The Art of Kid Simplicity

'I love how you and Dad both play with me.' she says. 'I love to play these games with you, and I KNOW Dad loves to play games with you too.'
 'But you're grown ups. Why do you still love to play?'
 'It's so fun! I don't ever want to stop playing. Grown ups can still play.' 

Just like that, the conversation is over for her. She's listened, processed and moved on to the next block tower or car race. But it leaves me thinking for a long time. 

Some parents are natural born players. And sometimes playa'sssss. But mostly I'm referring to the get down on the floor, make believe cars and fairies games. 

It's pretty safe to say that I'm not a natural born player with two children. With one child it was easier and simpler. Less distractions in the form of 'It's Pip's turn with the wand. Now it's your turn. Don't ride the cat like a horse. Do you need to go to the toilet?'. With one kid I found/find it far easier and enjoyable.  

I have to make the time and mental space to sit down and play. When I do, I find it extremely rewarding. My kids have the most vivid imagination and listening to their play stories is something that bring me extreme joy.

Yesterday I had laid out an entire quilt top on my bed, switching blocks back and forth to get the layout just right. Millie ran into the room with Princess Cadence. Princess Cadence had a rope (USB extension cord) wrapped around her middle with my childhood Rainbow Dash attached. Princess Cadence tried to land on my quilt blocks and I said 'Argh! Millie! Not on the blocks!'


 'But Mum! Princess Cadence has been flying for a long time. She needs to land. She's almost out of pixie dust and she'll crash!' 

Who am I to argue with that? 'Oh I see! Make sure you tell her to land gently then please Mil.' Princess Cadence landed gently and all was well. I was so amazed at her internal dialogue and the way her stories follow through with consequences, and apart from anything else, they're so damned fun. 

At 2.5, Pippa's stories are beginning to expand and flesh out minor details. Her cars are playing nicely with each other, the Barbies go to get their hair done and go down the slide and she and Millie play schools with the chalkboard. 

I understand that it's important to be involved and play with your kids, but I think that it's equally important to encourage independent play. I could give you a Montessori Steiner Alternative Unschooling reason for this, but truthfully... this Mama needs some space to think and cook dinner.

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I know there are parents who play with their kids All. The Time. The majority of parents I've met who do this genuinely love it. Then there's some who don't love it, but perhaps just like it enough and think that it's what they need to do, so they do it. My take home from this thought is that if you're doing what works best for you and your kids, then that's enough. I've made a concerted effort to play more and enjoy playing more because the look on my kid's faces when they ask 'Mum? Will you play with me?' and I say 'YES!' - that's worth more to me than all the spare time in the world. 

This is but a stage of life. Soon they'll be at school, primary school, high school, leaving home, being grown ups, and I'll still be here. So for now, let them be little and let them play games. Sometimes, I'll play too.

 

I used to be a grown up.

When M was a tiny baby who cried a lot and I was a new mother who also cried a lot because my baby cried a lot and why can't I fix this... well, my aunt called me and said 'She is learning to be a baby and you are learning to be a mother. That is all. It is okay.'

I still remember the timbre of her voice as she said those words to me and the relief I felt then is still the relief I feel now.

In many ways I suppose I am still learning to be a mother. As M grows into a toddler/little girl/tiny dictator/threenager I am again at a loss as to best roll with the punches. P is strangely enough a different person, so she's not exactly the same as M, making her journey different too.

I went back to my job when M was 20 weeks old. It was agreed upon that I would work from home, and ten days out from my return to work, it was decided that that would't work for my employers. I bandied about with the option of freelancing for them, but that wouldn't work because they feared it would be viewed as a 'sham contract', despite my having been a sole trader in my friend for the past ten years. So we reluctantly found a daycarer and I reluctantly went back to work, and hated it. So tired. Stressed at leaving my non crawling baby with someone else. Tired.

Then I began to enjoy it. Coffee alone! Shopping alone! BEING ALONE! I struggled with my workload and balancing short days with continuity of projects. I struggled with my colleagues who couldn't understand which days I was working, week to week. (I worked the same days every week.) I loved being a grown up again, but I found it so difficult.

