Aside

All by Myself

Things my daughter does very well: 

dance

sing

read

pay attention to others’ feelings

mind her mother and authority figures

make up stories

Things my daughter does poorly:

play by herself.

She cannot play by herself.  It’s beyond my comprehension really. She has mountains of toys, a vivid imagination and the inability to play with them alone.  I know that this is likely due at least in part to her orphanage early childhood–though I have a friend whose eldest is the same way, so there’s a personality piece in there, too. Maybe it’s my fault, too. I don’t know.

Today was a snow day–her school was closed, and I stayed home. We baked cookies, and argued about how many shows she could watch on TV.  In a little bit, I’m going to show her how to cut out snowflakes, so we can decorate our windows (and also so I can talk her into taking down the wax paper pressed fall leaves from earlier).  We may make another batch of cookies. The homemade applesauce is cooling on the counter.  There is a fire twinkling in the fireplace.

While the cookies were cooling earlier, I just needed a little break. ” You have to play by yourself for a half hour,” I told her, knowing that she is capable of “stamina reading” for 47 minutes, and therefore, 30 minutes without a screen or a mother should be possible.

She drug all manner of things into the kitchen and hovered next to me, listlessly picking up one lego, a doll bed, a dress up necklace for a half hour.  I refused to rescue her. I wanted to cry.

When the half hour was up, she asked to go out and play in the snow.

I didn’t want to go.

When I was growing up, my parents rarely accompanied us on outside play. Oh sure, they were outside with us sometimes, doing their own thing in the yard, and when we were very small there was some swing pushing and bike instruction, but in general,outside play was just kidworld. We just made up a world of our own with its own set of rules and traditions. We could run backyard to backyard (but not frontyard to frontyard-cars and driveways were not free reign zones).

Selam has, by virtue of our sort-of-urban life, had to experience the out of doors as an accompanied activity. She is walked to the park where she can ride her bike, swing and slide–but I’m there, hovering, on the picnic benches.  She is accompanied out to our small courtyard where I watch her play in the snow. I drive her to the beach, the park, the camp.  It’s a practical necessity.   You can’t get to the park without crossing a very busy road, and traversing several blocks of questionable neighborhoods.  I bring gloves to the park, so I can dispose of unsavory items.  I am alert to gathering hordes of teenagers. You can’t play outside where there are strangers and traffic, where the smashed glass in the street is omnipresent. When the auto glass company comes out to replace your window after your car has been broken into, they vacuum the car, but not the street.

It is what it is.

One of her favorite things is to visit some friends who live on a wooded college campus. There, she joins her friend, a boy her age in a crazy range of active, adventurous outdoor play–play she calls “wrestling”–though there is no wrestling involved.

Today I swallowed hard, and  let her go outside by herself.  She had to stay in the courtyard, and I sat in the window with my book–keys in pocket, I admit.  No talking to anyone who doesn’t live in the building.

She flew out there, a tiny pink figure in the snowy rectangle.  Hat, mittens, snowpants, jacket–they provided a pop of color in the silent space.  She crawled into the bushes under our window, poked around there with a stick. touched the snow with her tongue. She spiraled in circles–crazy loop-di-loops in the center of the space, eventually falling flat on her bottom, laughing.  The snow peppered her pony-tail, landed on her lashes.  She crawled like a cat for a while, then took time making patterns with her boots in the snow.  It was like A Snowy Day in ballet form. She climbed up to the top of our stone gate and surveyed the neighborhood, the street, our building’s entrances, cupping her hands like a spy glass.  She stood on the stone gate, and I caught my breath, though she had done it a hundred times before with me hovering nearby.  Cars continued to creep by. Somewhere a shovel hit concrete, but otherwise, she was all alone.

She never looked at me, or asked me to come out.

She found the flat swathes of ice atop the window sills, and took one and sharped it to a point by scraping it up against the brick of our building. Armed with her ice arrowhead, she wrote two words in the snow, “I am.”  The ice broke and she looked up at the window finally.

“I want to be inside, now,” she said.

She came in, and we got her dry. I built a fire in the fireplace, and she now sits in front of it, reading a library book. Every few minutes she summarizes the book’s contents to me.

Outside, people are starting to come home from work.  Her words are covered over by bootprints.

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6 thoughts on “All by Myself

  1. Sounds to me like she can play by herself just fine.
    Our eldest is similar in always wanting someone to play with. But for the younger siblings, it would be us for sure (and was before the brothers were born).

    • I think she just can’t play with toys alone. Outside is a whole ‘nother ballgame. As engaged as she is with imaginative stories, she can’t seem to translate that into entertaining herself inside. I can’t do a lot about it, but I do know that I need to prioritize taking her outside more, and just sitting back. We are definitely doing a lot more camping this year!

  2. This is beautiful. And gives me hope for our eldest, who also listens well, is pretty good with other people’s feelings for a 4-year-old, and absolutely hates playing – or being- by herself.

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