I’m not quite sure of the exact day that “the Dog Monster” arrived on my boys’ playtime scene. I do know the general time period and the exact playground where she made her strange, yet dramatic, first appearance. A monster that barked and tried to grab little children as they ran across the unsteady bridge up to the twirly slide. She proved herself to be a ridiculous yet dangerous new breed of monster. Especially for little boys clumsily bouncing across playground equipment. She lurked or sometimes fell asleep under bridges and slides, waiting patiently for a child to venture close enough to be grabbed.
My twin toddler boys and I would stroll up to Pawnee Elementary school to play on one of its three playgrounds. The mama’s main goal was to release some of the “twinenergy” in an atmosphere outside of our house. A half mile away from steps, hardwood floors, wall corners, door hinges, etc. seemed to be a safe enough distance. My boys have always been phenomenal climbers, lifting their seemingly weightless zero percentile bodies up onto higher areas than they should have probably ever climbed. It’s always easier to get up somewhere than down. Most likely because the startling view from up high can rattle even the most confident of climbers. Spoken like a true mother fearful of heights.
The Dog Monster must have made one of those amazingly hard-to-forget first time impressions that imaginative, playful characters sometimes do. Her presence has been requested or demanded on close to every playground we have journeyed to since. Nearly five years later. There have been the many awkward times when I’ve been talking to a mom friend or new park friend and my boys have come running up, trying not to interrupt (sort of) patting my leg incessantly,
“Mom, could you be the Dog Monster? Please, Mom! PLEASE!!!!”
“In just a minute, boys.”
Then, I have to explain what “the Dog Monster” is and ask that parent if their kid will be scared if I run after my boys barking and chasing them like a weird mom monster. I’ve often found myself chasing tons of kids begging for me to get them too. Apparently, the Dog Monster’s bark is a lot scarier than her bite. The thing is kids like for grown-ups to play silly games with them. Grown-ups can be so serious sometimes with the dish loading and the bill paying and the struggles of being an adult. When kids see grown ups playing, something magical happens. Every time.
Having a healthy relationship with kids is just like any healthy adult relationship in a lot of ways. When you meet a person at her level and invest time and energy into her, the outcome tends to be pretty positive and rewarding. We, grown ups, make a lot of grumpy boring demands of kids who just would rather be playing. But they have to learn that they need to complete certain monotonous tasks in life. There’s really no job that I’ve found where there are not some parts that just aren’t as enjoyable as others. As a barista, I would have much rather frothed milk and talk to customers than cleaned those hideous stinky drains or bathrooms. I suffered what seemed like a million paper cuts sorting out insurance enrollment forms. And even when I was the mall Easter bunny, I had to put on the sweaty costume that the guy before me had worn. Never. Again.
I’ve found in parenting my own children (who aren’t perfect) that if I’m willing to meet them on their level, as the Dog Monster or a super hero or be “It” in a game of tag, they’re a lot more willing to meet me on my adult level, doing chores, listening, following directions, etc.
So, yesterday, on an early release day, we snuck away to the park after school. The three boys climbed and played happily together as I stood shivering watching them with a heart so abundantly full. Then, one of them asked me,
“Mom, will you be the monster that puts us in jail?”
I was wearing boots. And jeans. It was muddy. I could have said “not today.” But, I didn’t. I chased the three of them around crazily on a sunny but cold winter’s day. Grabbing them and putting them into jail as they laughed and yelled for a brother to come help. I told them,
“And you better stay in there!”
Knowing they would shortly tag each other out and work together as a brotherly team to not let the mama monster win. I’m thankful for my health and the ability to chase them crazily around although sometimes I do fear tearing my ACL. I should probably always have my phone charged just in case. There have been many times where my boys asked and I couldn’t be the “Dog Monster” because something was hurting too badly on my body. Not yesterday.
The Dog Monster takes her role very seriously. I think she knows that her days are somewhat numbered as now, the oldest boys are no longer toddlers. They often have homework to do when they get back. Homework they are much more willing to complete after a good romp in the park. With the Dog Monster.
Don’t forget to play with your kids or grandkids or nieces and nephews.
Also, watch the movie “Finding Neverland.” It’s one of my favorites. A great book is “Playful Parenting” by Lawrence Cohen.