I like playing with my nephew, who is almost six. I especially like Lego; the building of space ships with lasers and massive control panels (him) and luxury yachts with roof-top patios (me). I love going to parks and hearing him cry with delight when I chase him down slides. And I love it when he’s content to just sit still and draw pictures together.
I’m less enthusiastic about monotonous activities that involve him doing the same thing over and over again—like hide and seek, which is him hiding (over and over again) in the laundry hamper and me feigning surprise (over and over again) when he pops out. It’s like buddy, I know you are in there. Not just because I can hear you giggling and the hamper is shaking but also because this is the only spot you hide.
But still, we have fun. If I’m being honest, it’s fun because I’m doing it for two-to-three hour sessions and then I have my freedom to do adult things again, like sit on the toilet and read the New Yorker. If I had to do that hamper routine every day, or watch Paw Patrol—or something called Teen Titans—every day, I’m fairly certain that play time would become “Why is Auntie Jess so scary?” time.
A mother, who has a three and a six-year-old, wrote to Slate’s advice column admitting that she hates playing with them. In fact, she finds it “torturous”: “They beg and beg till I give in, and within five minutes I’m snapping at them and having to use breathing exercises because I just want to scream and punch walls,” writes ‘Bad Mum’. “I hate myself for not being a better parent. I cuddle them and read to them and fix their boo-boos, I help them with homework and take them for walks and check on them at night, but I hate pretending to be a cat or playing Twister. All the books say that they need quality time with parents. Am I screwing my kids up for life?”
The advice from Slate’s Carvell Wallace is solid. He reassures ‘Bad Mum’ that every parent has felt like this at one time or another. It’s normal. But “hating yourself is never good, never helpful, and never necessary,” Wallace says. “Not only is it not great for you, but it’s also not great for your kids to have a mom who talks about herself that way. These kinds of attitudes are never kept within. They bleed out and impact all of our relationships whether we intend them to or not.”
He suggests that ‘Bad Mum’ should work on her patience and reminds her that she was right in noting that play time has a purpose:
“Play like this is annoying because we have to slow down and be with ourselves. (Lord knows these kids aren’t providing any substantial entertainment.) We don’t have a phone or a deadline or an email or a reality show or a book to occupy us. We just have the kids. We’re not used to that kind of simplicity, and it’s weird and hard. But I believe it’s something you can and should get better at with practice. See if you can make it 10, then 15, and then 20 minutes just sitting with them, playing along, and not snapping while they bore you to tears. Then when you reach your endpoint, you can gently excuse yourself—before you feel like screaming.
“It’s not easy. If it helps, keep in mind that sooner than you think, they’ll be the ones doing their level best to get away from you. When that happens, you may not miss these infernal games, but it’s quite possible you’ll feel badly about having been so impatient.”
Just the other day my nephew was trying to show me how he could do a somersault. But he was going over on his side and I was all like, Kid, let me show you how it’s done. And good lord, do you know what? My lower back was so stiff that I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t do a somersault. I began to think of all the things I wouldn’t be able to do with my nephew. All those soccer moves I’ve retained via muscle memory, the shooting of hoops, the cartwheels. And I began to miss this time before it had even occurred.
Rest assured, I took an Advil and 30 minutes later I did the damn somersault. By that time, my nephew didn’t even care. He was probably hiding in the stupid hamper again. My point, like Wallace’s is, is do the somersaults while you can, people.