Is this thing on?
I’m sitting in the living room on the computer. My daughter is in the kitchen playing an elaborate game of make believe with Selam and Tigist, her twin Ethiopian dolls. There are voices and a crazy story about going swimming and finding a skunk at the pool. Selam’s voice is higher and her bracelets are all blue. Tigist’s voice is lower and her bracelets are red.
Ninety percent of readers will find this to be a very boring post. The other ten percent get it only because you’ve adopted kids past a certain age yourself.
See, Selam didn’t really know how to play when she came home. She was threeish, but didn’t know what to do with the toys that people gave her. She liked them, because they were gifts, but had no idea what to do with a toy train or a stuffed animal. She hadn’t seen kids do a lot of that–playing with toys, and she hadn’t done it herself.
I had no idea that kids didn’t know how to play. But she’d been in group care since she was 20 months old, and they don’t do a lot of that in group care.
So I had to teach her. And we had to spend time near other kids so she could watch. Even so, her pre-school teachers reported that she avoided any sort of play that involved imagination, preferring the puzzles and math games.
It’s only been in the last year or so, when she’s been pretty secure in language and in the fact that playing is okay, good even, that she’s let herself really play, really make up games and story lines.
Mostly, she’s wanted me to be part of these games and story lines, and that’s partly that she’s an only child, I think. She’s also preferred talking about her toys (dolls especially) more than interacting with them. She will talk about her imaginary dad, but not have the slightest idea what to do with a dollhouse, where there are 3 or 4 “dad” dolls to use. She’s been playful, but has needed someone to be the audience, or co conspirator.
But in the last month, I can once in a while over hear her making up stories by herself, giving objects a voice, even mixing her toys up. If I sit near enough to be seen but am obviously busy, she lets herself go.
She lets herself be a child.
And to be honest, it kind of takes my breath away. People talk a lot about how they want to adopt infants because you miss so many “firsts” with a toddler or older child. I say you still get them. They’re just not expected. I missed her first words and first steps.
But I was lucky enough to be there when she learned how to play.