“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
– Albert Einstein
“You be her,” my youngest says as she stuffs the surfer Skipper doll onto my lap.
Without a pause, she starts the conversation as ushe, “Oh hi.”
“Oh hi,” I chirp. “What’s going on today?”
“Well, we’re going to have a movie night tonight.”
“Ooooh, I love movie night,” I raise Skipper’s fists enthusiastically … movie night is my jam.
“This is going to be such a fun night, Melissa,” I continue.
She stops abruptly.
She looks into me with what’s either disgust or shear annoyance. I can’t tell, but it’s certain I flubbed and am about to be reprimanded.
“No mom,” she says with narrowed eyes. “My name’s not Melissa. It’s Jessica.”
I smile at her apologetically, “Right, I’m so sorry, Jessica.”
I start again. “Oh hi, Jessica.”
“Oh, hi,” she responds with cheer.
“I love your dress. It’s gorgeous.”
“Oh, thank you,” she beams.
Yes! I’m trying to win points and it works (gorgeous is one of her faves).
Seeing an opportunity to plug my voice into her script, I add, “It’s perfect for the daddy-daughter dance.”
“No, mom,” she says, breaking character again and raising her hands up at me. “It not daddy daughter, it’s the first day of school. You say, ‘It’s such a lovely dress for the first day of school.’ ”
I should know better than to step on her lines. It’s September. First day of school is logical; a February dance is not. Duh, mommy.
“Oh,” I shrug, “okay.” I push on, playing her game. “It’s a perfect look for the first day of school.”
She directs, “Now you say, ‘Here comes Saraphenia.’ ”
I follow, “Here comes Saraphenia.”
“Wait, wait,” she waves her hand. “Wait. Not yet, not yet,” she fusses Jessica’s skirt and slips a purse over her shoulder.
“Okay, now I’m ready.” She stands her Barbies in position at the front of her bed, “Go ahead, mom.”
“Here comes Saraphenia,” I parrot.
At this point I want to poke my eyes out.
It sounds horrible because I truly enjoy hanging with my girls.
Find me a park and I’m in for a game of tag, pushing Stella on the swings, and lifting her on the monkey bars. Show me a kitchen and I’m all for licking spoons while whipping up apple crisp. Give me a book and ask me to read “just one more” and I’ll snuggle right in.
Ask me to turn over Candy Land’s colored cards and join on the path to Gum Drop Mountain, and I say, “Let’s do it.” I can handle a stop in Molasses Swamp.
This Barbie business, though … please, can I turn this over to her sister?
I hate playing Barbies.
It’s not my thing. I didn’t even love Barbies as a girl.
I’m all for imaginary and dreamy conversations. I walked into our house last weekend after looking at open houses and proclaimed to my husband and girls, “Wow, look at this deck. It’s incredible. Is this their outdoor space?”
I’m up for mock conversations that they direct. Bring ’em.
Barbies, though … oh là là.
So when my youngest asks, “Mom, will you play with me?, ” I immediatly tense up. I know she’s going to hit me up to play Barbies and my gut reaction is how can I get out of this?
Mostly I steer her toward playing with her older Barbie-playing eight-year-old sister.
Usually that stops the “Mommy will you play with me?” unless one daughter wants to play Barbies and the other wants to play dollies. Then I’m back to being Jessica.
Or was it Melissa?
Or I’ll say, “Sure, honey. Let’s do a project,” and I’ll reach into the cabinet for construction paper and scissors. I make a play for a mutually-liked activity, but it’s often shot down with: “No, let’s play Barbies.”
Sometimes I tell her, “Mommies and daddies can play and other times we need to take care of business at home, like pay bills and keep the house tidy.”
I feel horrible saying this though, because it’s a half truth. Sure, I have a To Do list as long as my arm, but hanging with my girls trumps bills or housework anytime. anyday.
It’s just the Barbies. OMG.
She wants us to play with imagination, but I can’t use mine because she nixes my script and insists on feeding me lines.
