Tuesday, April 21, 2015

too many toys, not enough play

I look around my house and this is what I see...


Lots of them. 

Our entire front room has become a toy room. A bounce house is holding our basement hostage. All winter long, two swings hung in our laundry room. They recently made their way out to the treehouse which takes up a great deal of our backyard. We got rid of half of the seating in our home to make more room for toys. We even made a trip to the IKEA madhouse specifically in search of ways to organize the miscellaneous playthings. 

We have a lot of toys. And yet, I suspect that our toy pile falls within normal (American) range. In fact, I often wonder if perhaps our collection of Duplos and doctor kits and dollhouses and STUFFED ANIMALS amounts to less than what the average American family has stashed in their home today. Who knows. I could be wrong.

All I know is this. In our house, there are too many toys. 

Too many toys and not enough play.

Play and toys. You'd think the words would go together, right? Well, they really don't. I mean, at least they don't in my mind. When I close my eyes and think of the word "toys," I picture stuff. Plastic stuff. Noisy stuff. Annoying stuff. I feel myself getting a bit anxious and just wanting to engage those endless small things in an organizational throw down, finally defeating them by binning, boxing and labeling them within an inch of their lives.

But when I close my eyes and picture the word play, my whole body relaxes. I picture running and jumping and laughing and pretending to be...well, anything. I like play better than I like toys.

And yet...

Playing with my children is hard for me. 

There, I said it. I struggle to play with my kids sometimes...okay, most of the time. 


Because I don't have time. Or, more accurately, I prioritize other things above play. And I'm not talking about soap operas or spa days or shoe shopping. I'm talking about changing diapers that smell like porta-potties, making food that's doesn't come out of a squeeze pouch and spending a cumulative forty-five minutes per day locking and unlocking cabinets, toilets and stairways. 

If we are going to have a reasonably clean house, eat semi-homecooked meals a couple times per week and stay alive, we are going to have very little time to play. 

The second reason I struggle to play with my kids is related to the first. Multitasking is killing our play. 

Killing. It. 

I try to trick my kids all the time. 

"Yeah, I'm totally playing with you...so interested in what we're playing right now...absolutely playing my heart out..." All the while, my eyes are scanning the room for the next thing I can transfer from the wrong bin to the right bin, licking my thumb and pressing it to the floor to pick up random crumbs, and attempting to fold some laundry. That stuff worked when Harriet was zero. But she's a bright girl and it takes her about a millisecond to figure out whether I'm actually playing pretend with her or just pretending to pretend.

Here's another reason I have a hard time playing with my kids. It's boring. (Insert even more guilt here.) I'm sorry. It just really is. Pretending to be "baby" or "puppy" or "patiently" (Harriet's word for patient when we play doctor) is fun for a while, but when you've been doing it multiple times per day for a couple of years, it gets a bit old. And the toys are super fun for a while but you can only make the cash register play that song so many times before it becomes the soundtrack to your dreams. 

The last reason? Play can be frustrating. The boys are now old enough that they want to play with everything that Harriet is using...and by "play with," I mean destroy. They are like a team of mini bulldozers, which makes her all the more sensitive and on guard...and shrill. No patch of floor is safe, so she usually ends up playing on the table or somewhere else high up, and even then, they're clamoring for her and screaming at her. My heart goes out to the poor girl. And it's not just her...they do it to each other too...always wanting to play with whatever their brother has and already hitting, pinching and biting to get what they want. So, playtime can be a bit crazy...and scream-y.  

I'm great at reading to my kids. I'm great at cooking with my kids. I'm great at making messes in the bathtub or in the sandbox. But most other forms of play? Not my strong suit. 

I've tried to come up with ways to fix this problem. I've packed away half of our toys (just like all the parenting blogs say you should do) so that, in theory, when I bring them out again, they'll seem brand new. Here's the problem. I pack them away and forget about them. Or I have no idea what I put in the box. Or I use a clear box. And then Harriet sees it and desperately wants to play with every single toy in that box. Or I don't think it through and pack away the most age appropriate items and then when I take them out again, she's grown out of them. So...this has not been effective.

I love the idea of toy sharing with another family. At the risk of sounding snobby, here's the problem with that. I'm worried that other kids won't treat our stuff nicely. I fear I'd be bummed out and even a little bitter if I lent Harriet's handmade dollhouse to another family and it came back with crayon marks on it. Or if the dress-up clothes came back ripped. Or if the dolls got accidental haircuts. (I'm realizing I'm more attached to this stuff than I originally thought.) And I'd be so nervous that my kids would damage the other family's toys, too! Even more nervous, in fact. Because just last week, Harriet drew all over her wall, her closet and a bunch of her toys. That stuff just happens.

