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Emily Morrison Emily Morrison
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Playing Mom

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I'm going to admit something that I'm sure not many people would admit, publicly anyway. It's a truth that flies in the face of popular parenting lore, but a truth nonetheless: It's hard to play with your kids. I know, I know. No one should say this, especially not mothers who want to be seen as one woman theme parks. My theme park would be named 'Crazy Mom Land.' There would be lots of bumper cars, batting cages and log flume rides with kids snacking on a bottomless supply of homemade chocolate chip banana bread, but I digress. Parents are supposed to love building sandcastles near doggie droppings. We're supposed to smile while whipping up batches of mud pies as our kids hold worms and say, 'Look at him wiggle!' We're supposed to enjoy play time.

But we can't enjoy it, and the reason why we can't enjoy it is as complicated as Barbie and Ken's tumultuous courtship. Think about all the non-negotiables parents can't change: cooking (actually my husband cooks), cleaning (I'm not much of a cleaner), and attempting to keep up with the never-ending supply of mysteriously stained clothing (my mom does most of our laundry). We're supposed to valiantly struggle through all of these givens because that's what we signed on for. It's the bold print on the parent job description. The fine print is where it gets tricky: You're supposed to PLAY with your kids, too. I'm not just talking about a rousing game of Wii Sports or family Scrabble. I'm talking about hands-on lets-make-a-picture time, you-be-the-super-hero-and-I'll-be-the-super-villain games, how-can-we-make-a-Christmas-tree-out-of-old-winter-jackets kind of stuff. 

Obviously, I've done all of those things with my kids. I've baked banana bread with three sous chefs in a kitchen covered in flour and banana peels. I've read books with no hands (one munchkin turns the pages, one reads the story, and one gets to sit back and enjoy). I've snuggled with my daughters while my son hedgehogs under the blankets (to hedgehog is to start at the bottom of the bed and crawl onto someone unexpectedly from beneath the sheets.) I can watch YouTube videos of Taylor Swift until she finds herself in a stable relationship (like never,) but put on a wig and pretend to be Hannah Montana's wig-wearing mother? Sit through multiple showings of 'Despicable Me' and laugh every time Vector brushes moon dust from his track suit and says 'Oh, poop!' into his plastic air bubble? Play basketball outside on a windy day while pretending to drop the ball, miss all my shots and say 'Not in my house!' repeatedly? Really?

Really. It's hard work being silly. It's not easy to channel Hannah Montana's long-dead mother (I refuse to impersonate Billy Ray Cyrus) and prance around in cowboy boots and a big-banged wig that covers my eyes. It's not easy to laugh at 'Oh, poop!' for the thousandth time as if I've never seen it before. And it's definitely not easy to let my son win at basketball (I'm a natural competitor). That's not the point. It's the 'and I just love it' part that gets me. Who just loves it? Better women than me. Women who keep a steady supply of arts and crafts organized by shoebox in their kitchen cabinets. Women who make lists of ways they can interact with their children on 'their level.' I just got a smart phone so my kids would have something to play with on my level. Does that sound like an interactive mother? Don't answer that. 

Here's the thing. It's not that I don't enjoy doing stuff with my kids. It's hard to let myself enjoy it. There's so many other things I think I should be doing: grading papers, getting groceries, taking out the trash, folding laundry, keeping the home fires burning (we have two wood stoves and it's hard to keep them both lit at the same time.) If I take two hours to put a Monster High Doll puzzle together, what are we going to eat for dinner? It seems like a dereliction of duty to drop everything and focus on the kids I'm doing everything for. I have to constantly remind myself that my kids don't care about the piles of laundry or the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for supper: they care about me. They want me. They don't want to hear about all the stuff I have to do. They want to hear about all the stuff I want to do with them. 

As a parent who's been trying to shield her kids from a long and scary week of news footage related to the Boston Marathon bombing, this is the perfect time to remind myself that enjoying children isn't a luxury we can't afford or one more chore to do on my to-do list. This isn't the fine print on the job description: This IS the job description. It's the privilege, the side benny, the unspoken job perk of my entire life. With this week's unfolding events, we have all become even more painfully aware that the world we are sending our children into is anything but perfect. The realities of adulthood will intrude on them soon enough. Someday, our kids will know what it's like to live and work in a world that has more pressing responsibilities than play time. Too soon they will carry our burdens and know our pain.   

So for now, my family and I are headed to a hotel with a pool, a game room and a hot tub. We're off on a weekend getaway to visit our foster daughter in college up north. We plan on bowling, swimming and playing cut throat Junior Pictionary until the wee hours of eight o'clock. Smelling of chlorine and filled with candy from the snack machine, we will all share the same room for one fun-filled night. 

I may need to drink more coffee.


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