I like to pretend, so when a Barbie is placed in my hand and she dictates “you be this/ you say that,” I struggle.
I feel boxed in.
I’m playing, but my brain is whaling: Ugh, I hate playing Barbies. Where’s Veronica? I don’t want to do this. I want Skipper to go to the beach, why do we have to go camping?
I know this is my problem.
I’m the mommy. She’s five.
It’s me. Not her.
I know it’s a simple shift in my mindset. I can change how I view these moments. They can be painful or they can be precious. It depends on how I talk to myself.
I liken it to doing the dishes. I really hate washing the dishes. My hands get all wet and grazed with dirty food. I don’t like thinking about doing them. I certainly prefer when my husband does them. I wish I could wiggle my nose like Samantha and voilà, a sparkling clean kitchen.
Yet, once I get started in the kitchen I can be Zen and dial into the task.
The same can be said about Barbies.
I need to consider why my discomfort staying present during Barbies is besting her desire for me to stay by her side and be that girl.
One day she won’t ask me to “play with her” and I know I’ll miss that. I certainly wouldn’t choose Barbies, but she loves it and I love her.
So I do it.
Not every time.
The song Cats in the Cradle plays in my mind: “My son turned ten just the other day, he said, “Thanks for the ball, Dad, come on let’s play. Can you teach me to throw”, I said “Not today, I got a lot to do”, he said, “That’s ok.
And the cats in the cradle, and the silver spoon.”
Ay yi yi. I think I’m gonna cry.
I quickly stop that noise, though. I don’t need to worry about lost time. I am present. I do so much with my girls.
Does it really matter if I don’t always want to play Barbies everytime?
I think not.
And just like the dishes, there’s a good chance I’ll defer to someone else if I can.
But when I don’t, I created for myself …
Four Ways to Make Playing Barbies Less Painful
- Set a timer. A time limit helps me. Setting a timer allows me to let go. The timer helps me sit on her bedroom floor and free play without thinking about the million things I could be/should be doing other than playing Barbies. Many times the timer beeps and I’ve sunk into the role playing and continue to move about in Barbieland.
- Find a purpose. It’s why I like playing spa or waitress. I can let go when I’m a customer at the Relaxation Time. It’s easier for me to find the right lines to fit her script. My favorite imaginary game is when she plays waitress. She puts on an apron and tucks her pens and ordering pad inside the pockets. I sit in a deck chair and she takes my order. She brings me food (imaginary and real), refills my drink and we have pleasant conversations. It’s the game that my oldest made up for the many hours we spend on our deck.
- Let her exercise her voice. Stella’s the second child. She has a sister who takes charge and can, well, dominate. When Stella’s alone with me playing Barbies, it’s her chance to experiment with her voice in a safe environment. I can follow her movements and play her way. If she gets too bossy, I can joke with her, redirect her, and …
- Try to break in with my voice. Mostly I let her lead, but I still insert my ideas. That’s part of learning how to work together and have a back and forth conversation. I’ll ask, “Can we pretend the girls are at the mall?” This way I’m expressing what I want too and feel like I’m part of the process. It models to her how to play with others.
“Mommy,” Stella stands at my side at the kitchen counter where I’m paying bills.
“Can you play with me?” Her eyes are lit up in anticipation.
“Let me finish paying this one bill, and then yes, yes, I can.”
She waits as I schedule a credit card payment on Chase, then we walk hand in hand to her bedroom.
I sit on the carpet. It’s Barbietime.
She jumps right in, stuffing the Skipper doll onto my lap.
“Ok, now you be Jessica and I’m Melissa and we’re going downtown to M Burger.”
‘Ok,’ I reply, prepping myself.
“Okay, you say ‘Oh hi, Melissa. Do you want to go downtown today?’ ” she starts.
‘Ok,’ I said. ‘Oh, hi, Melissa.’ ”
This time, instead of feeling annoyed that I have to follow, I’m choosing to see it’s about her, not me. She wants to lead and I want to be on her ride.