By Jill Clingan
A few weeks ago I decided to take a parenting class that was offered free to parents in our school district. I knew a little bit about this particular parenting philosophy, and I knew that I could use a little (a lot of) help in the parenting department, so I signed up. I was a little (a lot) nervous about going, because, quite frankly, I am not a fan of new things, especially if those new things involve dinner — in a school cafeteria — with people I don’t know. Also, I hate role playing, which was a promised perk in the parenting class flyer, as well as panic-inducing group activities designed to illustrate some point in a “fun” way.
I tried to hide behind my plate of pizza during dinner, although eventually did engage in conversation with the woman sitting across from me. And I gamely introduced myself to my group and said something stupid I hadn’t intended to say and then engaged in some sort of ice breaker that involved looking into the eyes of someone I didn’t know while balancing coffee stirrers on our fingers. (Weird.) I kind of hated the class, kind of liked it, and I felt both inspired and apprehensive when I left that night with the following assignment: to play with my kids for fifteen minutes a day.
Now, some of you out there, you good parents, might roll your eyes. You might think, quite accurately, that of course you need to play with your kids fifteen minutes a day (at least!) and you would be able to return to class the next week with glowing stories of sword fights and Barbie weddings and football games.
But guess what?
I am not that parent.
hate dislike playing. I do.
If you stick a sword in my hand and ask me to pretend to be a ninja I am very likely to sink right down on the floor and cry.
But here I was with an assignment, and there’s nothing I love more than doing an assignment correctly and earning an A+.
I was going to play with my kids if it killed me.
And I did.
And it didn’t kill me.
Now here’s where I didn’t follow the homework precisely (don’t tell). The facilitators told us that we needed to let our kids lead in the play, and while I didn’t lead my kids toward any sort of play that I knew they wouldn’t like, I also knew that I was going to be a play-with-my-kids dropout on Day 1 if I had to spend all of my time ninja fighting or playing football.
I am ashamed to admit this fact, but I was worried about where that 15 minutes was going to come from during my day. If I have 15 minutes of free time, I want to hide in the bathroom with my book or my phone. I don’t want to play. Here’s what I found out, though. When I was actually looking for moments to play with my kids, I found them. Not only that, but I realized that I was playing with my kids more than I thought I was, which was kind of a relief, actually.
When I was tired of ticking the endless items off of my to-do list, I took a break and played a game with my kids. They loved it. I enjoyed myself. Jack won, per usual.
When we were all piled in bed one evening, Matt started a story and then recorded us taking turns adding to it. We listened to the story later and laughed even harder than we did while we were making it up.
We watched the Olympics together. Technically, TV-watching probably should not be considered playing, but we created great memories watching ice skating and the Skeleton race and other death-defying competitions. Now, my daughter talks about Gracie Gold and Noelle Pikus-Place as if they were next-door-neighbors. She is inspired by the stories of courage and grace.
Again, I redefined “playing.” My daughter and I started writing a journal to each other using the book Just between Us. I love taking the time to write in this journal, and I especially treasure reading her responses to me. In that journal I discovered that her favorite memory is of us staying up late to watch the Olympics together. I’ll take it.
On the night that I was supposed to go back to the class, Matt and the kids were planning an adventure through the woods in the snow. I looked at my car keys, looked at my husband and kids, and decided to drop the class to go play with my family rather than sit in class and learn about the importance of playing. I put down my car keys, bundled up against the cold, and we set out on a lovely winter adventure while pretending we were in Narnia. Our two rules were that we were to hide if we heard the tinkling of sleigh bells and that if anyone offered us Turkish Delight we were to refuse. I came home with chilly fingers but a warm and happy heart.
Now the truth is—and please remember this–those moments above are snapshots of my parenting life. What you read about above are the happy, family-photo-on-the-wall kinds of moments. You don’t see the behind-the-scenes threats and coercions and spit-slicked-back hair of a photo shoot, just like I am not telling you about how my son cried when I sent him “home” while playing Sorry and how sometimes I get tired of hearing about Olympic athletes talked about ad nauseam and — just five minutes ago — how I told my son that he could only sit in the same room with me if he wasn’t planning on talking.
I’m pretty much a mess as far as parenting goes. I get really tempted a lot of the time to wallow in that mess.
But for now, I’m trying to find the beautiful in the midst of that mess.
It’s OK for me to sweep aside the breakfast dishes and play a game on a sticky table.
It’s OK to stop reading the latest Huffington Post article I clicked from Facebook to listen to what my daughter has to say about her favorite Olympian’s most recent Instagram picture.
It’s even OK for me to drop a parenting class and go for a walk in the woods.