I face an interesting dichotomy with the boys.
C is perfectly happy to play, just play. There doesn’t have to be rules, or a game, or even people with him. He can sit up in his room for hours and entertain himself. He constructs elaborate playing fields out in the yard and will run, jump and throw himself to the ground with wild abandon, perfectly content that he is more a spectacle than a playmate.
M, on the other hand, is our social creature. He needs input, feedback and interaction. (He gets this from his mother.) He cannot stand to be alone, hates playing by himself and simply cannot go for long periods of time (i.e. more than a minute) without speaking to someone, even if it’s just the dog.
The true psychological trick is that the each believes the exact opposite about themselves.
C will ask to go outside and play, rushes out the door, will arrange things just so in his game and will even start the game himself. But, before you know it, he is standing right next to you again. He turns those beautiful hazel eyes up at you and with just a touch of Oliver Twist-like emotion will ask, “will you play with me?” This has become a little easier lately as his games tend to lean toward something I can understand. Filling up the bed with all the bins from the toy shelves so that we can play “Battleship” against the dresser confuses me. I’m not sure what my role is. Do I pass the missiles back and forth? Am I the PT Boat? Now, playing catch in the yard, actual Battleship at the table or even a game on the Wii is more my speed. I know what’s expected of me.
M, on the other hand, cannot be bothered with asking people to play with him. He takes a much more passive-aggressive route. He will ask for something: permission to play Wii or room on the table to do a puzzle, etc. and he will set himself to it. You then have about 5 minutes before he lets loose the saddest of all sighs and announces to the room that he’s bored. This method also perplexes me. If I want to do something, and I’m allowed to do it, I’m usually happy. I am starting to learn that his requests, however, may be fishing expeditions for an invitation to do something else. I have been testing this theory lately and he sometimes will call his own bluff, but the ritual of having tried something seems too ingrained. He will purposefully turn down your alternative suggestion, only to come back to it once his boredom sets in.
Both strategies serve to increase my daddy-angst. Generally, each tactic is played in full right as I’m about to start the lawn mower, or in the middle of laundry or cooking dinner (no, the last one does not happen often, but that doesn’t dissuade them). How do you explain that you’d love to play, yes, but that the crab grass is threatening to carry the house away and that’s more important? How do you tell them that this week’s BJ’s run trumps playing ball? Working from home when the boys are there is even more nerve-wracking. In their mind, you’re home, so work does not exist. The idea that my sitting still, looking at my computer is work simply does not compute to them. They use computers for school work and games. It’s summer, so anything on my computer must be a game (and they may have a point there…). Meanwhile, that partner in NY is still waiting for the memo they asked for.
I hate saying no to my kids. I’m good at it, don’t get me wrong, I just don’t like it when it is in response to something as simple as playing with them. If we could afford for me to stay home with them, I probably would, but would still feel that stab of anxiety when they wanted me to play instead of vacuuming, watch TV instead of folding their clothes (and at what age does that start?) or just being Daddy, instead of a grown-up.
I know I should be treasuring this. At some point, probably not all that far off, they’re not going to come to me first when they’re looking to play. I’ll be a last resort and I’ll have wasted these moments focusing on something infinitely less important and won’t be able to get them back. Sadly, I cannot play with them full time. It doesn’t pay the bills, clean the clothes or prevent the dog from getting lost in the jungle that used to be the back yard. So, for now I will battle my angst and try my best to balance the two.
But, I cannot promise that I will not have my thumb on the scale in favor of play time.