My dad gave us the awesomest Christmas present ever this past year: he paid for (and helped build, along with a builder friend of his) finishing part of our basement to use as a playroom for the girls. The project was recently completed and it is *so* fabulous to have a place to put the girls — ahem, I mean, their toys.
Until recently, their playthings had been gradually, steadily overtaking our living room / dining room. Now, for the first time since the girls were born, our main living area is more or less free of major baby/child accoutrements. And downstairs, we’ve got a gorgeous room that looks like this:
The only potential wrinkle here is the fact that our basement gets water when it rains hard for more than a day, and tends to be damp overall. But the floor is raised and the walls are built in front of the actual walls, plus we’ve got a de-humidifier running around the clock (can’t wait to see what our electric bills will be…) and so far, so good.
The building of this room coincides nicely with the fact that the girls are pretty much old enough to play down there on their own. From upstairs, we can hear them just fine, and the doors out of the playroom to the unfinished part of the basement are locked. So, theoretically, they could play happily down there by themselves for a long time. Except that typically we have to go down and break up fights every ten minutes or so. I’m trying to interfere less in these disputes and let them work it out for themselves. But the other day — for the first time — Clio bit Elsa. HARD. It didn’t break the skin, but the teeth marks were still there the next day. So now we’re a little wary of letting them tussle on their own for too long. (Have three-year-old siblings ever killed each other?)
Frequently they also need a nudge to come up with games or toys to play with once they’ve gotten tired of coloring — by far their favorite activity these days. It’s odd; they’ve got this whole room full of toys and games and pretend play “props,” and they can’t think of anything to do unless one of us suggests it and sits down to get things going with them. But usually once they get going, they’re off to the races.
The only thing that I struggle with (besides whether or not to break up potential bloodbaths when one of them grabs a toy out of the other one’s hands) is how much to play *with* them. I’m pretty playful in general — happy to make up silly songs with the girls, or launch tickle fights, etc. I like dancing to music with them, and I love reading books and setting up creative projects. I don’t even mind a few minutes of playing with the dollhouse or pretending to eat the “meals” they make for me with their plastic food (raisin and bean and donut and chicken and blueberry and strawberry cake, anyone?) But after five minutes of “pretend play,” well, B-O-R-I-N-G.
And difficult to follow. They’ve got this strange internal logic as to how things are supposed to go that I just can’t follow for long. Example: yesterday I suggested that they put on a “show” for their stuffed animals. (This is big lately.) So they set all their animals and dolls up on their little armchairs near the front window (this was actually an upstairs game). Then Clio sat on the couch with a play guitar, and they wanted me to sit on a chair that they’d placed right in front of the couch, facing away. I was supposed to sing (“This little light of mine.”) but only once Clio started. It was never clear to me whether I was in the audience or in the show
or if it was some kind of high-concept,
test-the-definition-of-theater-participatory thing. I was yelled at several times for not doing what I was supposed to.
Curious George, sitting in a toy high chair on the coffee table, was also involved. After — and only after — the musical number was done, I was supposed to make him walk (according to Elsa, who was sitting catty-corner to the couch, in the recliner) but NOT dance. Shortly after that, the girls realized that the lighting for the show was sub-par, so we made a “light” out of construction paper and a pencil. It needed a lot of tape and stickers.
The whole thing was very Dadaist. Or like one of those dreams where you’re back in high school and you have to perform the whole production of “South Pacific” you were in your sophomore year, with no brush-up rehearsal. (What, you never had that dream?)
All of which leads me to my conclusion, which is that I think in general — and especially when it comes to pretend play — children are best left to their own devices. And I shouldn’t feel guilty for encouraging them to play on their own (in their new playroom or not) most of the time. Right? Right?
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