For all of we parents who are suddenly home, face to face with disintegrating schedules, noisy dance parties, endless pillow fights, toy-strewn floors and back-talking tweens, a harsh truth is coming to light. Our kids are kids, and they act like it.
The lie we’ve told ourselves all these years - that kids don’t necessarily have to be loud, messy, impetuous, or unfocused - is now being exposed. We thought that if we just scheduled our kids, improved our kids, empowered our kids, controlled our kids - that we could make them not kids at all, but smaller versions of adults. Small adults are much easier to deal with than children are; you can reason with small adults. Small adults enjoy practicing their musical instruments and performing in recitals. They like to sit quietly and color. They are kind and considerate to their siblings. They love participation trophies and taking turns. They think farts are embarrassing - not laugh out loud funny.
Small adults understand when Mom and Dad need to work and are respectful. They accept chores and enjoy the sense of pride they bring. Best of all, small adults are so easy to photograph and post on Facebook.
But now we know - after just a few weeks of living with them full time - that kids are not small adults. Turns out, all we had to do was let up for just ONE SECOND and they turned back into actual children. Rambunctious, clumsy, bickering, self-centered children. Also creative, silly, joyful, inspiring, spontaneous, generous, incredibly loving children.
Our past efforts were for naught - children are children no matter what we do. Alrighty, then. If their true journey is to be a kid for a very long time, we might as well settle down and enjoy the trip.
Perhaps now we can see the joy in two boys who are beating on each other with plastic light sabers. We can breathe in the freedom of screaming kids in a yard or toddlers jumping on beds. We can delight as they painstakingly construct a tower of blocks, only to kick it over with glee, and understand that childhood is a magical, temporary place that no one should be rushed away from. We can appreciate that an afternoon of getting the giggles or pretending to be a dog are just as worthy as painting a picture or solving a jigsaw puzzle.
I’ve heard it said “you get one childhood.” But that’s not entirely true. If you are a parent, and you keep an open heart, you can have a second one while watching your kids.
Growing up is messy! We tried to tell ourselves it didn’t have to be - that we could make it manageable and tidy.
It’s a relief to know we were wrong.
Family time is wonderful, isn't it?
But for those occasions when you need to get some actual work done, or you just really need a break, here are some games that kids can do on their own without any help from you. Most of us played these things during our own childhoods, but the recent trend toward scheduled or "enriching" activities might have led us to forget about them. No worries, kids still love them!
Build a fort - let them use all the blankets and pillows they can find and make a fort someplace. Anywhere you're not working is perfect! Depending on their age, this will take them longer than you think. Once it's built, have them take some games inside to play - cards, action figures, blocks, Legos - anything that would be fun to use in a fort. If you are an especially relaxed parent, you can let them eat lunch in there. If it were me, I'd let them do almost anything in there that kept them quiet.
House - so old fashioned! So fun! They get to decide who is Mom, Dad, Grandma, the baby, the dog., etc. Fun variations might be: Prairie House, Beach House, Grandma's House, Quarantine House, etc.
School - they can setup a little school and teach their dolls or stuffed animals or action figures.
Store - get out the canned goods (I know you have some!) and let them set up a store and take turns hoarding-- I mean shopping. No need for a real cash register, you can pretend with a shoe box and a calculator.
Dress Up - raid your closet and let them be superheroes, space aliens, princesses, knights, cowboys/girls - whatever they can think of. Hopefully they will act out stories these costumes inspire.
Tea Party - not just for girls! My boys used to play this for the express purpose of having horrible manners and spit-taking their "tea". Lots of hearty laughs.
This kind of imaginative play often leads them to invent their own games. There's nothing more delightful than seeing what funny things kids think up on their own. Yes, there may be a mess to clean up, but pillows all over the floor is worth an hour of happy quiet, if you ask me.
Big announcement in time for the holidays! Familius, my publisher, is now an imprint of Workman Publishing. I’ve been a longtime fan of Workman and am thrilled to have Why Can’t We Just Play distributed by them. It feels humbling and surreal to be under same umbrella with the What to Expect books (my survival guide at the beginning of my parenting journey) and my recent fave: Getting to 30, A Parent’s Guide to the 20 Something Years.
