Who's there, Daddy?
Just play along
"Who's there, Daddy," our two-year-old asks on a fairly frequent basis, oftentimes in the midst of a million and five gazillion other things' taking place.
"I don't know, baby," my husband replies. "Is it you?"
She gives him a you're-so-stupid look and says, "No, Daddy! Who's there?" What she wants is for him to simply say, "Who's there?" In her own comedic way, she's asking him to participate in a knock-knock joke. Her full version of a knock-knock joke at this age goes something like this...
"Quack, quack who?
Cue the adorable, nose-scrunched, toothy grin of our youngest child as she basks in the glow of the hilarious joke she has both created and successfully told. At least in her world, it was wildly successful. In our world, it just makes us realize how fast our youngest is growing up and discovering her personality, which is definitely something with which she is well-endowed.
I don't care who you are - if a young child says, "Knock, knock," you answer, "Who's there?" If she hands you a pretend cell phone, you take it from her and have a very animatedly hilarious conversation with whomever she believes to be on the line. If she hands you a plastic tea cup, you tell her how much cream and sugar you want and enjoy every sip of your air tea.
It's part of growing up, and, in my opinion at least, kids who don't get a chance to interact with adults on their own terms miss a priceless opportunity to grow and mature. Kids learn through experimentation and imagination. Playing is their job. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy? Yes, but all work and no play also makes Jack fidgety and grumpy and harder to teach. Kids need to laugh and play and...well...be kids.
Move over, Dora.
Our kids adore their Barbies and Monster High dolls, and they can't get enough of Disney Infinity. The eight-year-old has recently fallen in love with reading (finally!), and her sisters spend an inordinate amount of time giggling to the point of tears about toots, burps and nakedness. There are nights when they happily play, and we never turn the TV on, but there are also evenings when we turn the TV on and forget about all those other things. Kids love to interact with television, even when it's that creepy, staring, always-waiting-too-long-for-an-answer Dora the Explorer. The shows have bright colors and fun songs. They introduce shapes, numbers, letters and colors. They can be a good way to mentally stimulate your child to learn while giving Mama and Daddy five minutes to sit down and refocus. You can even watch together and sing the songs.
(Don't think you won't know those songs. You will. Oh, yes, you will...)
If you don't know the songs, shame on you. Just as it's the child's job to play, it's your job as the parent to participate. The show shouldn't be just a digital babysitter. It's a chance to interact, to ask the child questions about what she saw and to help hardwire age-appropriate, educational concepts. But there is, of course, more to learning than Dora, Doc McStuffins and Team Umizoomi (and I could never forget those adorable Wonder Pets, Sophia the First and the kids over at Super Why!) to teach your child.
There is you. You were a kid once. What did you enjoy? If you didn't get much of a chance to play, explore and learn, what would you like to have done?
I go through times when I live this. I play with my girls in the hope that not only will they remember that this old Mama was a pretty cool chick at one point but that they will learn about their world and enjoy the little pleasures it holds. We act silly, we paint and we sing songs. We experience textures by jumping in puddles during a pop-up summer shower or rolling out cookie dough for a Sunday afternoon treat. We take pictures of silly faces, fashionista poses and pretty dresses. We play. We interact. We learn.
But then there are times I'm perfectly happy letting them be zombied by a Netflix marathon. After a long day at work, I don't always feel like being dialed up to SuperMom. Maybe I just want to do the minimum of what needs to be done in the house and then lie on the couch recentering my view of the world based on whatever is just beyond the tips of my toes when I open my eyes. Maybe I don't feel particularly creative or festive and am not really sure I even feel like talking.
To me, that's important, too.
Our kids need to be stimulated and to have their brains shaped and creativity fostered, but they also need to see that they don't have to be on "GO!" all the time. Those quiet, end-of-the-day, letting-frustration-go moments are a great chance to snuggle. They can tell me how their day went or we can choose not to talk at all. I think that's a great lesson at any age - play, be happy and learn, but let yourself rest when you need to. They will have their whole lives to rush around trying to be the best people they can be. Now and then it's nice just to be the family that enjoys watching "Avatar: The Last Airbender" together while not talking or giving one moment's care about how much brain power we're cultivating.
Your mission, if you choose to accept it...
Be a kid. Let your kids be kids. When you think you've been too silly and spent too much time listening to knock-knock jokes and watching Dora and dressing Barbie, do it some more.
Watch TV? Okay.
Play in the rain? Okay.
Engage in sensory exploration activities designed to help your kiddos become problem solvers and master thinkers? Okay.
Do whatever helps your kid be a kid. Whatever that means.
It doesn't have to be beautifully, artistically Pinterest-inspired, and it doesn't have to be perfect. Kids don't care. They care more that you're paying them some attention than that it looks like something that should be in an art gallery or on the cover of a parenting magazine.
Put shaving cream on a cookie tray, and let her run her hands through it. Put marshmallows in a bag, and freeze them. It's a fun thing to mush around as they thaw out, and it makes a great ice pack for life's little scrapes. Go splash in puddles or paint a masterpiece of a machine that makes scars and rainbows (credit to the six-year-old for that one when she was four). Lie in front of the TV watching shows you've watched to the point you can recite the dialogue and laugh before funny things are said.
Even if it's just being lazy and doing nothing in particular, do it in the same room so that you are at least in each other's presence. Ask your kids about their day and actually stop to listen when they reply. Make an effort to smile at them while they talk to you, even if you just want to scream, "GET TO THE POINT!"
Kids are only kids once. Their job is to play. As the boss of this tiny, developing person, your job is to make sure they get to tell all the knock-knock jokes they want, to use their imaginative little brains and to just be kids. And, by all means, when that little doe-eyed baby looks up at you and asks, "Who's there, Daddy," make sure the answer is you. Right there. In that moment.
Whatever you do, just do it. Together. Make time for it.