I also really try to avoid plastic toys, electronic toys, noisy toys, etc. I like the wooden stuff, the cloth toys and other items that encourage open-ended play and lots of creativity. But they're more expensive. And the marker doesn't come off those toys like it comes off of the plastic stuff. And honestly, the kids seem to like the crappy, plastic, beeping stuff better...ugh. 

The last solution I've tried - going outside. The problem with that? We live in Minnesota. End of discussion. 

Just kidding, but only sort of. We absolutely adore the outdoors. We spend as much time as we can out there. Biking, going for walks, trips to the park, playing in the driveway and the backyard, excursions to the zoo. Love that stuff. But right now, on April 21st, it's snowing. And the second it stops snowing, millions of mosquitos instantly appear at our door, asking if we want to come out and "play" which is code for getting eaten alive. You simply can't win. 

And despite all of the reasons that play can feel hard and even impossible at times, I know in my heart that I must play with my children.

So much is riding on me playing with my children.

When I play with my kids, I show them that I love them. When I play with my kids, they can learn how strong, creative, interesting, unique, fun, kind, smart, and beautiful they are. When I play with my kids, I can teach them important things about peace and sharing and family and disappointment and hard work. When I play with my kids, I can be Jesus to them. 

Because if Jesus was visiting my humble home in the flesh right now, He'd be down on the ground playing with my kids. He'd be wrestling them and making messes and doing a different voice for each stuffed animal. Because He loves them and He knows that right now, at this stage in life, the best way to show them that love is through play. Whole-hearted, no holds bar play. And my kids would be awesome at being Mary, while I can only pray that I'd have the sense to stop being Martha. At least for a few minutes.  

The other night at my women's accountability group (yep, they snuck into this post too), I brought up the play problem with a bit of embarrassment and lots of honesty. And to my surprise, my confession was met with a great deal of nodding and comments like "me too" and "I feel the same way." So now, a friend of mine checks in with me a couple times per week about whether I'm playing with my kids. Not pretending to play, but really playing. That's how important this stuff is. So important that I needed to call in the troops. And that accountability? It's helping big time. And I'm finding such fresh joy in playing with my kids. Some days more than others. But every day, at least a little bit.

So kids?

Let's go play.

Thursday, April 2, 2015


I haven't always been this cool. 

I mean, see how cool I am now?

To be fair, I was 36 weeks pregnant with twins and my daughter picked out my outfit. (The bent glasses are also her doing.)

 Yeah, I wasn't born this way. In fact, you might be surprised to know that I used to be rather uncool. Those of you who have been following my blog for a while know this because you've seen awkward pictures of me and you've read some of my old journal entries.

Now that you new readers have gotten caught up, you're probably not surprised that there have been several seasons in my life when I had very few friends...or none at all. In fact, there have been times in my life when I was desperately lonely and isolated.

Fifth grade...the vast majority of the female students in my class were certifiable mean girls, including me. That, of course, led to a clique system that operated like a revolving door, with me oftentimes stuck out in the rain. I remember spending entire recess periods chasing two or three girls around the playground, begging them to just talk to me, while they ran away laughing.

Tenth grade...I moved from my tiny private school to a large public school with only one friend whom I had zero classes with. I lived in fear that she would miss school because that would leave me at a table all alone for lunch.

Eleventh grade...I went to prom alone with a hairstyle that had good intentions but fell quite short of the mark. I think I had one dance with a friend's date...and I was so nervous I nearly puked.

Freshman year of college...I was desperate to get out of high school, so I skipped my senior year and went straight to college. They didn't have room for me in the dorms til second semester, so by the time I moved in, all of the girls on my floor were quite bonded, and I was the high schooler who was replacing a much-loved girl who transferred to a different school. I slept til noon every day and went home every weekend.

Twenty-four years old...We lost our first baby and were neck-deep in infertility. I built a moat around myself and my grief that resulted in the loss of some friendships and left many others on an extended hiatus. Andrew worked nights and we were both in grad school, so I never saw him. I spent my free time with my dog or my parents.  

