Now, Ruth has always been one to be very imaginative. Since very young, she’s preferred make-believe games with people and stuffed animals and toys over other forms of play. And, of course, me being home, I have been her main playmate through all of these phases of different games. It’s part of my burden/joy to be this person to her, this playmate.
Let me explain. I love playing with her. But her games are mostly, for me, a 32 year old, in a word, boring. My mind goes numb after about five minutes of having our two figurines talk about going to the zoo. I often have to fake enthusiasm when she insists that I remain engaged. Zoning out doesn’t work. If I’m not paying attention to the flow of the conversation, she’ll know and she’ll get pissed. Among the many hats that I wear, one of the hardest ones to put on is this intimate playmate. My brain, as an adult, likes to remain hovering on the bigger picture, crossing things off of my to-do list, or at the very least, thinking about what I want to think about. It’s very hard to abandon all of that and get on her wavelength sometimes. Ok, all the time. My brain and her brain are at very different points of development. My brain doesn’t like to think about things or spend time on the things that hers does. Though, I see it as an opportunity to connect with her, show her that I value her time and opinion on things, and so, I do this, and have done this for many many years.
And I have been through some crazy playing phases. The earliest we have on camera are when she was just over a year and would push a baby in a stroller into the bedroom to talk with me, say, “Hi, mama! Hi, mama!” stay for me to ask her a few questions and leave only to repeat this game as many times as possible until she got bored. I have rearranged my living room four different times in a day to get ready for “Allah’s birthday party”. I have made my hand into a talking lady from the British isles named Mrs. Bag lady who has held extensive conversations with her about many different things. I have gotten baby dolls dressed and undressed thousands of times, packed them ready for the beach, spread out their blanket on Ruth’s bedroom floor and applied sunscreen to their little plastic faces. I have been practicing as a doctor, and even a surgeon, for years with no license. I should be arrested. I have probably given myself cancer with all of the exposure to x ray radiation I’ve received. So many broken bones.
Anyways, thankfully, as the years have passed, the games have gotten slightly more enjoyable to me. Slightly more intricate, less repetitive, more sophisticated as time has gone by (now, of course, Joel is starting in with his version of these imaginative games and he is remarkably like his sister. Only his main toy of choice is cars. Cars that talk to each other and go on trips together. Over and over again).
I should also preface this by saying that Greg is a biologist and he and I have always shared a love of the outdoors and nature appreciation. So, as soon as Ruth was two, we were trying to show her the planet earth series, and have recently spent some time watching some shows on pbs.com as an alternative to peppa pig and various other obnoxious kids shows when we sit down some evenings to watch a movie. One was a series on animal homes where they showed various species building homes. The focus was mostly on birds, I think. The other was on sloths. Joel was pretty oblivious but Ruth seemed to like the programs and sat watching with rapt attention.
Yesterday, I was doing what a caregiver of two kids does, and I was playing two different games with both of them at the same time. With Joel, the traveling car game driving a match box car all over my big belly, talking with his car, constantly going and coming back from a trip to Mississippi. And, with Ruth, I was talking with her about the fact that she was a “two-toed sloth”, she said and she was building her nest. What she was actually doing, I realized, was combining the two pbs shows we had watched and had made a game out of it. You could see that she was really getting into the sloth mindset as she walked around the living room on all fours, gathering nesting material. “I use everything. Even garbage,” she said, dismantling my neat stack of magazines from under the table, carrying them in her mouth over to the rocking chair, feathering a nest for herself. I found that she had retained a remarkable amount of information from the show we had watched. She told me it takes her a month to digest her food, that she can turn her head all the way around like an owl and that she has moths that live in her fur. “Does it itch?” I asked. “Yes,” she responded, seriously. She spent a long time gathering materials from around the room, stuffing them onto the chair and finally topped the whole thing with my yoga mat spread over the top like a roof. Then she tucked herself in there to rest after all that hard work.
It’s just funny for me to watch the progression of these games. The same as I watch the progression of her art and other things. I get a microscopic look at how my kids are changing, being the person who is always with them. It’s never a second hand account, I’m always the person watching. I know what moods they are in, where we have gone lately, what has happened that we have seen that influences the way we play. It’s an interesting place to be. Sometimes a brain-numbing place, sometimes a frustrating place, always a place with limited freedom and autonomy for me, but I have to consider myself lucky to be so close to them, to see it all unfolding. It is a slow and intricate process. And, if you pay attention and let yourself see it as such, a wonderful and remarkable one.