Make-believe and marmosets again?

A friend of mine recently confessed, “I don’t have the make-believe gene. I love my kid, but I don’t like to play with him.” 

While I consider this mama to be one of the very best I know and saw absolutely no shame in her confession, I felt something shamefully “superior” inside. 

Pride? Relief? Accomplishment?

I consider myself a playful parent. I’m goofy. I love waterslides. Video games, too. As these admittedly smug thoughts and emotions occurred, I didn’t think of myself as a better parent per say — but maybe better equipped with the right amount of playful to more easily enjoy the ride. 

Wash, rinse, repeat

But to say I’ve enjoyed every minute of every day and every game of make-believe would be a giant crock of dried out Play Doh. 

I’ve fallen asleep — yes, actually asleep — during games of make-believe. 

Especially hard is the type of toddler play that simply involves making one little animal figure trot and bounce around the general vicinity of another little animal figure. Robots, dollhouse residents, lunch scraps: We’re all familiar with the old toddler bounce and trot. There’s barely a dialogue, let alone a point or a plot. 

I’ve also hidden certain obsession-level books and movies, just to take a break up the monotony; and I’ve taken the batteries from a sinister vibrating, cackling Elmo chair, too. 

Toddler play and entertainment can be extremely basic, repetitive and mundane. While there are joys that we document endlessly on the stacked camera roll — first mud puddles, merry-go-round rides, apple picking and dance class — there are also times in which the word “Again!” makes our skin crawl. 

If I have to sing this song one more time. If I have to watch that one episode of Diego one more time. (You know — the one with the pigmy marmoset?) If I look at the clock one more time while bouncing this stupid little plastic sheep and it’s still one hour ‘til naptime ...

And yet, we do these mind-numbing, repetitive things because we’re certain that one day it will STOP — all of it — and we’ll miss them and the way they say “sheep” and even the way they say, “Again!” 

And we’ll wish for a shared bowl of halved grapes and the blasted pigmy marmoset episode.

We do these things because we really, truly, madly love our kids.

Follow your bliss

But maybe there’s a better way. Maybe we can let ourselves off the hook once in a while. Maybe we realize that our generation puts way too much pressure on the parents to provide endless entertainment. Maybe we shift focus, now and then, to the kind of play we genuinely feel enthusiastic about.

For me it was always redesigning the train table tracks, hide-and-go-seek and Play Doh (if I was in the right frame of mind to deal with the mess). I liked outings and baking and reading certain books aloud. Dance parties. Sprinklers. These were areas in which I not only stayed awake, but also shined. 

I’m not saying we stop honoring toddler requests of “again and again and again.” I’m saying we take it easy on ourselves, as parents, and allow our specific little brand of playful to shine. 

Sure, we’ll continue to sit through Diego and we’ll bounce and trot inanimate objects, but we aren’t in danger of “missing something” if we occasionally decline, push for an early nap or shift focus to something that we find fun — maybe train tables, maybe bubbles, maybe LEGOs, maybe gardening. 

To your own enjoyment, Toddler Parent! You do so much for your kid. You don’t have to delight in make-believe and you don’t have to LIKE reading Skippy Jon Jones eight nights in a row! It’s loooong. Maybe it’s time for a library card?


Jen Wittes lives in St. Paul and is a mother of two. Send questions or comments to jwittes@mnparent.com.