Friday, July 18, 2008

Mama, Will You Play with Me?

If you have a child over the age of 3, you hear this plaintive inquiry at least once a day, often accompanied by sad puppy-dog eyes and usually followed with "Pleeeaaase?" The first time the little one asked me directly to play with her, it took me aback. It made her seem so much more grown up suddenly, to be asking for interaction rather than demanding it. It also made it harder to keep doing my grown-up activities in the face of such a simple and heartfelt request.

During these weeks of teaching a summer intensive class, our routine goes something like this: we wake up and get going (this involves COFFEE and bleary-eyed viewing of morning shows before all else). Then I must prep for teaching. I'm home, so we're all together (the hubster is home too, teaching his own summer course online, the lucky bastard), but the Little One must entertain herself. She does so willingly most mornings. Soon it's time for me to get dressed and go. I'm gone for about four hours. Then when I get home, she leaps on me and won't leave my side until bedtime. When this happened on the first day I decided to roll with it, and told her that when I got home each day we'd have "our special time together," and she beamed. After changing out of work clothes, I tell her "I'm ALL yours," and she whoops with delight. And then we play.

Sounds perfect, right? Here's the problem: I may be home from teaching, but I'm most definitely NOT finished with work. And then there are the household demands as well. I give my time to her first, having remembered a piece of advice in a book that promised you the ability to get other things done if you focused completely on your child(ren) for at least that first 30 minutes after you get home. But that hour of playtime isn't always enough for her. Just this afternoon she melted down completely when I tried to gently pull away from playing to do something else. I wasn't going to leave the room, I told her we could sit together and I would watch her draw, but it wasn't enough unless I continued to play with her.

I know some of what I'm feeling is classic working mother guilt. After more than a month of being home with her this summer, we had fallen into a routine. I was with her constantly, so it was easy to play for a half hour here and there. She didn't miss me, I was never away, so there was no guilt. And I feel guilty as well because... um, well... (shh... it's a secret!)... I don't like playing very much. I can do it for awhile, but I begin to lose my nut if forced to play for very long. (Please, please tell me you all hate it too, or else I'll feel like the worst mother in the world... again!) But those things aside, truly, there are things to be done when I get home and not enough hours in the day to do them all.

So how do you negotiate this? What strategies have you developed for balancing the attention your kids need with the things you must do?


catnip said...

I hate to play. There. I said it.

The boy and I have come to an agreement about it. I'll do crafts, and puzzles, legos, and god help me, board games, but I no longer play with his action figures or other toys.

It gets easier as they get older, I swear.

followthatdog said...

there are things I can tolerate to play and so many things I can't. When my older boy was into trains, I could do that for about 10 minutes before I went insane. I'll read, I'll talk,I'll do crafts, I'll make jokes and I'll run around with them, but the games and strange toy play is too much. I try to divert their attention to something I like to do. Having a second child has helped, now they play and I just offer lots of encouragement...from the sidelines.