Workman calls itself “a little silly, very creative, quite adventurous, cute-animal fans, crazy for kids and always hungry.” Sounds like home to me! Workman calls itself “a little silly, very creative, quite adventurous, cute-animal fans, crazy for kids and always hungry.” Sounds like home to me!
For the past few days I have taken a break from writing to revamp my website.
Concurrently, we in New Jersey are experiencing an Artic Blast. Baxter insists on getting up in my lap while I am working, because it's nice and warm next to me.
Progress on the website has slowed down a little. Oh, well. Dogs happen.
This is only a tiny fraction of what was in my son's bedroom. And in the basement bookcase. And in the attic.
In the old days, my boys built Legos constantly. They even saved a few of their proudest spaceships ...
The Star Destroyer ...
The Death Star ...
But now my children are older and I wanted to get rid of the bins of Legos that remained. I knew I couldn't just throw them away! First of all, they probably don't decompose. Second, how could I deprive some other kid of all that fun?
Magically, I found Brickrecycler. Actually, it wasn't that magical. I just googled it.
Anyway, you can box up your Legos (no need to sort or include instructions) and send them to Brickrecycler. They will contribute them to needy schools, orphanages or other programs throughout the world.
Just imagine all that Lego clutter in your house being enjoyed by boys and girls in a tiny African town, or in a refugee village in the Middle East, or in a teen program in the U.S.A. Not to mention how tidy your kids' rooms will be. Marie Kondo will be so proud!
Go on their website to learn more: www.brickrecycler.com/
Ahhh ... the memories.
It was a distinct pleasure to talk to Dr. James Sutton, child and adolescent psychologist, of The Changing Behavior Network about my book, Why Can't We Just Play?
You can listen to it here - we lament how raising children has become too hectic and we reminisce about childhood and its graceful, winding summer days. Enjoy!
Here I am reading a funny story from Chapter Four in Why Can’t We Just Play?
Terry clearly had an AWESOME Fourth of July, as is evidenced by her partying with a moose/chef/candy purveyor. Plus, she was at the (lake) shore with family and friends. High status!
Well done, Terry. I will PM you your audio code for "Why Can't We Just Play?"
Thank you to all you entered.
If you've read my book, Why Can't We Just Play?, you know about the different status levels I feel that various Fourth of July activities carry.
So ... how was your Fourth?
Comment here and let me know what the status your Fourth of July celebration was and why. You could WIN a code for a free download of the audio version of Why Can't We Just Play?
If you haven't read the book yet, or your forgot, here is the excerpt from Chapter Four which details the rankings.
When you’re sitting around talking about what you did on the Fourth of July, there are various status rankings for your activities:
High status: You were at the shore. That means you got out of town, and can imply that someone in your family owns a beach house to which you have regular access. You watched the fireworks from a blanket on the sand, embers falling dramatically into the pounding surf.
Acceptable status: You hosted/attended a fun barbecue. This shows that you and your family are well-adjusted socially and have plenty of well-adjusted social friends. It shows you planned ahead, and enjoy doing things as a family. You watched the fireworks at the local park, surrounded by other families, secure in the love of good friends and our country.
Low status: You just had a quiet time with family at the pool or a ball game and then ate hamburgers in the backyard. This would show that you, while perhaps not super-social, are at least patriotic enough to observe the holiday in the traditional family-oriented, grilled-meat fashion. You watched the fireworks from the front lawn with a few trees blocking the view.
Failure: You stayed home and each pursued your own cleaning, napping, mowing, and secret agent agenda, without speaking to each other for hours, and then huddled around the air-conditioner with your pizza. At least one of you never even showered that day, but I’m not saying who. You didn’t watch the fireworks—not even on TV—because the kids preferred to play a video game. You heard the fireworks in the distance though, and the dog went nuts barking at them, until the noise got so bad you just wished the stupid Fourth was over already.
I will post the winner later this week. And divulge my own status. Hint: not high.
My sister gave me this sign last year. It might have been for my birthday, or some other holiday ... I can't remember. Whatever the reason, I LOVE the sign, for obvious reasons.
I had lots of great ideas about spring cleaning this year. I still do. It'll just be summer cleaning. Nothing wrong with that.
In the meantime, these piles are telling my that my kids are happy.
I mean, holy cow, I have some REALLY happy children.
All I can say is, I feel very lucky. Not everyone can have kids as happy as mine.
Wishing you happiness ... xo