The Reluctant Playmate

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“Mommy, can you play with me?”

It’s the fourth time he’s asked in the three hours he’s been awake. We’ve played Uno, we’ve played Candyland, we’ve played kitchen, we’ve colored and painted and blown bubbles. And now I just want to sit. But the hope in his voice gets me every time. I’m supposed to want to play, right? I’m supposed to be eager to spend every single moment with my children because pretty soon they won’t be children at all and they’ll never want to play with me and then my house will be empty and I’ll feel so alone.

But the fact is: I don’t always want to play.

Sometimes I want to just sit and watch TV or scroll mindlessly through my phone. Sometimes I want to read a book or spend some time writing all of the thoughts in my head. Sometimes I just want a moment to breathe from the overwhelming task of raising two humans.

“Mommy, can you play with me?”

I can feel the edges of my patience start to fray and I’m instantly hit with a fresh round of good ol’ fashioned mom guilt. His blond hair is still sticking up in various places on his head from his sleep. He’s wearing his cotton blue Paw Patrol pajamas that make him look tall and lanky now that his baby fat has been stripped away. And his eyes. Those bright blue eyes that are sure to lead to all kinds of trouble in his teen years, are staring right at me with so much hope that my guilt starts to work in overdrive.

What kind of mom doesn’t want to play with her own kid?

It’s that voice inside of me that repeatedly tells me I’m bad at this. I’m not cherishing what I said I wanted - to be home with my boys, to be a work at home mom.

“I’ll play in five minutes, okay?”

“Okay,” he says, completely dejected with his shoulders slumped forward. He’s good at encouraging the guilt, this one.

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I don’t remember feeling like this a year or two ago. Is it that I now have two humans who rely on me and who suck all of the energy out of me? Is it that I am just a year or two older now? Or, is it something more? Why am I such a reluctant playmate these days? When did I lose my fun? And more importantly, how do I get it back?

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The five minutes I begged for quickly gets diminished to three, because time means nothing to a four-year-old.

“Mommy, can you play with me now?”

I toss my warm blanket to the floor, and slowly sink down to the rug so that I’m on my belly facing him. We stare at each other for a moment before he grins. I can’t help myself, I grin back.

“Okay, bud, what do you want to play?”

And we’re back at it, playing a game I don’t really want to play, but that makes him happy just to be hanging out with me. And I try to remind myself that’s all he wants - me. He just wants time with me. I know someday all I will hope for is that he’ll want to spend time with me. So I push the reluctancy away, and try to focus instead on how happy he is, which in turn makes me happy.