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Please don't make me play!

Before I had kids I used to worry about what I would DO with them. I mean, I liked kids and I certainly wanted some of my own, but talking to them? Playing with them? Um, no. Other people's kids would look at me blankly, waiting for me to somehow engage them which only filled me with inexplicable and completely ridiculous terror: what do they want from me?

I never figured it out, you guys. Well, the talking thing, that's easy. Once your kid can hold a conversation, you're too busy telling him to put his toys away or go use the potty or sit straight and eat his dinner or stop messing around and stand still and put his pajamas on, stop it, come on stop it, now you're going to count to three, ONE... TWO... THREE! There's just not a lot of pleasant chatting when you're in charge of toddlers.

But the playing thing, that's harder. I did my best - number two arrived before we could blink, the better to provide the first with a willing and gullible playmate who can certainly last longer with Mr. Potato Head than their mother. You have no idea how often I congratulate myself on this brilliant strategy. My kids rarely ask me to play with them. I listen to friends complain about having to entertain their older child while trying to take care of the new baby and I say to myself, "Self? Well done!" 

I still have to figure out stuff for THEM to do, but they tend to be things in which my participation isn't necessary. Sure we'll go to the playground or stand around the train table at the bookstore, but man is that boring. So I read a book on the toilet seat while they splash in the bath. I fold clothes while they build train tracks. I check my email while they color. I invite friends over so their kids will play with my kids. I am constantly on the lookout for things they can do by themselves - bonus points if the activity lasts longer than five minutes. I WORK at not playing. 

But I guess that's not really earning me any gold stars as a stay at home mom, now, is it! And you know what happens when I'm sitting down there on the floor with them? NO FIGHTING! And sometimes there are discoveries of new skills, beaming proud faces and plenty of kisses for Mommy. So all right all right. Perhaps I can color Ni Hao, Kai Lan and plaster my face with stickers too. 

Today I told them I'd help with their puzzles, which is one of my least favorite things to do. I'm impatient, I want to do it right, and neither of those things bodes well for helping a 2- and 3-year-old with giant cardboard puzzle pieces. But I was feeling somewhat saintly and told Jack to bring the puzzles into the living room. Instead of the big regular puzzles he brought out a tiny puzzle, one where you count the number of animals on one piece and then find the corresponding number piece. Two pieces! I can handle that!

And you guys, IT WAS FUN. I KNOW. Partly because my kid is (obvs) future Mensa material and didn't drive me crazy hemming and hawing over WHICH numbers, and partly because we were all just getting along. No one was getting grabby or whiny or asking for a snack or walking on the puzzle pieces or otherwise ruining our fun. We did this until my husband came home from work and my only disappointment is that the kids ran away to greet him before he could happen upon his wife and children and note this picture of domestic tranquility. 

What kinds of things do you do (or, should I say, what things can you STAND to do) with your toddlers and preschoolers? I'm not going to make it a habit or anything, but I might want to try it again sometime!