I probably get asked this question, or some version of it, an average of twelve times per day. My default answer usually involves an apologetic denial combined with an excuse meant to legitimize my response. My decline to an invitation to play tends to sound something like this - “Sorry buddy, I have laundry to fold” or “Not right now, I’m making lunch” or “Maybe later, after I put the dishes away.”
So why did this common request cause me to think twice before repeating my same old refrain today? Because of those two little words that he included this time—“get to.” It was as if he thought that some outside force was forbidding me to play, as if someone or something other than myself made the final decision. To my seven-year-old boy, this was the only plausible explanation. Because why would a mom ever turn down an invitation to spend quality time with her son if the decision were hers alone to make?
Turns out he was right. There was some outside force keeping me from saying yes to a round of Uno or a game of catch. This outside force, otherwise known as my To-Do list, consumes my time at home and habitually rents out space in my brain. Somewhere along the way, I’d allowed myself to become “too busy” to play. I chose laundry over laughter and making dinner over make believe. And I’d opted for order instead of the chaos created by play so many times that it had become our new normal: Mommy can’t play – there’s too much to do today.
I am an educator by trade, so I know this to be true—play is ESSENTIAL to learning. Albert Einstein once said, “Play is the highest form of research.” The warmly sweatered Mr. Rogers added, “Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning.” The problem was that I was putting this theory to practice in my classroom but forgetting to continue it with my own children at home. In my most important role, that of my children’s primary educator, I was failing to help them practice their learning. Luckily for me, they are persistent in their requests. Thankfully, I realized the missed opportunity before they gave up on me.
So, today I devoted an entire day to play and I was amazed by the results. In my research I found that my son doesn’t need me to keep score in Scrabble anymore. I learned that my daughter is an expert on spiders, as she demonstrated by answering a trivia question meant for an adult and then enlightening all of us on five different varieties of spiders, how they carry their babies, the placement of their eyes, and the markings on their bodies. And, most surprisingly, I discovered that my baby knows the color blue. Turns out her Nana knows the importance of play in learning and has been teaching her colors while playing with blocks. We could learn a thing or two from grandparents—they are never too busy to play.
In my constant crusade to check off items on my chore list, I’d missed the most important tasks of all—to play and discover, to engage and explore. But I won’t make that mistake again. From now on, play gets a spot on the To-Do List. The blankets will be folded after the Queen conquers the fort. The vacuum will just have to wait its turn. We have more important things to do than the dishes. There are more pressing matters that demand my immediate attention—like the soldiers advancing with Nerf guns on my precarious position in the closet or this tower of mega blocks on the brink of destruction by Babyzilla. So, if you’ll excuse me, I must put down my laptop—there is lava spewing over my living room floor and my only chance for survival is to jump to safety and join my children on Red Couch Island.
(Photo courtesy of Caryn Defreez Photography - visit her at https://www.facebook.com/CarynDeFreezPhotography)
About the Author
Stacey Carlin is a lifelong Buchanan resident and a wife, teacher, and mother of three. She is the author of a popular online blog titled “Layin’ Down Roots” and this column features selections from her collection of essays. You can read more of her essays about family, life, and hometown pride by visiting her blog @ www.layindownroots.com. You can also find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/layindownroots.