemes. Actually, as soon as the baby could hold her head up, my five-year-old would request that I prop her up in a bouncy chair, and she would determinedly play at her baby sister: “Sophie! We’re going on a safari! Which way should we go first?” she would ask breathily while her semi-comatose sibling blinked back dispassionately.
Now that the girls are seven and two-years-old, they are remarkably able to play together in a variety of settings—at the park, in the sandbox, at the water table. My oldest is a skilled mastermind, and I am grateful that she has a sidekick who is better suited to her theatrics than boring old Mommy. When Izzy leads her younger sister on a search for treasure, Sophie perfects the role of the amenable assistant, exclaiming delightedly at all the right moments. I, on the other hand, attempt to twist my face into an expression that conveys wonderment and appreciation whenever one of them presents me with a “fairy.”
Even though I have welcomed the respite from playing thanks to the birth of Izzy’s minion, I mean, sister, I still feel compelled to step up my play game from time to time. On the one hand, I have accepted my strengths as a mother: I am nurturing, compassionate, communicative, and affectionate. Maybe I should just acknowledge that imaginative play is not going to be my strong suit as a parent. But on the other hand, I feel that every once in awhile, I owe it to my daughters and myself to push beyond my comfort zone, get down on the floor with them, and speak in a ridiculous voice while manipulating a Polly Pocket doll. And who knows? Maybe it will be fun.