Having a daily/weekly/seasonal and annual rhythm helps a great deal. A familiar pattern in which children (and parents) know what to expect is comforting and helps children of all ages to thrive. (I'll post about our own rhythm and its undeniable impact on our everyday well-being later.) Even with patterns and a kind of "soft-schedule" in place though, challenges, of course, arise...
A specific demand often made in our house is that we sit and actively participate in some particular imaginative play for extended periods of time. Our roles are often spelled out for us very precisely and sometimes even our dialogue is prescribed. "Now you say..." she tells us... "Now walk over there and..."
I usually find engaging in her play fascinating. It's an expression of her inner world that I get to see come to life. Also, sometimes I just love to play. But I'm also the mother. I take care of this wonderful child and I'm likewise a cook, a house cleaner, a launderer, a grocery shopper, a gardener, a payer of bills, a craft organizer, an activity planner and a wife to a hard-working husband. I've got a few other things to do! But lately, and this is the challenge so many seem to be having, Naiya will sometimes scream and cry when I attempt to extricate myself from what it is she wishes me to do.
Suggestions given in a recent discussion included 1) investing a really present 3 to 5 minutes with a child before then returning to necessary adult tasks (it's amazing how even a few moments of being really present will fill a child in a way that they can then play for longer stretches on their own) and 2) the idea of along-side play. This means that while I, for example, wash dishes, Naiya plays at a similar task with a small bowl of soapy water and a bowl and a cup that she can wash herself. Likewise she can do her own version of dusting as I dust, folding napkins as I fold laundry and so on.
These are both effective tools, especially the latter. With it I accomplish a great deal and Naiya both embraces her "solitary" tandem play and learns the value of real work as a part of our household. Sometimes, however, it doesn't seem to work at all.
Yesterday was one of those times.
I had dishes piled on every kitchen surface, crumbs all over the floor, colored rice in every nook of the great room and Naiya just wanted me to sit next to her and wash the one cup in her bowl of soapy water over and over and over. She was on the verge of tears whenever I tried to leave her side.
This is when I introduced what has proven to be the most magical tool I have. I have slipped this one from my bag of tricks over the years time and time again yet, surprisingly, I am stunned by its effect on each occasion.
Yup. That's my mommy superpower.
Let it be known. Let it be spread across the land.
Singing transforms our world nearly every time.
And these are not clever songs I've memorized. I don't have in my catalog a song for every occasion. I just make them up on the spot. Sometimes they're sweet and funny. Sometimes they're completely absurd. Occasionally they rhyme but mostly not. Honestly, they're usually a little dumb. And it doesn't matter.
Yesterday's went like this:
Here we go washing, washing, washing
Washing all our dishes
Here we go washing, washing, washing
Making dishes clean
Not at all magical, you say? So it would seem. But I sang it a few times while sitting next to Naiya until she joined in. We washed that one cup together while singing the song, washing slowly, inside and out, with great care, and then I returned to my own sink.
I kept singing as I finished washing every dirty dish in the house. She sang too, while she carefully and with glee washed her own cup and plate. She even made up a few new verses.
There was no more crying. We were fulfilled in our individual needs. Separately playing but tethered together by the joy of a totally stupid song.