I have got to keep a closer eye on my children when they’re being neglected “playing independently.” Cleaning out the 70s-era Barbie Dreamhouse my father built for my older sister right at the moment she lost interest in dolls, I found:
17 stuffed animals
enough plastic food to feed a plastic army
a tin full of perfectly formed ¾-inch tissue balls (only through being wet or snotty, I suspect)
piles of sugar
Seriously – piles of sugar?
What have I been doing that I didn’t notice this? Oh wait, I’ve been fixing three meals a day, getting kids to and from school, cleaning the house, doing the laundry and trying to revive my freelance writing career. It’s not like I spend the day watching Sports Center (we don’t have ESPN, and I don’t want it) or lying on the couch reading a book. And the basement steps come into our kitchen, so you’d think I’d hear something. Then again, sugar is a rather quiet toy.
As an at-home dad, I pride myself on being the polar opposite of a “helicopter parent.” At the playground near our house, I let the kids romp to their hearts’ content – doing the head-swivel kid-check for them every few minutes (if I remember to break from my conversation with another grownup). If they want to climb on top of the plastic houses, that’s fine by me – as long as they don’t jump on the houses while other kids are inside. If they want to pull the leaves off trees and make “soup,” I bless that, too. I debated between “We don’t hurt other people’s property” and “They’re not pulling off more than a few dozen leaves, the tree has plenty to spare, and they’ll all fall off by Thanksgiving, anyway.” Finally, creativity and independence trump tree-hugging prudery, and I let nature take its course.
I want them to dream up their own play and resolve conflict on their own, and how are they ever going to do that if I intervene every 90 seconds?
Back to the dollhouse-turned-storage unit: I know how all the stuffed animals got there. While I’m fixing supper, Carla tromps through with armloads of them. On a wintry day, hauling stuffed animals up and down stairs might be the only exercise she gets. So do I become Mr. Border Control and forbid transport of stuffed animals? When Carla heads to the basement with an armload, do I treat her like a smuggler and refuse entry?
The shoes we had been missing for nearly a week, but we live in the age of plentiful and cheap kids’ shoes, and I hate looking for anything when I’m not sure it’s there to be found (ridiculous, I know). She can just wear another pair. And the plethora of plastic food makes sense – the dollhouse is next to the toy kitchen.
But what gets me is the sugar.
Of course, part of the answer is “because it’s sweet,” but how and why are my children sneaking sugar out of the kitchen?!