Monday, July 23, 2012

Forcing a Bird to Fly

Summer is about half over now. Translation: there has been no school for over two months. On one hand, I can't believe we're already nearing the end of July. On the other hand, the boys and I are starting to be around each other just a little bit too much. With my summer survival plan in full effect, we've made it this far...but we still have a long way to go.

We've been keeping busy with things like swimming, making chocolate covered bananas, picking blueberries, visiting the many playgrounds in our area and vacationing in Florida. And I've spent plenty of time playing with my boys at home too... We play "Go Fish" and hide-and-seek; we build Lego trees that cats get stuck in and need to be rescued by the fire department; we have dance parties and animal birthday parties; I make alphabet scavenger hunts out of sidewalk chalk.

Chase enjoyed the chocolate covered bananas that we made

Alec loved the alphabet scavenger hunt

So it's not like we've just been sitting around the house all summer. But the times when we are sitting around have started to turn into a nightmare. The boys start jumping on me and fighting with each other; I start yelling at them to get off of me or to stop fighting; and after all the jumping, fighting and yelling, I'm too exhausted to actually play with them, so they get bored and start jumping on me and fighting again. This happens over and over again, and no one really has any fun. Jump. Fight. Yell. Repeat.

So yesterday, after I had become the boys' personal trampoline for about the tenth time, I decided I had had enough. So I did something that I never thought to do before. I made them go play.

Yes, you read that correctly. I made my children play.

I gave them a choice. They could go to the playroom in the basement to play, or they could go upstairs to their rooms to play. I didn't care where they went, but they had to go somewhere and find something to do that didn't involve injuring each other (or me).

It was like a lightbulb went on for me. Ok, so maybe it was more like a gigantic chandelier with a blinking, neon "ON" switch right in front of my eyes. I mean here are two kids, in a house full of toys. Kids love to play, so why had I never thought to do this before?

But the reaction I got was one that I would have expected if I told them they couldn't have a bedtime snack. They whined; they complained; one of them even started crying. Are you kidding me? What kind of kid doesn't want to play?

I even made sure to reinforce that they were not in trouble and that they just needed to find something to do other than clobber each other. They still weren't thrilled about the idea, but finally Chase reluctantly retreated to the basement and Alec stomped up to his room. They had about as much enthusiasm about going to play as I have when it's cleaning day. Well at least they weren't demonstrating their WWF abilities on each other anymore.

I was just looking for a 10 minute break from the fighting, but what came next was nothing short of a miracle. Once they boys got over their whining and pouting, they actually started playing. They played. And played. And played. And played. They played together, and they played on their own. And they just kept playing like it was the first time they had ever seen their toys. The two boys who just moments earlier couldn't go more than two minutes without picking on each other were now playing better than I had ever seen them play. And all I had to do was force them to play.

Somehow, forcing a child to play just doesn't seem to make sense. I don't have to force my kids to eat vegetables. I don't have to force them to drink milk. I don't have to force them to brush their teeth. Usually. But for some reason I have to force them to play. Seriously? That's like forcing a ball to bounce... Or forcing a dog to fetch a toy... Or forcing a mom to take a night off to go see Magic Mike. But I digress...

I think you get my point. Playing should come naturally to children. They should want to play. They shouldn't need to be forced to play.

But maybe it's more like forcing a baby bird to leave the nest. Birds are meant to fly, but until the mama bird forces the baby to try it, they baby won't leave the nest. Once the baby realizes it can fly, it opens up a whole new world.

Well, I have forced my baby birds to fly. And they have discovered a whole new world. Sure they've played with their toys before. But it took a little pushing for them to discover this new world and really want to play on their own.

Now that they have discovered this world, I'm hoping they will continue to explore it. I'm sure there will still be plenty more jumping, and fighting, and yelling. But when that starts to happen there will be more forced playing...or should I say forced flying.