floor play

one snowy eve not so long ago, the risk got hauled from the game closet, from the near-cobwebs more likely. the little one brought it up by the fire. we all joined hands and sat in a circle (just kidding, just that that scene was starting to feel so walton-y, so little-home-on-the-prairie, i got carried away…).

actually, we spent close to an hour rolling the dice, positioning little men with their miniature weapons. covered the map, yes we did.

and then, for a coupla weeks practically, the men and their armies stood motionless. frozen on war fields. a board game that never took off, got shoved under a table. a board game turned still life turned dust pond.

drum roll…

i risk being banned from the playroom, and yet i confess.

it is, probably, my no. 1 downfall of parenting. the thing that cuts me off at the knees, every time. i am, when i catch myself squirming, up to my kneecaps in guilt over it. even alone, i wince at the shame of it.

it’s the down-on-your-knees part of parenting. the fumbling and fiddling and piecing together (fill in the blank here: lego, building blocks, board games, you name the vex on your knees) ’til you’re blue in the face. blurry eyed. cramped in the joints. weeping. dare i mention the b word? yes, bored.

there, i said it.

and so, so ashamed to report, you know what i do about it? pretty much nothing.

i am, it turns out, not terribly good at getting down on the ground, on the rug, on the cold basement floor and futzing with things. not even when a rich imagination—or just plain old fun–is the thing that’s at stake.

seems in my first go at this, when i was the mama only of boy no. 1, i was decent enough. concocted all sorts of plots–grocery stores out of old cartons and cans; a train, once, out of a box that stored copy paper; a school with stuffed animals filling each desk.

but now, now that i’m old enough to have been asked too many times if my little one is my grandbaby, i seem to have lost my knack—and my desire—for getting down on my hands and my knees.

it is a vexing conundrum. we live in an age of so many conveniences—instant mashed potatoes, e-z wash wipes, drive-thru lattes—but the one thing there isn’t (and shouldn’t be) is a condensed, abridged, add-water-and-stir version of pure, simple, child’s play.

time, uninterrupted.

focus, undistracted.

in the word of that great observer/analyzer/thinker of what makes creative types ooze with creation, mihaly csikszentmihalyi, there is not enough flow in the floor play.

not when i’m in the picture, there’s not.

and that is not, i assure you, something i’m proud of.

i look at the titles that pack one of my bookshelves. i have a whole row just on natural parenting.

i gulp, wondering if i might be something i’d dread if i’d ever before given it this thought: what if i’ve somehow become an armchair parent, one who guzzles and gulps whole chapters and verse on the virtues of childhood the old-fashioned way. without screens, without clickers, with free time to play for hours on end, fueled on imagination, and the occasional pretzel, alone.

but then, where the knees hit the rug, i’m dismally distracted, multi-tasking, two-steps-behind-and-fretting-every-step-of-the-way, ’til finally i push up from the ground, i surrender, i dash or i dial, i do anything really but stay on the floor with my child.

my mother, the wise one, tells me not to worry so much about the house, whether it’s clean, laundry folded, food on the table.

another wise woman i asked, quipped (and quickly): “that’s what playdates are for.”

but yet another wise friend, one who works hard at being a beautiful mother, made a pledge, for a month, to get on the floor with her kids. each one, an hour a day.

oh, lordy.

guilty as charged.

there are, i admit, some parts of this job, this mothering, that i do do quite well. i can talk and emote ’til you’d be red in the face. not me. i keep on.

and i’m certifiably silly.

but point to the toy closet, haul out a game, and i start getting itchy all over.

i am, in the end, mama erectus, a mama who’s best on her feet, mouth moving.

maybe it’s futile to kvetch and to worry. maybe this floor play isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. but, dear doctor freud, deliver me please from this guilt.

all i know is, thank god in our house there are four hands to carry this load. the man who i married, father of said boys, boy 1 and boy 2, is quite a bit good on his hands and his knees.

building with lego. making like frank lloyd wright with the blocks. racking up real estate, one green hotel at a time, in the wonderful world of monopoly, the wonderful world where you do not pass go, do not collect $200, instead go directly to jail.

which, sometimes is where i have dreams i’ll be sent, if the parent police ever catch me utterly absent when it comes to time on my knees.

i confess my sins here, wondering if you too find this—found this—a part of the job description where you come up—came up—short every time? or at least a whole lot of the time. for those of you who look back on floor play as a thing of the distant past, have you any wisdom to impart as you glance through the rear-view mirror? some of you might find deep solace on your knees. care to pass along your secret to kneecap nirvana?