Play Time: The Last Mile


As anyone with kids knows, changes can come slowly, and changes can come fast.

Suddenly, your child grows assertive and refuses pants. Suddenly, there is a fever, and the world comes to a halt. Slowly, their teeth come in, and many sleepless nights march on until the wave breaks, and finally, there is sleep and rest once more. Slow and long hours pass in daily feedings.

But as a mother, things began to change within me, too. Slowly, I stopped playing with my kids.

I didn’t even realize it until I watched Barbie. There was a montage where America Ferrera’s character is remembering her daughter throughout the stages of her life, and these scenes depicted a little girl devoted to play time with her mom, full of laughter and bonding. As the daughter ages, her interests turn elsewhere, and her daughter is suddenly reluctant to even speak to her.

It hit me like a cold bucket of water to the face. I realized that as my girls got older, they started to drift into these waves of wanting to play independently. The textbooks tell you this is normal and healthy and that you shouldn’t interrupt their play and observe.

Then, as they got older, I needed to observe less, and so I spent the time they were not interested in my attention doing other things: catching up on work emails, catching up with texts or Instagram, doing laundry, prepping meals, you name it. Sometimes, I just laid down on my bed and was grateful for the moment when no one needed me.

But, I didn’t realize that I had slowly begun to focus on the work emails, the needs of the house, and all of the millions of little things I have going on that I am responsible for at any moment. I slowly fell out of being the “on the floor playing with the babies” mom. I was no longer staying up all night to do the things I had neglected for the sake of spending time with them.

Watching this montage, I was flooded with regret. At least once or twice a week, my kids asked me to join them in their play, and I said no. The usual excuses: I’m prepping dinner, I have to get this email out, I want to put this laundry away before bedtime.

And just like that, they stopped asking me all together.

I know I’ve “done the time,” and my kids are flooded with memories of mom on the floor, up to her elbows in arts and crafts, imaginary games, and dance parties. But they aren’t entirely done with that mom yet. I realize it’s almost over, and even though I’m tired and my anxiety has caught up to me on all the things I’ve neglected, I can’t give up in the final mile.

Just as it was when they were 1 & 3, or 2 & 4, my house is once again a tornado of games and arts and crafts and makeshift forts, and maybe dinner isn’t an extravagant meal, and perhaps the laundry piles up, but we play a lot. And I’m enjoying what I know to be the final pages of this chapter in my motherhood. And I have to say, the smiles on their faces, whenever I ask if I can join their game, are quite possibly the sweetest type of smiles they have ever smiled.

Childhood is an era that can feel like a marathon. I know it’s tiring, but you can make it all the way through, and remember to play and enjoy the smiles when you can get them. It’s a tough gig, and you have to take the good things where and as often as you can get them.


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