I fell pregnant with P when M was 10 months old and my morning sickness was revolting. I carried a bottle of soda water in my handbag at all times and snuck out of the office at 10am every morning for a pair of potato cakes with chicken salt. I ate a lot. Some early pregnancy complications meant that we didn't feel like sharing this pregnancy with the world until we were certain everything was progressing ok. I mean, my gigantic bump at 6 weeks should have been certainty enough, but I hid that sucker under a scarf. At week 14 I handed in my maternity leave form to surprised employers, who looked even more shocked when I took my scarf off to show them that indeed, I was eating for two!

Surprise! Not just fat.

It was a difficult and tiring pregnancy which took it's toll on me early on. In hindsight finishing work in my second trimester would have been a lot easier on my body, but my financial situation didn't allow it. I balanced everything pretty poorly and forgot everything both at work and at home. I pinned a lot of things and spent a lot of time staring blankly at a wall trying to stay awake. At week 35 I finished my last day at work. Two of my colleagues remembered, made me a card and organised an afternoon tea.

Best. Card. Ever.

As the time to return to work approached I still wasn't ready. I extended my leave and thought about what I might like to do come September for my return to work.

A few phone calls later from my employers and I was offered a redundancy. I accepted and all lines of communication ceased, and on the last day of the financial year it was finalised. After five years of service, a place that was a huge part of my life suddenly wasn't anymore. It was a strange feeling. Even though it was an outcome that I was happy with, it still really felt like I was fired.

I'm not entirely sure that my employers actually told anyone of my final departure. I still run into my lovely ex-colleagues who ask when I'll be returning from maternity leave. It's safe to say I don't feel the love!

However I digress. Today I realised something important.

M and I were making brownies in the kitchen. She was sitting on the bench covered in chocolate, licking the beater and grinning at me. There was music on in the background, the kitchen was warm, P was snoozing peacefully in the other room and we were happy.

Photograph (c) Andrew Smyth

You can tell I love her, because I share the beaters and spatula.

I don't have a 'career head' on me at the moment. I'm here, enjoying the moments that make me smile, make me sad, drive me bonkers and make memories. I'm able to enjoy this time fully because this is what I do in the mornings. I get up and spend time with my family. It's because of the ailing print book economy and small business decline that I'm able to do this. I'm so grateful I live in a place that allows us to live and thrive on one wage. M and P are tiny for about five minutes. It's five minutes that I want to grab, bottle and hold on to forever.

Pretty nice, eh?

Silence is golden. Wait, silence is TERRIFYING.

Not in a scary movie kind of way. In a 'Ahhhhh. Silence. It's beautiful. Imma sit here with my phone and a cup of coffee and- WAIT WHY IS SO QUIET OH MY GOD ARE THE CHILDREN OKAY?'

Example one:
It was just silent in the lounge room, save for Sesame Street. I assumed that because I couldn't hear Millie singing 'Old MacDonald' or hear Pippa crying (teething and sick, again) it was all okay. Pip crawled back into the room with three dummies. I swear the child is a dummy ninja. I can never find any, yet she crawls off into her room and comes back with one in her mouth, one in each hand and a look of unbridled, pacified joy.

I hear Millie sitting at the dining table behind me playing with her cars. Then I realise it's a little TOO quiet. I turn around to see Millie sifting through my purse with a handful of change.
'Mum? I'm going to put this in my moneybox. Please get it for me. Now.'

The child is a tiny dictator genius. I foresee her being very rich and me being very poor on account of her constantly stealing my purse, Mr S's wallet and relieving us of our change.

Example two:
It was very quiet in the dining room one day, and when I went exploring for Millie, I found her with a bundle of towels on the bathroom floor. She closed the door on me and said 'It's okay Mum, I'm cleaning it up.' She'd been washing the bathroom floor with a facewasher. Thankfully she is not a kid who cleans with toilet water, she's been in love with the mixer tap since we showed her how to use it.

I rue the day we bought the step for the bathroom.

Example three:
I went to make toast for the girls and after some silence, I heard Pip bellowing. I came into the room to find her on all fours on the kid's table, having scaled the chairs to get up there. We're trying to teach her how to get down, we haven't been entirely successful yet.

Example four:
Whilst I have been typing example three, Millie was sitting next to me. I have just turned around and she is no longer watching my typing intently. She's sticking stickers on the lounge room windows.

This is why we can't have nice things.