“Let’s play “grown-up talk;” one scalawag said to the other. They had just come off a twenty-minute kicking and hitting fest in the backseat on our way home from my in-laws. Honestly, I didn’t care what they played, as long as it no longer involved thumping on the back of my seat or someone whining about a body part being on his side of the car.
It’s a six-hour car ride on a good day. This was not a good day. Never had we ever come across so many traffic jams, construction sites, cars stopped on the median, deer warnings, alien sightings. It was truly exceptional. Already, since we went from being two humans to four humans five years ago, we had added about an hour to the trip. This particular day, though, we were looking at an additional two hours.
Oh, and did I mention we had our diabetic cat who can control neither his bladder nor the incessant vocal outpouring of his misery in the car with us? Because that just makes everything better.
I digress. They were talking about playing “grown-up talk.”
My scalawags are four (nearly five) and six. We very tightly control their exposure to media of any kind. They rarely go over to friends’ houses, and when they do, I go. So I know what they are seeing and hearing when they are not in school.
So this “grown-up talk’ thing must be something they picked at school. We are fortunate that our kids attend an English/French bilingual school. It is truly an innovative place, a rarity in France. The teaching staff is young and motivated, the school itself only opened in 2017 (as if it was getting the kinks out those first years so that my boys could start there in 2021…yet again proof that we are the center of the universe, wink wink nudge nudge.)
There are things I don’t love about the place, though. They dug deeeeeep into Halloween. I don’t mind Halloween when it is about superhero costumes and candy, but this all went a little too far into the scary/spooky/gory. For those who are interested, Halloween is a recently imported tradition in France. All Saints Day is a thing. In fact, it is a holiday in France. But Halloween somehow skipped the innocent Trick-or-Treat import and jumped directly to the blood, gore and zombies.
I digress, yet again. We were talking about “grown-up talk.”
When my eldest scalawag said, in that giggly bark he puts on sometimes, “Let’s play grown-up talk,” my indulgent husband and I looked at one another. He drew a question mark with his eyebrows and I made that wide-eyed “don’t ask me” look. So we listened.
“I need to do the dishes,” said the first scalawag.
“I need to hang the laundry,” said the other.
“I need to fold clothes”
“I need to scoop the litter.”
It quickly became much less repeatable things that they needed to do. But the beginning of the game made both the indulgent husband and myself laugh.
That is grown-up talk, isn’t it? I need to do this. I need to do that.
Immediately, I thought of all the times when my youngest has said, “Mama would you play with me?” and I have replied with an “I need to…” statement. This is usually because, A. I don’t want to play and B. I have things I need to do that quite frankly, I would rather do than get scolded for not putting the Duplo together just the right way. Honestly, I would rather do the dishes than play Playmobil. I don’t love doing the dishes, but I would take dishes over Playmobil any day of the week.
So I got to wondering. Was “Grown-Up Talk” really a game they learned at school, or is it their way of dealing with how I brush them off all the time?
I am not a kid person. I do not love kids. I tolerate mine because they are mine, because of the path that brought them into my life, and because God moved heaven and earth so that they would be born. This does not make me a happy parent. It makes me a willing parent. It makes me a parent who desires to see what God has planned for them, but it does not change the core of who I am: self-centered, cold and unrelenting.
I remember reading an interview with Shonda Rhimes where she expressed that every time her child asked her to play, she dropped everything and played for ten minutes.
I remember thinking, “that’s easy for someone who has a housekeeper to do the dishes and keep the mess at bay and a nanny to deal with the kids for the rest of the time when she doesn’t take that ten minutes to play.”
But also, I realized that Shonda Rhimes wasn’t just playing to mollify her children. She was doing it for herself: it made her feel like a better mom.
I often feel like the worst possible parent. I disengage emotionally, exhausted by the constant demands and overly energetic mood swings of my children. I recognize that it was our choice that I not go back to work after the children were born. It was our choice that one parent always be available to them all the time. It was our choice not to have them put into daycare for ten hours a day from the time they were babies, so that the few hours we might have with them in the evening and on weekends might be “special gifts” for all of us.
But this investment in our children leaves us saying things like, “I need to do this thing rather than play.” Because we do. Because our world needs to turn. Because I need to hang up the laundry or make dinner so that our basic needs are met.
I wonder where the line is between saying, “yes” to our children for things that don’t cost a penny, like playing for ten minutes, and maintaining my sanity. (No remains my default response for anything that costs money. Period.) Would more “yes” actually help make me feel like I was a better parent, rather than repeating the same old, “I need to…” sentences all the time? Would more “yes” help relieve the guilt I feel, even when I am doing things that are basic needs, but basic needs that I would truthfully rather be fulfilling than playing?
The next question, do I even want to try? That is the more convicting of questions. Am I willing to put my agenda–my view of our family’s needs–on the back burner? Am I willing to put my timetable aside and try to live by theirs?
Well, that is what I am going to try to do this week. This week, our second week of mid-term vacation, I am going to attempt to say “yes” when I want to say “I need to…” Put a timer on for ten minutes and give the kid the free thing that he wants.
More to come on this. And who knows? Maybe I’ll pick up some of that Shonda Rhimes glow while I’m at it!