Category Archives: time for play

A Gift for all Seasons

This Christmas season remember the priceless gift of time. It’s a surefire winner for all ages, particularly kids. At a constant exchange rate of 60 seconds per minute, it is the richest currency we have to share. For young kids parental presence in the best present that money can’t buy. This is one of those self-evident truths but I know from experience that it’s remarkably easy to lose touch and get whisked away in the hurly-burly bustle of daily life.

As a young kid growing up in the 50s and 60s, I was fortunate that my parents made time for family fun – walks in Toronto’s High Park and Edwards Gardens, trips to Niagara Falls, picnics at Bruce’s Mills. As we got older, friends were frequently invited on our adventures espousing the ‘more the merrier’ credo.

Niagara FallsNiagara Falls with Mom and Dad, circa 1960

Sunday evenings, after a busy week, we gathered around the old black and white TV to take in Walt Disney’s latest adventure. Then there was cubs, soccer, hockey, bottle drives, camping, skating and so much more. From a kid’s perspective, my folks made it all look so easy. They were always there to show us how, to support, to encourage, to comfort.

Dad and Me skating At a neighbourhood rink in Toronto circa 1965

As a young lad in Scotland, my Dad never saw skates never mind lace on a pair. This didn’t deter him from trying it out as an adult and getting proficient enough to help me get up on my wobblies and open the door to a childhood of winters filled with the fun and thrills of skating and chasing vulcanized rubber around a rink.

Now don’t get me wrong, I liked my presents under the tree too – army helmets, daisy air guns, eldon race sets, trains, dinky cars, hockey equipment and a veritable panoply of gifts through the years. These presents were an enjoyable part of my world but none of them could ever hold a candle up to my parents’ steady, unwavering and loving presence.

~Alex, & mum25Christmas morning circa 1966

A few days ago I asked our three young ones how they would like to spend their time over the holidays. It didn’t take them long to whip up a list. It warmed my heart that the activities are centered on us doing things together and embracing simple pleasures all easily attainable. Here’s a selection of what we’ll be doing:

  • play ponies with papa
  • go skating at the oval
  • go swimming
  • make cookies with maman
  • have a christmas party
  • play outside
  • watch hockey with maman
  • make puzzles
  • go sledding

We have a couple of snow activities in there which might be a bit of a stretch given the weather forecast for the next few days. We’ll do our best on that front…

Our kids are similar to kids the world over as The Other Letter, an IKEA video I came across recently illustrates.

As much as we love to spend time with our kids, we don’t see ourselves living for, or through them. We like to see it more as living with them. That means giving them the time and space to play by themselves, with each other and with friends. This gives them the opportunity to create their own adventures, their own worlds and establish the first stirrings of independence.

We consciously try not to overschedule and we encourage a bias for the outdoor world of play over the digital. Melissa Bernstein of the Melissa & Doug toy company shares some practical tips for holiday season play in this recent Huffington Post article.

Our skates are sharpened, our game playing skills are getting dusted off, an intergalactic mini sticks championship will be getting underway at the Eastern Passage Coliseum soon (aka the downstairs rec room) and we will be doing our best to give and get the most out of each 60 seconds per minute.

So let’s all check our time and unwrap it slowly – a playful presence is the greatest gift we can give…

Time keeps on slippin’

Over the past few days, Lila-Jeanne our 16-month-old is calling me maman on a pretty consistent basis. There’s the odd token papa sprinkled in here and there but the indisputable default is maman. This is a heartfelt shout out for Mélanie aka maman who she clearly wants and pines for. I’m harbouring some warm and fuzzies too though. I figure that I must be an ok temporary stand in to get such honoured treatment with this most powerful of monikers.

Mélanie is off on a short, well-deserved holiday while I take on her 365 days a year role for the merest of mere four sleeps. For the past 16 months, maman has been home full time. We’ve also had the good fortune of my being able to take two parental leaves, for six and nine months respectively. For both parental leaves, the two of us were at home so there was always a chance for one of us to be off duty on occasion.

