I can’t play with my kids. Not something you want to admit at mother’s group, but there it is.
I’m not the kind of parent who can chase a toddler around the park without feeling a little self-conscious. I don’t think I’m very good at making cubbies and having tea-parties. And that won’t be me in the front row of a Wiggles concert, dancing and singing while clapping a child’s pudgy hands together in time to the music. I couldn’t even manage “here comes the choo-choo train” when my kids were starting on solids.
Parents who throw themselves into their children’s play with gay abandon are my heroes. At birthday parties they’re usually in the thick of the action, organising impromptu games of touch footy or teaching everyone how to do The Nutbush. I’m the one at the back flicking listlessly through last month’s glossy magazines or giggling with like-minded parents. And rest assured, I suffer a bit of the old Bad Mother-itis every single time.
I have many theories about my parental failure: too much responsibility as a child; fear of looking stupid; penchant for wearing expensive heels on play-dates – ok, so maybe now I’m just being silly. But the fact remains, I am not a player.
German educator Frederick Froebel – the father of Kindergarten – is widely acknowledged as having coined the phrase, “Play is a child’s work.” I couldn’t agree more so I have always encouraged my kids to play. Our backyard is the envy of other kids with a trampoline, sandpit, swings, boxing bags, Tarzan ropes hung from trees and our gorgeous pet rabbit, Rex. I just don’t go out there to play.
When Indiana started school, and Levi and I were home alone, I used to dread being asked to play with him. He would get out his action figures and tell me, “Now, you be the bad guy and I’m gonna be Spiderman and the bad guy has to do this and then he’s gonna say to Spiderman…”
He lost me at ‘Now’. I would sit there grinding my teeth and praying for the game to be over.
But Levi’s mate Oscar knows exactly how to play with him. What’s more, he seems to actually enjoy it! I said to Oscar’s mum, “Oscar just gets Levi.” Unfortunately, when it comes to play, I don’t.
So how do I reconcile this, my shameful shortcoming?
Well I have decided that it’s a matter of playing to your strengths. So if you’re a Nutbush type of parent, then more power to you. And if you’re always up for a bit of cubby house creation I say embrace your inner Frank Lloyd Wright and build the cubby to beat all cubbies. That’s you up on stage with Hi-5? Bravo.
But those fabulous endeavours are not really part of my parenting repertoire so I looked to my own personal strengths. Books are the first thing that came to mind. I love reading to my kids and have done since they were newborns. I once even volunteered my services at my niece’s birthday party – a sort of Aunty Storytime. (I was certain I would rival the usual party entertainment but found I was not quite as riveting as a petting zoo.)
And Luke and I love taking our kids to restaurants. Babycinos, Spaghetti Carbonara, Vietnamese quail – now that’s our kind of fun. Our kids have been happily eating out since they were babies.
Films are another of my passions and I would take the kids to the cinema twice a week if I could afford it. Levi, particularly, has inherited this passion and can almost debate the finer points of why ‘The Incredibles’ is so much better than ‘Cars’.
I believe that kids will play whether you get involved or not: as long as they have the space, a few props and, occasionally, a buddy or two. Should I feel bad if I really can’t do the Hide ‘n’ Seek thing without stifling a yawn? I don’t think so.
Instead I say take your own passions – reading, eating out, stamp collecting – and make them a part of your kid’s world. Then stand back and watch them integrate what they have learned into their games. That’s where the real magic of play begins.
And, by the way, if you really are a great cubby house builder, can my kids come over to play?
Are you a ‘player’? What strengths are in your parenting repertoire?