There’s a photo I keep propped up on my dresser. I’m not sure why I haven’t put it in a frame in the last eight months it’s been there, but something about the spontaneous, unplanned, unframed nature of the moment this photo contains is one of the biggest reasons it has a place in my every day life.
It’s a picture of me playing with my oldest, Ella, when she’s around 20 months old. This is an ordinary moment, a thing I did and still do a lot on a daily basis. Yet it’s one of my most cherished pictures ever. (Please note the original artwork taped to my wall. I used to worry about hanging art on my walls, but God knew that wasn’t my forte; hence, he gave me Ella. I have countless pictures of princesses and fairies and unrecognizable doodles taped up like an endless border in my house, right at a kid’s eye level. Maybe it looks weird, but it’s not going anywhere. Okay, I’ll probably take it down by the time she’s ten, because “let them grow up” and all that conventional wisdom will demand it.)
I guess you could classify me as a “playing mom.” I like to play with my kids. Or at least, I like it once I get it down to it. You know how it goes: you have a million to-dos and and you’re exhausted with a headache and you just want to finish your coffee before it’s ice cold, but your three-year-old finishes up her breakfast, looks at you, and says, “Is it a good play day?” What that means in my house is “Are you too busy for me today?” Because let’s face it, our children have no concept that almost every single thing we do is for them. They don’t know that all that laundry and cooking, hours at a job, hours at a desk, all of that is pretty much for them. Also, they don’t understand that mommy is happier when she has a sense of accomplishment in her days. What they understand is tiny princesses with annoying rubber dresses that come to life if you play along with them. They comprehend monster trucks that drive over bumps in the carpet like they’re Himalayan mountain ranges. They think forts in the living room are the pinnacle of life. It’s not hard, but then again, it is, this speaking their love language. It takes putting my mind in a different state, suspending the idea that getting something done is important, and pretending our dolls and teddy bears are feasting on gooseberry pie and cherry cider for no reason I can understand (what the…what do gooseberries even look like? Are they edible?). The trick is to let them take the reins and tell me what they think would be fun, and truly believe that nothing is ridiculous. Unless they start laughing, then it’s allowed to be ridiculous…
And the thing is, I love it. At the end of a play day, I am absolutely more satisfied than I can explain. My small children know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I love them. I have dirty dish piles, dust that hasn’t moved in weeks, piles of clutter in the corners that I keep meaning to tackle, and I have joy despite all of that. I know it will be there tomorrow, but by tomorrow, my kids will not feel like they have to whine their way into my to-do list. Tomorrow, when I say, “I’ll come be a dragon after I finish these dishes,” they’ll believe me, because I proved it today. I proved I love them in their language, and it’s not so much of an uphill battle to maintain that faith if I am consistent in the time I spend with them.
A couple of years ago, a mom I deeply respect and love told me that she doesn’t remember ever playing with her children. That admission saddened me so much. This is a stay-at-home mom who spent countless hours homeschooling her children and “plays” with her teenage kids all the time now. But she doesn’t remember playing with them when they were small. Her kids remember it, though. They tell me how she played with them. I want my kids to remember that I played with them, and I want to spend so many hours playing with them that I cannot help but remember it, too. Because those are some of the happiest hours of my life.
So my photo of a good day to play stays propped up in my bedroom, and I look at it every morning as I get dressed. I look at it and remember that every day is a good day to play.