Unicorns and Sharks

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Play typically comes naturally to me. I have always loved climbing trees, goofing off, and making up games. Spinning in circles. Rolling down hills. Riding my bike. As a kid, I played nonstop until I HAD to eat dinner or until it got dark. Then, I ran home as fast as I could past the scary enormous weeping willow into our backyard. I still play until it gets dark as an adult, as a mother. I’m still pretty horrible about dinner. I walk, run, chase, and hide with my children and oftentimes, other children, on the playground. Last spring, a sweet inquisitive classmate of my son’s asked me, “Why are you a grown up and you’re playing?” My response, “Because I like to and my kids asked me to be the dog monster.”

Children fascinate me, mesmerize me and inspire me with their perspectives, curiosity, their creativity, their resilience and determination to keep playing. Two weeks ago, my youngest son fractured his fibula and had to get a cast. My grown-up self proceeded to over think his future weeks and the difficulties he may face with starting school. He, on the other hand, walked right out of the office and has not complained once except when he had an itch underneath his cast. “Can I use a stick to itch my leg?” He has altered and adapted his play, yet he has not stopped. He has not asked for a pinata for his pity party and he has not begged for trouble and uncertainty from the future.

He lives perfectly and rather magically in the present moment. That’s one of the most beautiful things about kids. But yet, we, adults, often push, elbow and encourage them to change. Hurry up. Grow up. Too fast. We take away play opportunities because we think they need to be more serious, more adult-like. Meh. They have so long to be grown ups and such a very short time to be children.

Every day, children and grown-ups need to play. Life can be so serious and sad and downright bumpy, twisty and scary to navigate through sometimes. We desperately need our imaginations to help us find our way through this life. We need laughter, silliness, fun and learning through challenging ourselves. Come on, walk up the slide sometime. Remember when you would swing so high your belly would “get scared” as my son says?

After I took a few pictures of my boys, I put on the snorkel mask this afternoon. I pretended I was a shark. When I jumped into the water, a million bubbles raced to the top of the water. The water was clear and the sun’s rays burst through and danced on the bright blue bottom of the pool. I watched my boys’ long legs kick below the surface. I usually swim with my eyes closed. And I miss so much. Not today. I wore the equivalent of a bike helmet under water: goggles with a nose piece. I loved playing and watching my boys work together to save a water unicorn from me, a mom shark. They devised a plan while I went under water. They outsmart me. No surprise there. We played. We laughed. And we happily escaped to the glorious land of imagination.

Lately, my guts have been grumbling and achy. I’ve tried eating this or not eating that. Ugh. I’ve been annoyed, frustrated and uncertain. But today, I told my husband that I will not let my Crohn’s tell me how I should feel mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. I will treat myself kindly but I will still play. Because I need to. I will smile or make goofy faces at myself for 30 seconds in the mirror. I will tell myself that I’m doing really great today. And it won’t be a lie. I will play. In my house. Outside. In church. And everywhere else that I go because that’s what I do. I will blow bubbles in my van with my air conditioner on high. I will use angel hair pasta for light saber fights. And I will watch in awe as the hummingbirds whiz by.

I will try my best to live in the present moment. And strive to act more like a child. My children.

 

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Freckle Constellations

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I may not recognize the constellations in tonight’s sky but I’ve seen the Little Dipper on your cheeks. As you tell me things like, “I really want a rhino to lick my face,” I trace an imaginary line back and forth between each freckle on your nose. I can’t help but soak in the beauty of your eyelashes, your freckles, your oversized grown-up teeth, a sweet new addition to your innocent six-and-a-half year old face. You may not remember these moments forever but I will hold onto them tight enough for the both of us.

I snapped a picture when you weren’t looking. While our brightly colored toenails dried. I’m so grateful and proud to be your mom. I will attempt the monkey bars, see saw, and superman swing with you on any beautiful spring day of the week. I love you a million, bazillion, beyond Pluto and back. I will dot to dot all the stars tonight and think of how grateful I am for your sun-kissed face. Your curious brain. Your welcoming, friendly, kind and inclusive heart. Your inquisitive and complimentary soul. Your strong monkey arms and your “supa fast” legs. Oh, and today, your perfectly mismatched pink, blue and purple toenails. I love every little beautiful thing that makes you special and unique and 100% pure therapeutic grade-Colby. I loved all of today. Every single drop.

Thank you for making me stronger. Thank you for helping me. Thank you for dropping pine cone bases for me so I wouldn’t touch the mulch. Thank you for waiting on me. Thank you for stopping and noticing so many gifts of new people, flowers, trees and the great outdoors. Thank you for loving the simple, wild and free things in life. Thank you for going to school in the morning and unknowingly becoming one of my wisest teachers in the afternoon.

The Dog Monster

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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!!!!”

And repeat.

“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.