Friday, January 30, 2009

"Eggos, Mama?"


That is what Finn says when he means, "Legos, Mama, play Legos."

Legos are his current obsession. Building, building, building, this kid. Bristle blocks, Tinkertoys, wood blocks, and of course, "Eggos". But the thing is, he'll play for a few minutes by himself and then I get the call to join in on the fun. And, you know what? It IS fun. I love to play with my kids. For ten minutes, a half hour. And then, I get the strange idea that since they're engaged and having fun, I'll slip away for a moment and do a load of laundry or unload the dishwasher or repair the breakfast damage.

This is obviously delusional thinking because within moments I get the call. And who can turn down:

"Eggos, Mama? Eggos with Finn?"

That is not an invitation to be refused. So, the dishes wait. The clean clothes pile up, homeless, sometimes never leaving the basket, just to be put into rotation again. Bills, returning phone calls, filling out forms for school and insurance: all of that is pushed to the side as I am a partner in painting, playdoughing, block building, and fort making.

I am a thirty-eight year old woman spending a good portion of her day as a toddler.

And most days, I allow myself the privilege of being my children's playmate, along with their mother. When Reese gets home from school, we do "dance party" all of us wiggling crazily and both of them wearing "heels" and me in my stocking feet. We bake gingerbread. We read books. We watch Jack's Big Music Show. We hand clap the ABC's. We dress up and they do my hair. I watch them put on shows and get into arguments and laugh and cry and grow up in front of my eyes, slowly.

And then I say:

"OK, now you guys play."

And then I make a three-minute attempt at the laundry, the bills, the dust bunnies. I get dinner started. I feed the dogs. I clean up the heels and the books and the gingerbread. I make them clean up the heels and the books and the gingerbread. I think about my childhood, pictured here, me in my mother's arms and can't remember ever laying on the ground with her building anything. I don't remember us playing. I know that this is a generational thing. I know that "helicopter parenting" is the phrase my generation is supposedly guilty of, and maybe I am an offender. But I know this:

My mother didn't play with me but she loved me SO. She hugged and kissed me all the time and once, we sat in the movie theater and saw The Sound of Music, TWICE. She talked with me a lot. She stayed up with me when I was sick and was the best nurse ever, cold wash clothes to the head, toast with lite butter. She was always real with me. And I always knew I was loved.

AND I know:

I might play with my kids too much. And I might lose my patience too much. And allow them to eat too many snacks. And I might underschedule them with formal activities and overschedule them with a different arts and crafts activity every ten minutes. But I love them SO. I hug and kiss them and talk with them and stay up with them when they are sick and use a cool wash cloth and buttered toast. And I am real with them and I hope against hope that they will know how very much they are loved.

This is when I realize how the very tough the job of mothering, of parenting, becomes so amazingly simple when you peel away all of the expectations and comparisons and pressures we put on ourselves and each other.

I can't remember ever sitting down and playing a single thing with my mother. I don't know if my kids will remember that I played playdough and trains and Legos with them, and in the end, neither will matter. What will matter is what Reese and I talked about on our way home from dance class this morning:

"Mama, what if you move to Asia or something and you are far, far away from me?" she asked, sounding a lot like she was reading out of RUNAWAY BUNNY.

And I said:

"We're not going to Asia, but if we did, you can come with us. Wherever Dad and I are is home. You can always come home."

She didn't answer, but I looked up into the rear view mirror and saw her staring out her window with a smile, looking for all the world like she believed me.

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