Taking Time with the Kiddos
“No mommy. No pooder any-moy.” (Translation: “Don’t be on your computer anymore, Mommy.”)
“Fay me, mommy.” (Translation: “Play with me, Mommy.”)
“Mommy! No phone!! Beece.” (Translation: “Get off your phone, Mommy. Please.”)
How many times have I heard those words? And how many times has my response to the request to play been “Not right now honey—I’ve got to finish these dishes” or “In a bit, honey—I need to make dinner right now.”
What is it about just stopping myself from doing whatever it is I’m doing and sitting down and focusing wholeheartedly on my kids that is so stinking hard for me? Why do I tend to back away from the very people I love the most in this world when I hear them literally begging for my attention?
I know that sometimes I honestly don’t have the time to do it— i.e. because I’m cooking over a hot stove or scrubbing the toilet or simply desperately in need of quiet, alone time…
But the rest of the time? When I actually could spare 5 or 10 or 45 minutes? Why do I shrink back so often and do something— anything— else? Why do I so often not join in the fun when I get the opportunity?
Because I must admit: in those rarer-than-they-should-be moments when I actually DO slow down and stop and pay attention to my kids and just simply play with them? Those moments are (usually) so so so good. It is actually fun to play soccer or throw a tennis ball back-and-forth in the front yard in the cool of the evening. It is fun to be inside a tunnel with my toddler and play shoot-each-other-with-imaginary-Spiderman-webs and then pretend to die. It is fun to play leapfrog in the pool with the girls. It is fun to play Legos. It is fun to have “Hard Knock Life” dance parties in the kitchen when we’re supposed to be mopping the floor. It is fun to make s’mores over campfire. It is fun to pull out the art supplies and have an art party on the front porch. It is fun— and sometimes quite insightful— to just sit on my kids’ beds with them and listen to them tell me about their day at school. I learn so much about them and about their friends and about their hopes and dreams in those moments.
(And fyi I am wise enough to recognize that these times wherein they want to just hang out with me and tell me about their days—this season won’t last forever. For that reason alone I really ought to figure out what my hangup is so that I can get over it already and be free to seize the opportunities while the opportunities are still staring me in the face.)
So yes – it is fun to just enter into the silly daily joys of putting puzzles together, playing Uno, and messing around with the baseball in the yard. Of course, sometimes those moments are chaotic and I feel more like a referee between siblings than like a person having a good time. But more often than not those moments are filled with… I don’t know… almost too much joy. It’s like I can’t handle it. It’s like it’s so good and so pure and so sweet… that I feel a literal ache in my heart. And I think that scares me. I think I sometimes hesitate to stop to play with the kids because I’m not sure I can handle how sweet and good it might be. Of course this is all just subconscious. Of course I’m not literally thinking “I can’t play with my kids right now because it’ll be just too painfully good for me”… No, I’m not that self-aware.
And it’s not always like that, either, of course. I don’t always get that overwhelming feeling of painful joy when I am fully present with them.
But it is definitely “a thing.” Every once in awhile, in one of those not-often-enough occasions wherein I do stop and play with my kids, I get that ache.
Like last night: I could see all three of my kids eyeing me, just wishing I would stop tapping away on my computer and start paying attention to them. So I finally did it. I just closed up the laptop, sent up a prayer that God would help me remember what it was I was thinking of writing, and declared “Okay. I have an announcement: I am going to go outside and play with you guys now. So if anybody wants their mother to actually pay attention to them and hang out with them: now is the time.” And it sort of broke my heart to notice that all three kids immediately got up from what they were doing and excitedly made their way towards the front door. And I did it. I pitched whiffle balls to Ben, played catch with Ellie, tended to Abby’s rabbit-inflicted wound, and forced myself to stop thinking about anything else except for my kids and the hungry-for-attention look in their eyes. And do you know what? It ended up being super fun.
So fun that I wanted to stop.
I could feel myself getting uncomfortable with the amount of joy threatening to burst out of me. I don’t know if you can relate, but I guess the best way for me to describe it is that my heart just felt raw. Vulnerable. Like I was a sitting duck. Like entering into the simple joy of that moment was setting me up for future torture or something. If you haven’t experienced it yourself then you probably can’t relate to what I’m saying. But for those of you who can relate to that feeling of “helplessness”: it is both wonderful and terrible at the same time.
And here’s another thing I have realized: it doesn’t take much to thrill my kids. Even just five minutes of my undivided attention is a treasure to them. In fact, the way I potty trained my son was through the simple act of playing with him: whereas I rewarded my girls with M&Ms or chocolate chips or blowing bubbles— that was what was thrilling to them when they were potty training!— the “reward” my son wanted each time he went pee or poop in the toilet was that I would play with him. I would “play bad guy,” to be exact. Which means he would pee in the toilet and then I would run around the house and chase him and we would pretend to shoot each other and he would throw his Captain America shield at me and I would throw nerf balls at him as my weapons. This was so extremely thrilling to him that he would use the toilet as often as he could— just so that I would “play bad guy” with him. (Confession: normally I’m not that great of a playmate when we’re hanging out at home.)
I have figured out a few things about myself in the last chunk of years. One of those things is that I am much better at paying attention to my kiddos when I am not inside my house. When I am in any room in my house, all I see are “To Do Lists:” laundry, picking up toys, washing dishes, making food, sweeping the floor, reading a book, taking a nap, catching up on emails, vacuuming the couch… But if I’m outside— and don’t bring my phone with me!— I actually have the capability of entering into the moment and maybe even losing track of time! Sometimes even being outside doesn’t cut it, however. (There are To Do Lists out there, too, I’ve found.) So sometimes I have to go to a park or to a hiking trail or to the yogurt shop downtown in order to let the world slip away so that I can be present with my kids. And having a physical activity/purpose is super helpful for me, too: like playing frisbee or tossing a ball back and forth or building a fairy village out of twigs and leaves. I do better if I have some kind of gross motor skill to focus on. I guess it helps me zone out and just be in “kid world.”
So that’s what I’m working on right now. Trying to find the balance between “me time” and “them time.” And trying to seize the opportunities to take advantage of my “I am available to play moments” when they present themselves.
“Mommy. Dit down. Fay me.” Translation: “Mommy, sit down and play with me!”
Okay, honey… I’ll do my best. Why don’t we head to the park?
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What about you?
Is being present with your loved ones a challenge for you? Do you ever find yourself backing away from potential intimacy?
Please feel free to share your journey in the comment section below.