Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Bungling the Playful Parenting...or am I?

Have I mentioned I've been reading Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen? Heh. Well, there are an awful lot of really insightful things I'd like to write about my thoughts on this book, and I hope I'll get to it later, but currently I'm having a little tiny bit of difficulty, since I'm simultaneously blogging and singing along to Thomas and Friends: Songs from the Station, Play-a-Song book and trying to keep Monkey downstairs long enough to allow David to take the trap out of the bathroom sink to remove a medicine dropper that Monkey just threw down the sink. I think it's funny that Thomas sings the song we sang every week in Girl Scouts, "Make New Friends." I don't remember this last verse, though, so maybe it's a special train verse?

Make new friends,
But keep the old.
One is silver
And the other is gold.

A wheel is round,
It has no end.
That's how long
I want to be your friend.

Oops. I just let Monkey slide through my grasp, and now he's up there "helping." I just heard David sigh. This is why I cannot write while the boys are awake, I guess.

Still, I'm going to tell a couple of things I've been doing to try to implement some of the ideas of Cohen's Playful Parenting. It's not easy, and I think I'm still only a slightly more playful parent than your average wicked stepmother or evil sorceress or ruler-wielding nun, but I'm making progress.

First, if you don't know me in person, I'm a pretty nice person overall (and those of you who do know me, you just keep yer mouths shut!) I have a lot of patience usually with people, especially with hordes of hormonal middle school people who are, to say the least, very trying on the patience. Sure, there is a definite line that can be crossed, as any of my students could tell you (but they won't, if they know what's good for them!), and I have my days where I'm feeling pretty cranky and pissy (no comments, please, Mom!), but overall, I'm nice.

Nice, nice, nice. Minnesota nice. Please and thank you nice. Jabberwock, sweetheart, please stop spinning the chair into the wall for the thousandth time nice. Gentle hands, Monkey, nice. Use your polite voice to ask me nice. Please don't unplug Mama's computer and lose all her work for the second time, baby nice. Please, pretty please with sugar on top, help me to pick up all these toys nice.

That's when it happens. Jabberwock looks at me and says, "No. You pick 'em up."

I'm still mostly nice. A little annoyed, my arms full of scattered toys, but I just give him a look and say, "Why is it that you get to do all the playing, and I have to do all the cleaning up?"

And then he trips my trigger, just like that with these sassy little words: "'Cause you're the mom. That's your job."

I then learn that I am not a playful parenting master. I am not even an apprentice. A playful parent would have giggled then. "Oh was that on the job description?" Maybe bumbled the job really badly, like trying to put the matchbox cars in the freezer and the package of Go Fish cards in the aquarium, until the giggling little Jabber would have stepped in to help out this foolish idiot adult who cannot even clean up properly.

Nope. That occurs to me now, in the calm sea of my mindspace once the children are tucked into their beds and Mama has had a good workout and a nice, hot shower. (Yes, I took a little break from writing in the middle there.)

In the moment, I make ridiculous idle threats ("Maybe I'll just throw them all in the garbage then!") and do a lot of scary yelling. David shushes Jabber to keep him from poking the tiger while we all clean up the house, and then I decide to try again for connection by taking Jabber out for a walk. My original plan had been to give David a break by taking both boys to the playground, but at this point, even with some deep breathing, I am not mentally able to accept that challenge, so it's just the two of us.

I'm still pissed, though, and having a lot harder time "reconnecting" with Jabberwock than he is. His mouth is going a mile a minute, oblivious to my anger or trying to smooth it over the best he can, but I am seething, stomping down the sidewalk, still thinking about how unappreciated I feel. Grrr.

Then, it hits me. Ohhhhhh, yeah. I am tired of being like this. I was reading a book. Yes, yes, it's all coming back to me. A parenting book about being playful. Well, shit. I guess I screwed that one up.

"Hey, Jabber," I say, taking his sweaty little hand. "I'm still having a hard time not being upset with you."


"I don't want to feel like this."


Hmmm. This isn't quite working. "Let's pretend that you're the Daddy and I'm the little girl, and I keep misbehaving."

Jabberwock looks up at me quickly, his eyebrows raised. He starts to skip a little. "OK! I'll be the Dad, and you're my daughter. And...you wouldn't clean up your toys."

"So what should we do about it?"

"We should go to the playground!" He's giggling as he speaks, unable to believe that he's actually getting to be the grown-up, that he's going to bring us to the playground, despite all the chaos in our wake.

"But I was misbehaving, so I don't know if I should go to the playground." I drag on his hand, acting ashamed of myself.

"But, Daughter," he says, playing along beautifully, "that's why we have to go to the playground!"

"Because I wasn't being very nice?"

"Yes! Because there will be all kinds of things to play at the playground, and you'll be able to run around and get all those misbehavings out of you. So then you wouldn't have them anymore, and we could go home and be nice together."

Wow! I'm fairly certain that I could ask him why he was being stubborn about picking up his toys or why he was rude to me or whatever at least seven thousand times, and he would never in a million years be able to tell me that it was because he was bored and restless from knocking around the house all afternoon. I knew he needed to get out and run; that's why it was my plan to go as soon as the dishes were done and the house put back together again.

Now if only I could see all this when it was happening, instead of here in my bloggy sphere of peacefulness.

The best part, though, and proof that I'm at least on my way to being that lovely PP apprentice? When we got to the playground, Jabber went down the twirly slide, one that usually makes him a little nervous. He wants someone to catch him at the end, but he doesn't want to feel like a baby who needs someone to catch him at the end, so I always hang out at the end of the slide and say, "I'm going to get you!" kinds of things so he knows I'm there. He came flying down the slide, and I tagged him, yelled, "You're it!" and started running all around the playground equipment. A little boy said wistfully to his sister, "I wish our mom was like that." Ha! So the next time around, I tagged him!

He looked at me kind of indignantly and said, "Hey! No fair!" But then he got up and chased me, giggling hard. Pretty soon the two siblings and Jabberwock were playing and hanging out and I could go collapse on the sidelines, sweaty and breathing heavily but thankfully no longer angry.

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