I know loneliness. I know isolation. I know the feeling of having something crazy good or ugly bad happen and having no one to call except your mom. And some of you...some of us...don't even have that. And we are dying inside because the stuff of motherhood...and if not motherhood, the stuff of life...is even harder than we expected. And we weren't fools going into this, so that's saying a lot. 

Some of us are reading this post in a closet. 

Literally or figuratively, we are hunkered down in a small, cluttered space that muffles the noise, the mess, the chaos and the uncertainty until we're ready to check our mascara, practice a smile and head back out into a world where we're supposed to be in charge but we have no idea what we're doing.

Some of us aren't sure how much longer we can take it. 

The insane exhaustion. 
The constantly sick kids. 
The disengaged husband.
The extended family drama.
The fears that feel larger than life.
The defiant child.
The busyness that won't quit. 
The panic associated with money.
The dreams we've put on hold.
And all the other stuff.

So we go to the closet. We buck up or hunker down and just deal with it. Alone.

We have to stop doing that. 

I had a rough day a few weeks ago. Like, super rough. I felt like an awful mom and was starting to realize that all of my efforts to just be better were failing big time. So after I put the kids to bed, I sent a text to a core group of women, laying my heart out there and giving real, humbling examples of how I was doing. I just went back and reread the text because I was going to copy and paste it into this post, but I can't because it's too raw to put out there on the internet, even for me. 

I almost didn't send it. I didn't want to bother my friends who I knew were all dealing with stuff of their own. I didn't want them to think poorly of me. I didn't want them to pity me. But I sent it anyways.

And you know what happened? 

Not even a half hour later, my doorbell rang. And there stood another only-by-His-grace mom, armed with my favorite coffee, three kinds of candy and a heartfelt, handwritten note. She had read my text and immediately come to my aid. I half hugged her, half collapsed into her arms. And for the next couple hours, we sat in my living room and talked. Even laughed. 

I almost didn't send that text. I almost didn't reach out. But look what I would have missed if I had kept to myself. 

That emergency visit from my dear friend wasn't even the extent of it. The next morning, I woke up to several texts and emails, sharing genuine encouragement and telling of prayers they prayed for me through tears. Another friend followed up a couple weeks later with a pan of homemade caramel rolls. Clearly, these women know me well.

But it's still hard to reach out. It's hard to take the time, swallow our pride, get vulnerable and ask for something...whether that something is a prayer or advice or childcare for the afternoon. It's just hard.

We don't want to appear too needy. But on the other hand, we don't want to appear too stable because then the truly needy people might sniff us out and rely on us too much. We want to be real...but not so real that we open ourselves up to judgment. We want to share our hearts, but if we do that, they could hurt us. And I'm not sure if you can identify with this, but when I reach out and try to build deep relationships with other women, I get nervous. I don't like drama. So I send a text. And when I don't hear back, I send a million clarifying texts because I obviously offended her somehow. I wait and wait for a reply (apparently forgetting that it takes me about two years to respond to texts). Finally she responds (ten minutes later) and all is well.

I used to be lonely. And in some ways, that was easier. But in the most important ways, it was hard. So I prayed for friends. And I sought them out. I committed to sticking it out even when it got tough and life left only a smidge of room for those relationships.
So now I sometimes look around and marvel...seriously, MARVEL...at the priceless relationships that God has put in my life. There's my accountability group...ladies who lately have seemed to sneak into every single post I've written because their words are bursting with truth and grace. There are my college friends...we're ten years deep in these relationships and I've never loved them more. One family at a time, we seem to be congregating in a certain part of the cities, and those who aren't here yet? We're holding them a spot. I have my small group girls...past and present, each of them are beyond precious to me. And my work friends...women who share a passion and a vocation with me whom I can talk shop and life with and always walk away from feeling like my soul's been to yoga in the mountains. The online blogging community...women whose voices I've never heard out loud but I can still hear their hearts speaking to me throughout my day, encouraging me and reminding me what truly matters. And then there's the random smattering of women around the country, some of whom I've known forever and some who've just recently crossed my path. We know each other's hearts and care about one another's stories. 

Reaching out is hard and scary. Am I the only one that feels this way? But still does it? Because I don't know how else to survive this:

And these:

And God knows that. 

So He has lavished me with gift upon gift upon gift...angels dressed in yoga pants and infinity scarves, armed with gentleness, generosity, wisdom and Truth. Rolling up their sleeves and doing the work of love.

You know that woman in your spinning class...your MOPS group...your neighborhood...your newsfeed...your clinic waiting room...your study group? 

She needs you just as much as you need her.  

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...