This weekend my kids had some little friends over. Everything was going well until my daughter ran downstairs screaming, “She’s stuck in the window and can’t get down.” This was a mind boggling statement and not something you ever want a four year old screaming. My husband and I both leapt out of our seats and ran for the stairs. Somehow, we maneuvered ourselves up the flight of stairs and towards the playroom where we all of a sudden heard a crash and a scream. Also, never something you want to hear on a Saturday night when you plan on sitting on the couch and watching a movie. I was so ready for some down time.
Instead, I was standing, hands on my hips telling a six year old girl that in the future she should probably not climb onto a chair then onto a four inch window ledge in order to reach gun darts stuck on the glass. Yes, I was sad she fell, no she did not look hurt, yes, I was disappointed that she had made a bad decision instead of asking for help. After showing me the toy that had helped break her fall, torn in two on the palm of her hand, the tears really started to flow. I suggested we wait a bit and then play some more. She chose to go home.
While all of this was happening my children sat in the hall wide eyed with shock. They know the rule of the house is to always ask a grown up for help before the accidents happen. My four year old had done her part by coming to get me but too late. Simultaneously, her older brother was running in circles screaming, “Oh, my God. Oh, my God.” I’m not sure for who’s benefit the exclamations. They weren’t helping me.
I love watching my children run and jump and use their imagination to play at superheroes and aquatic villains. I love hearing the clever and imaginative ways they come up with to act out a new and exciting game. These things amuse me, charm me, often make me laugh. I eavesdrop on them, stand next to their door unseen trying to catch the words before they see me and the game stops and they try to include me in their imaginary time. Which never works, by the way, I always manage to ruin whatever game is being played.
They run around the house, free to jump on beds, couches, use the pillows for forts and blankets for caves. I let them because they’ve never once broken anything nor do they scream or hurt each other too often. I feel safe when my kids are at play. Not so when other kids come over. Maybe it’s the change in environment, the newness of the toys, the excitement of a bunch of kids playing games, but something about having all of them together creates an environment so chaotic it becomes dangerous.
And after the fun and games, my children are left at home with shoulders bent, sad that a friend had to leave, and then start using language that we don’t use in our house, ask questions about why ‘Sally’ said she wouldn’t play with my sweet daughter ever again and my son looks at me full in the face and says, “but ‘Tommy’ has a better toy than I do.” In that moment I want to ban all further play dates. I want to isolate my children from any other child in the universe, I want them to be solely influenced by myself and their father.
See, my kids play better together when there are no other children around. They fight less when they haven’t been playing with certain of their friends. They share, say thank you, and generally enjoy life more when it’s just the two of them and their imaginations. Yet, for all that, I see their little faces light up when the doorbell rings and though the pitter patter of feet running up the stairs sends shivers down my spine, there is nothing like the giggles of my happy children at play, until the next time someone starts to cry.