Posted by Gina Perkins, Pre-School Mommie | Posted in Gina Perkins | Posted on 10-04-2012
About 10 days after Z was born, we had our dear friend and professional photographer, Anne, over to photograph our family (insert shameless plug here: www.dragonflyannie.com). Of course, DJ chose to crash our four hour newborn session with relentless whining, absolute defiance and pretty much all things über bratty. Fortunately for us, Anne is not only a mother to a three year old, but because of her photography business, quite accustomed to the unpredictable nature of kids.
As we were trying to pose Z in an adorable, hand-made sock monkey costume – DJ was pleading for my attention. “Mommy, play with me!” “Mommy, come outside with me.” “Mommy, build these blocks with me.” We were sitting in the middle of DJ’s playroom – the walls lined door to door with her toys….dolls, crayons, motorized cars and walking, barking (annoying!) dogs. Elmo was giggling away, repeating something about being tickled, and my blood pressure was rising. In a room full of potential for distraction, all DJ wanted was me. Anne seemed genuinely unaffected by the chaos of pink plastic surrounding us, but I was embarrassed and stressed out.
And then, the dreaded question came floating gracefully out of Anne’s kind mouth, “How is DJ at playing alone?” I laughed nervously as I assumed this was Anne’s nonjudgmental way of saying “DJ is INSANE!” and then I bluntly said, “Terrible.” I mean, wasn’t that obvious? Much to my relief, Anne and I then launched into a long discussion about how both of our girls (hooray, her toddler wasn’t perfect either!) were not so great at entertaining themselves. And then, we did what all good moms do (said sarcastically), we took the blame for it. We accepted that as a result of our well-intended, undivided attention, our daughters had learned to depend on us for their needs – and their play.
I immediately thought of another dear friend of mine, who, early on, instituted daily “alone play” with her daughter who is the same age as DJ. If I recall correctly, my friend would place her daughter in her playpen after they both woke up and would have her play alone (supervised, of course) for an hour a day. Brilliant! At the time, I couldn’t imagine DJ cooperating with such a plan – and now I realize that it is, in fact, a learned skill that would’ve (of course) been met with resistance at first. However, like any other disciplined twist in the daily routine, would yield positive results. Oh man, I had failed at a drug-free birth with DJ, had failed at producing enough milk to breastfeed her past 4 months, had failed at training her how to sleep through the night – and now, had failed at teaching her how to play independently.
Had I robbed her of her imagination, too? Had I never forced (gently, of course) her to explore the world of imaginary friends and fantasy-lands? Had I stunted her ability to focus, to self-soothe, to color her thoughts vibrantly enough to keep herself entertained?
Perhaps, of all these fears – my biggest was that I had put the kibosh on her budding imagination. I mean, if she was always counting on me for play, could I be sure I wasn’t influencing her make-believe world? You know, the world where she’s in charge, and has the creative freedom to concoct whatever rules and scenarios she wants? The world that will essentially foster her confidence as she explores order and charge and expression of opinion? Yeah, that world – had I trampled it with my adult-conditioned experiences? My subconscious thoughts of what can and can’t actually be? Had I robbed DJ of the Neighborhood of Make Believe because I played in the Real World with her too much?
The other night, after story time with her daddy and Baby Z – per usual, I crawled into DJ’s bed, laying beside her. We have started “telling” one story per night after reading our two bedtime stories. DJ asked, “Can you tell me a story,” to which I replied, “Which animal?” Our ritual has been to choose an animal, followed by a narration about this animal enduring some sort of real-life experience that DJ can relate to….a squirrel whose daddy goes to work everyday, a puppy who has a new baby sister, etc. On this particular night, she exclaimed, “Kitties!”
I began, “This is the story of a little girl kitty. She lived with her mommy kitty, her daddy kitty, and her baby sister kitty…” “What their names are?” DJ interrupted. “Hmm, great question. What shall we name them?” DJ thought for a while, and decided that the mommy kitty should be “Maka,” the Baby kitty as “Caca” (still hoping that wasn’t some sort of subconscious reference to a baby eliciting thoughts of poop), the older kitty sister would be “Kiki” and the daddy, “Titi.” We giggled as I tried to keep the names straight throughout the story, and DJ nodded off to sleep as I whispered “The End.”
I laid there, in her Princess big-girl bed, covered in sheer pink netting, for a few extra minutes. I breathed a cleansing sigh of relief and self-forgiveness. And then I laughed out loud as I asked, “Maka?” I could stop worrying that I had imprisoned her imagination by playing alongside her. Once I got to really thinking, I could agree that, most of the time, we are playing in her world, by her rules. A world where daddy is a kitty-dog and ants are her friends who inspire her to make up songs about them sitting together on the side of the road.
I am, however, also making a concerted effort not to interrupt her when I do find her entertaining herself. (This is mostly inspired by my need to survive with a 4 week old baby now also requiring my attention). When the house gets really quiet, instead of belting out my usual question of “What are you doing, DJ?” – I am now spying on her as she checks her dollies for “protein,” and assures them that their bellies will be ok after “drinking their yogi (yogurt) too fast.”
I think we’re gonna be alright, after-all.