Sunday, January 26, 2014

Things I Learned While Playing With My Sons

Today, as we spent most of it at the Urgent Care trying to take care of this month long ear infection and pink eye outbreak, I realized that I was overwhelmed. I was tired. Heck, it's been a month (exactly) since I got a good night's rest. A month since I have had a puke free day. A month since I've done something for myself. And, in turn, it's been a month exactly, since my boys have truly been kids. They've been fever ridden, couch bound, in pain, crabby and tired. They have told me that their "ears are falling off" and that they are "just too tired out".

So today, as we approached the third hour of the Urgent Care visit, the boys "sat" in the exam room as I waited on the phone with our provider trying to get approval for Theo to be seen. While I answered the redundant questions by the operator, the boys destroyed the room. Literally: they tore the paper off of the exam table, and not in one clean rip, about a million tiny pieces of paper. They threw teddy grams in the air as they tried to catch them in their mouths. They played some sort of racing game as they pushed one another on the rolling stool and then, for a brief moment, they were calm as they counted each item in the dull room. But then they realized they could count better if they touched everything as they counted it. Inevitably, they knocked everything off the counter and onto the floor.

Frustrated and annoyed, and after three days by myself with them, I was done. I sat them down and begged them to be quiet as we got the insurance stuff sorted out. They agreed for about 30 seconds. When we finally left the exam room, we had to wait for paperwork and instructions on the medicine, and for some reason, the staff asked me to walk back and forth around their office and expected that my two and three year old sons would behave. Instead, they crawled, tackled and laughed as we paraded through the office. I'd had enough, but what was I going to do? Yell at them in front of a dozen sick people? Ignore them? It had been three hours?! I was antsy!  All I wanted to do was go outside and enjoy the sun on this beautiful 55 degree day as I sipped coffee in silence and looked at the mountains. Instead though, I was trapped. I escorted them to the car and buckled them in as the nurse sorted out some issue with the meds. I walked back into the waiting room, I could clearly see the car and since I had rolled down the windows, I could see them laughing hysterically as they peered back at me. I wondered what they were laughing about, nothing had been that funny. The nurse was taking too long so I walked back outside. As soon as I came to the door, the boys were silent. Their faces long. They expected me to yell. I didn't. I told them that I was disappointed that they didn't listen to my directions and that we were almost done. The nurse met me at the car and gave me the final paper work. At the three hour and 22 minute mark, we were done with that place.

I got in the car, I was silent. "Mom, are you mad?" Henrik asked. "No, I'm not mad, I'm frustrated that you guys won't listen to me. I'm annoyed that you do things that you know are wrong, but you do them anyway just because Theo does it. I just want you to behave. I don't want you to be a follower, I want you to be a leader." I could see Henrik through the mirror. He was thinking something. We were silent in the car for a bit. When we pulled into the store where we could get medicine, food, and reward toys (for getting eye drops). I said, "Alright, if you two behave while we eat, we will get reward cars. If not, we will go straight home." They agreed and we went in. As we ate, Henrik exclaimed, "Hey Fee-o! We're behaving for mom!" people stared, then they smiled. "Fee-ooooo, we're eating all our food and behaving! Mom is going to be so happy!" I was. I gave Henrik a smile. "Mom! I'm teaching Fee-o how to do all of the right things by using good words to him!" His smile was huge. It broke the ice on my sour mood and made me get up out of my seat to give him a kiss on the forehead. "Thank you, Hanky". He touched my cheek and smiled back.

Once we got home, Henrik was in the greatest mood in the world. I was exhausted and just wanted him to sleep, but I couldn't force it, I got him a project to do at the store and he wanted nothing more than to paint "real toy wood cars". So, we did that. We talked, painted and just enjoyed one another. It was then I realized that I had to put everything aside, I had to make this lame, ruined day (Theo's birthday party was supposed to be today) and turn it into something fun for these kids who were desperate for some kid time.

I had been working on some lesson plans about Europe and decided today was the day we do them. I moved the table, created a fortress, gave them some cardboard swords and shields, we made crowns, got out our super hero capes, and I told them to get on the table to the top of their castle. They looked at me like I was nuts, and I think by now, I am. But, in a royal, booming voice I told them to step up to the top of their kingdom. Theo looked at me like he was doing something bad, but when he got to the top I told him to raise his sword, and I struck some powerful pose and the boys started laughing. I laughed too. They beamed as they stood there. They yelled some super hero/king phrases and we started to play "Kings, Knights, Super Hero, Cobras" I'm not really sure what the game was about, but we were playing it together.

It was then that I learned a little bit about myself and my boys. I learned that no matter how exhausted I was, there was always enough energy to let loose and play dress up. There's always enough time to run around the house with play swords and chase away cobras and pumas, and there's always enough time to hid under a table while we dodge wolves and protect a million baby dolls.

