Sunday, August 2, 2009

Games We Play

Inside my son's toybox lies a world of fantasy. There are the blocks that transform into skyscrapers, toy airplanes just waiting to be flown to far off imaginary lands, dinosaurs ready to belt out prehistoric roars. Noah is only 2, so he's just starting to discover the wonderful world of make-believe. It's undeniably one of the best parts of childhood: escaping the confines of reality to be and do amazing things.

I can remember hours spent in my parents' backyard, digging for "fossils" in their rock garden. My childhood friend and I were no longer typical 7-year-olds, but paleontologists on a very important dig. Or all the rainy days we devoted to building "castles" out of pillows and couch cushions, donning our "princess gear" of blankets and sheets, only to have my older brother and his gang of guys bulldoze the entire village. As I now watch my son begin to explore his own imagination (he goes to "work" every morning. I'm not sure what his occupation is, but part of the job description appears to entail repeatedly opening and closing every door in the house.) it makes me nostalgic for those days of wonder, and makes me wonder why growing up means the end of make-believe. Or does it?

The more I think about it, the more I realize being a new parent involves a whole lot of playing pretend. Take sleep. On a good night my 6-week-old baby girl will go 3 hours between feedings. Of course it takes 30 minutes to feed her and another 30 for her to fall back asleep, then another 30 for me to fall back asleep so if I'm really lucky I can get a few 90 minute blocks of slumber. But after each sleep deprived night, when morning shows its not so lovely face, I pretend I actually have the desire to get out of bed. It's clearly a game all parents play, because when I'm asked "How's she sleeping these days?" and I answer honestly, I'm congratulated on this wonderful accomplishment. "Wow, 3 hours! That's great!" they say, slipping on their make believe masks. Yes, and in other fabulous news I may need a root canal, and it looks like we could have black mold in the basement! Oh, happy days!

When 2-year-old Noah drops his breakfast toast on the ground, I pretend the cleaning fairy has recently mopped, making a "5-second rule" feasible. When we watch Sesame Street, I pretend to not be totally creeped out by that bizarro Mr. Noodle, because of course my son adores him. And I accidentally drop a member of the Really Useful Crew who has wandered off the Island of Sodor and onto my kitchen island, I pretend to actually be able to differentiate between two seemingly identical talking, grinning tank engines. Of course that one is Gordon!! He thinks it's funny when I call him Thomas!

The fun and games don't stop there. There's the grown-up game of "Dress Up" which doesn't require a single sparkly tutu or fireman costume. Just close your eyes and pretend there's something in the closet that actually fits and doesn't have shoulder patches of spit-up. And then pretend that a t-shirt and sweat pants constitute real clothing! I find this is best played after pretending a quick swipe with a fresh diaper wipe is just as good as an actual shower, or that bouncing a colicky infant for an hour is comparable to a 6-mile run. The Samsonite-sized bags under my eyes? No problem-I just pretend I am half raccoon. And when I'm really in the mood to stretch my imaginary muscles, I pretend to actually recognize the woman in the mirror when I dare to glance that way.

But there's one thing I'll never have to pretend: I know for certain that as weary as I may feel and as dreary as I certainly look, my life is infinitely better for having these two tiny creatures in it. Even at the height of my make believe days, while playing "house" with Barbie and Ken and their imaginary offspring, I never could have imagined the kind of pure love my own children would one day bring to my real home. In all the games of "school" I played with my stuffed animals as students, I never dreamed that one day the little ones would lead the class, teaching me lessons about myself I never knew I needed to learn. So a big thank you to the world of make believe for allowing the dreams to begin, but the real world is where they truly come alive.

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