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“Did We Play?”

Today was Monday. The first day of the week when my husband goes to work at the office space far away. On this day we have no car. The winters are long in Chicago and we are mostly shut in on Mondays. Some days I knock myself out trying to entertain the boys. Other days I laze around with them in jammies in front of movies. Most days are somewhere in between.

This Monday is in April and it is thawing out around here. Today I decided to knock myself with activities. First, we went for a jog. Well, I jog and they sit there watching the people, the streets, the park, the water, the beach and back. Asking endless questions that I try to answer while gasping for air. Then we returned home where they ate lunch. They started to get restless and I said, “Let’s go to Target!” We needed a few things and I thought getting out together would answer the restlessness.

We have no car on Mondays and Target is a bit of a hike so once again we watched and talked and snacked and made it there. We shopped, they spent a long time in the toy isles and then it was time to go. A long walk home. Exley fell asleep.

Once we got home I set up Jack’s new bin for his Moon Sand. He dove in with excitement to set up a construction site with tiny trucks. I made more food, chatted with him about the work his trucks were doing, cleaned up the kitchen and nursed Exley awake.

Later on Jack said, “Did we do anything today?” I was a taken a bit aback since we did several things, more than usual really. He said, “What did we do today?” I said, “We woke up, ate breakfast, went for a job, went to Target on a long walk…”

And then Jack said, “But did we play?”

I nearly fell over. Here I had been knocking myself out all day to entertain and keep busy. And Jack just wanted to play. I realized that all these boys ever want to do is play. And play is a specific thing when it comes to kids. For adults it’s pretty much whatever happens outside of work. For kids it’s laughing, running, playing chase, playing capture and release or as we like to call it, “I’m Going to Get You!” For kids it’s undivided attention where you allow yourself to let go of this reality (and whatever anxious feelings keep us wanting to “keep busy”) and immerse yourself in their world where imagination runs wild, where the mess on the floor is invisible and the Target list is a treasure map.

I often feel this need that I have to “make” their childhood happen. I have to keep them busy, keep us moving and keep us entertained. The truth is childhood is the thing that happens when adults stop imposing their will or ideals onto kids. Childhood magic is what will happen when I choose to let go, get on their level, board the ship and let them steer.