I would have been jumping alongside my toddler boys if I hadn't gotten stuck in the door of the bouncy house.
This is not out of character for me. I am a mom who plays. That's part of the deal, right? I thought so, but lately I've been seeing a lot of the contrary.
The kids and I have begun working through a Kansas City bucket list in preparation for our big move across Kansas. We decided to hit the wee climber's dream on Tuesday: a bouncy house emporium loaded with climbing apparatuses, playhouses and slides. This one was toddlers and preschoolers only -- no big kids allowed.
Just as I'd dressed the kids in comfy clothes, I did the same for myself. Playtime jeans, the ones I'd worn so hard the knees had ripped. Hair: ponytailed. Purse: mom pack, a black canvas backpack with an elegant bird pattern.
The sign said socks only, so I leaned my rubber, winter boots against the shoe cubby, the kids' shoes tucked inside. We padded inside and confronted the din of inflation machines, laughter and general toddler noise. Children whizzed past. My timid boys clung to my legs.
Playing wasn't an option for me. It was a requirement. I'd have to prove that this place was fun.
We waddled, still attached, toward the gigantic plastic tree, complete with slides, tunnels and bridges. Quinn tentatively climbed up, and Bennett decided it would be OK to follow. We all played peek-a-boo through the slats of the bridges. For a loooong time.
Finally they were comfortable enough for me to turn around for a second without them screaming in fear of abandonment. As I looked toward the other play structures, thinking about what we could do next, I saw all the shoes. On every mother's feet but mine.
OK, they didn't expect to climb on the kiddie equipment. Fair enough. I probably shouldn't have climbed on it, either, given weight restrictions, but I went shoeless to leave the possibility open. Sometimes my kids need encouragement in new situations. They need me to be play with them to show them everything is OK.
Moving my eyes off the floor, I saw several clusters of moms chatting, showing no intent to get involved in their kids' play. They wore expensive knee-high boots. Sparkly sweaters. Chandelier earrings. Perfectly curled hair. Suddenly I felt underdressed in the bouncy house emporium.
Two of the perks of this place were free wi-fi and a coffee bar. I couldn't imagine pulling out a laptop in the bouncy house coffee shop, but I saw several moms glued to their phones in the play area.
I am not perfect. I am not judging. Playing with your kids can be exhausting and tiresome. I checked Facebook and email, too. But I did so in the 10-second lulls between shouts of "Wow, you're bouncing so high!" and being tackled by my younger son, still unsure of his surroundings.
Playing with your kids each day, for 10 minutes or two hours, is so important for their development. Need evidence?
From Parenthood.com: "Studies show that through play children learn to take the perspective of others; they learn self-control and the ability to take turns. Children who play make-believe or games with rules are more empathetic, less physically aggressive and more cooperative with other children and adults."
The problem, according to the article, is that so many forces compete with a young child's time. Television. Computers. Academics, even in preschool. Fantasy play at young ages helps develop problem solving skills, the article says. If parents participate, they can "get to know their kids better and strengthen the parent-child bond."
A piece by another publication said that kids need parents to play because in decades past, children grew up in more of a village model, where they met friends in common areas in the neighborhood. An adult usually happened to be working outside nearby and could watch the children, at least peripherally. In today's society we have to be more protective, and kids just don't get as much time playing with other kids.
Parents who play fill the gap and build sandcastles. They blow bubbles. They break out the soccer ball or the T-ball set or the basketball and teach the kids a game. They roll down grassy hills. They tromp through snow, winded, pulling the sled up the hill just one. More. Time. They huddle in the linen closet for a tea party in their son's "house." They curl into his "bunk bed" under the vanity counter in the bathroom. They wear a superhero cape to the grocery store, like this guy: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/28/dad-and-son-superheroes_n_2567314.html
That all sounds nice, right? But it's work for adults to get down on the floor and play along. Some experts suggest scheduling parent-child playtime. I don't schedule, but I do sit with the kids and pick up a toy. I'm still working on leaving my phone in the other room. Sometimes Quinn will cock his head and say, indiscreetly, "Mommy, would you put down your phone and come play wif me?"
After the last few months of getting the house ready for sale and keeping it clean for showings, I'm happy to drop everything for play. I want to be the kind of mom who colors and teaches and wrestles. I want to do only enough dishes and laundry and vacuuming and scrubbing to get by while they're awake, leaving the bulk for the hours when they're asleep.
That's why, on Tuesday morning, the boys and I left a mess, packed the snacks in the mom pack and drove west to the bouncy house emporium. At the main attraction, the bouncy house, tiny bodies spilled in and out of a two-by-two-foot opening. I boosted both my apprehensive little ones through the doorway, intent upon following them. I poked my head through, the mom pack catching on the doorway. I was stuck, but my kids got it. Mom was involved, and they were happy.