Well, that’s not the case when you’re running solo and have to juggle the needs, wants and schedules of three 5 and unders. Parents who care for their children at home are amongst the most prolific and sophisticated mutli-taskers in existence. Otherwise, given the evolutionary limitations of just two hands and two feet, how would they possibly get anything done.

The first couple of days were pretty standard fare. Noah was on his 8:15 a.m. to to 2:10 p.m. school shift. Nellie had one morning of pre-school starting at 8:45 a.m. I picked her up early for a medical appointment.

Both evenings there were commitments. Night one was Beavers. A family friend helped out by taking Noah there and back. Night two was an open house math extravaganza at Noah’s school. The three kids and I went and had a great time playing with numbers and eating ice cream. All three were tucked into bed much later than usual.

All this to say that it is a daunting and humbling challenge to step into maman‘s shoes. I’m keeping my head above water – meals made, kids dressed, stories read, taxi service on time and lots of hugs, cuddles and love but, and it’s a big one, I’m finding it difficult to to make the time for playing and playfulness. About the best I’ve done so far is making faces and singing while serving the kids their meals. There have been some smiles and a couple of chuckles at these slapstick antics but they are certainly not in the hilarity zone.

Fortunately, kids play independently. Some argue that this is when they put their best foot forward. I see this on a regular basis. Some highlights in the last few days in the we are inventive department are a beaver dam built at the foot of the stairs using toys, cushions and bric à brac, a snowman made of wooden train tracks and the tons and tons of playful fun during our outing to the local science centre that included ferry rides and a playground pit stop.

Try as I might, I’ve been unable to tame the domestic bliss monster. Laundry needs to be done, toys need to be picked up, dishes washed, floors swept, car filled up, groceries bought. There’s a lot from this list that I will be trying to cram into the last 24 hours.

I know it’s possible to do all these things and play too because Mélanie manages to do it day in and day out. There are always new crafts awaiting me when I get home from work and the retelling of adventures with maman. Since I’ve been in charge, I haven’t picked up crayons, glue or scissors unless they’ve been rolling around on the floor.

Thanks to twitter friend Megan Rosker, I came across one family’s journey into creating more play time with their children. You can read about their voyage of discovery in A Year of Living Playfully. That playful year with the objective of – one hour a day, for one year, making make-believe a priority – is just coming up for a wrap.

I will need to plan the play quotient in advance for my next solo to make sure that time doesn’t keep on slippin’ away. The kids aren’t bereft, they’re just used to a larger play palette and a longer play duration when both maman and papa are in the house.

There’s one sleep to go and our three babies are looking forward to maman‘s return. It will be a wonderful homecoming with much kissing, hugging and loving (with any luck, I’ll get some of that too). I’m sure the kids will recount some silly papa stories of where I wandered off the beaten path, where I might have lost my way momentarily in the fine art of parenting.

All in all we haven’t done too badly the last few days. There have been no unscheduled hospital visits. There is only one new visible scar (did not require any medical attention). Hopefully there will be no change in status to report after the skateboarding and tricycle expedition later today. Although the kids received daily TV opiates, there were no overdoses. We received one invitation out to friends for supper and had a great time. This visit was also memorable for Nellie’s spontaneous, surround sound entertainment – the loudest, supersonic burp ever to belch forth from a three-year-old that set the house rocking with laughter.

So like I said, room for improvement particularly in the play department but overall not too bad. Biggest lesson – you can’t make more time so don’t let it slip away. Today’s must dos are skateboarding and tricycling – outdoors in the brisk March air. Here’s how it’s tallying up at the beginning of Day 4.

Hats off to you Mélanie. These meanderings and musings are really a paean to you and all those other moms and dads at home and single parents who have so much to juggle yet still make the time to bring the magic of play into their kids’ lives each and every day. Thanks for all the hard work, fun play and joyful smiles that meet me at the end of the day.