But there was more, I play with my kids a lot, but this game was something new. It was the first time I handed out swords: they've been dying to play with them, but I've always come up with a reason not to have them. Today, they got to be protectors. They got to be boys. They got to be dangerous. I told them that if they had a sword fight the cardboard would break, but they could pretend, and that was good enough for them. They were glowing as they hoisted these swords up in the air and marched around the room with one arm on their waist and capes flowing behind them. As I announced them as I put their construction-paper crowns on their heads, they beamed with delight, "I now pronounce you, King Batman Henrik Cat Face Ehn. The ruler of the kingdom, the protector, and most brave king in the world. And you, I now pronounce you, King Spartan Cat Face Theodor, the strongest spartan in all of the Ehnlandia with a heart of gold and an attitude like a Thornado". They giggled and then got into character.

 Then, our game began. I followed suit as they ran around chasing away cobras and komodo dragons, and when I asked to be saved, Theo responded, "Step back mom. Take a deep breath, you can do it" and went on playing in his own world. And when I urged Henrik to come save me he said, "Mom, you're fierce too, you don't need to be saved". I was surprised. Not because I expected them to save me because I was the mom or a girl, but at their insistence that I was an equal in whatever game we were playing. Whatever we were doing, we were all in it as competent warriors: equal in strength, brains and leadership. The boys played together, not side by side one another. They got along. They understood the game, it was me who was out of the loop. When one of them needed help carrying something else into the castle, they helped one another. When a new intruder came in our paths, we worked together to figure out how to elude them. It was confidence boosting, encouraging, and healthy play. It was not violent and egotistical.

When I finally tried to figure out who needed to be "saved", Henrik told me we had to protect the babies. Once the baby dolls were in our castle, the game changed a bit. Theo wanted to protect the babies as Henrik rounded up the cobras and took the sick and injured ones into his care (he was adamant about protecting the cobras from the hawks). Then, slowly, their crowns and swords went away. They were now care givers, I asked if they wanted their swords back, and was told by Henrik, "Nah, I'll be a super hero, they just need their hands to help people and animals". I watched as the boys fed and cared for snakes and babies. I watched as they pretended to be the daddy and big brother and suddenly, I was out of the game.

I watched them for a good thirty minutes as they traded off their time from "working" or physically moving things like chairs, trash cans, boxes and whatever else they could pick up as they made their castle better, and caring for the sick cobras and babies who needed attending to. I thought, not about the mess, but about how different this game was than the one I played with my sisters. We always worried about order and structure and what the rules were. We were concerned with the normality of playing house, like having a mom, a dad, some kids, a dog and a cat and we never really "played". The boys weren't just playing house, they were creating a world around them in our dining room. They, just like Max from Where The Wild Things Are, indulged in their imagination and turned their costumes into a persona and a way of life. It was magical. Every once in a while they would look up and ask me to assist in some matter, but mostly, they were playing peacefully around me.

Today I learned about who my sons were, or at least what they aspired to be. When all of the costumes were gone, they were themselves, "just Henrik" and "Just Fee-o-door" as they played. Not super heroes, not kings, not anything else in the world, they wanted to be themselves and use their own bodies and tools to help others. They wanted to surround themselves with people who were equally as brave and strong as they were, and they wanted to work together to solve problems. They wanted to be daddies and brothers, they wanted to be together, not apart. They needed me to bounce ideas off of, but didn't need me to guide their adventures any more.

And in return, I learned that no matter how stressful taking care of two sick kids is, or how annoying insurance companies can be, or how "wild" my boys get in public, I learned that I have two, really  amazing kids that were growing up before my eyes. I have always taken pride in my children and what they know because I believe I take an active role in what they learn and how they learn it, but today, I took pride in who they were as individuals and who they were choosing to become. I was proud to watch them as they made everyone an equal. I was proud to see them care for the injured, sick and young. I was proud to see them work together and aspire to the greatest jobs in the world: Dads and brothers, not kings or super heroes.

It's easy to get caught up in life, especially when things are difficult. But today was a great reminder of the important little things life has to offer. We didn't need to spend money or go somewhere to have fun. I didn't need to be doing anything else in that moment except be with my kids. All I had to worry about was if the cobras were ok, or if the mean ones were in our way. And while it was fun pretending to be someone different, it was more fun to be ourselves (in a table and chair castle with snakes, babies and komodo dragons) and to be together. It was extremely important for me to see past the trashed doctor's office and the rumpus pile happening in the waiting room. It was important for me to see who the boys were becoming without me. And while I do have to worry about Theo's safety as he considers joining a fraternity, or Hank's as he becomes a rally racer, I don't have to worry about who they are as people because I know now that they will be okay in this world as I watch these two and three year olds before me play out some of the most important morals and human characteristics as I sit back on the sidelines and witness the greatest show in the world.

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