Six little words that can bring you to your knees, take you down to the ground, break your back, and muddle your mind.
‘Mum, will you play with me?’
Curly Mop, newly four, had just started Kindy, and we were suffering through a fortnight of half-days.
I had picked her up at midday and we now had three hours before we had to return to collect the Bombshell. After a sandwich, she peered up at me through her lashes and uttered those six words.
Some of you will hate me and call me a bad mother, but I’m just being honest when I say I cringe when I hear those words. I hate ‘playing’ with kids. Give me a Barbie doll and I will dress it and undress it happily for hours. Give me a book and I will read it to whoever is listening. Give me some Lego and I will build you something amazing. Give me a board game and I’m happy to roll the dice. But don’t ask me to ‘play’, because there is nothing fun about playing.
‘Pretend it’s the circus now, but I’m not a clown. Pretend I’m a butterfly. Ok, mum?’ said the Mop.
‘Ok,’ I replied.
‘You have to say “here comes the butterfly”’ she told me.
‘Ok,’ I said enthusiastically. ‘You’re a butterfly. I love your sparkly wings. Can you teach me how to fly?’
‘No Mum, you don’t say that. You can only say “here comes the butterfly”. Okay?’, she said crossly.
‘Ok. Sorry. Here comes the butterfly,’ I said, chastised.
‘I’m not ready yet, Mum. You can’t say it yet.’ She dashed into the next room and I heard the contents of the dress-up box being emptied onto the floor. ‘I’m ready,’ she called.
‘Here comes the butterfly,’ I called. Out she danced wearing some wings. She did a whirl and promptly went back into the playroom.
‘Ok, now pretend this is a show, and I’m a Barbie bride girl, and this is my wedding.’
‘Ok,’ I replied.
‘You have to say “here comes Barbie bride girl”’ she told me.
‘Ok,’ I said. ‘Here comes Barbie bride girl.’
‘I’m not ready yet, Mum. You can’t say it yet.’
I was beginning to detect a theme.
‘Playing’ with the Mop basically consists of her telling me to ‘pretend’ something. We don’t actually get to do whatever she is pretending, it’s strictly a verbal thing. Pretend I’m a mermaid. Pretend this is my home. Pretend you’re a shark. But I don’t get to BE a shark. I just have to SAY I’m a shark.
So I find myself doing the most horrendous things to get out of ‘playing’.
I need to go to the toilet. I need to make a cup of coffee. Is that the phone ringing? I think I hear the mailman. And the worst: I’m just going to check my email, which is just slightly better than ‘would you like to watch TV instead?’
I know that it won’t be long before all my girls are too old to want to play with me anymore. I am sure that I will feel bad that I didn’t play with them more when they were little. I feel bad about lots of other things, what’s a little more mother guilt piled on top?
I relish the ‘shows’ the girls put on, where they dance and twirl and sing. I love them because they’re cute but also because I know my place. I am the appreciative audience. I ooh, I ahh, I clap and I take pictures. I am not expected to be involved and that is fine. I will genuinely be sad when the shows finish, when they grow into self-consciousness, and no longer want to be the centre of attention.
But imaginative play where there is no opportunity to use my imagination drives me nutty. Being barked orders by a four year old is no fun, and so I will continue to live in fear of those six little words, ‘Mum, will you play with me?’
What words drive fear into your heart?