A couple months ago Jessey noticed a lion coming out of our etoro club tiers ceiling. I went over as the lion’s paw batted out of the light fixture. Jessey clutched a puffy yellow pillow while he stared up at the lion and scooped one hand from the pillow to his mouth. Up close a lion’s claws are bigger than you’d imagine. Barely taking his eyes off the lion Jessey said, “Here,” and handed me the pillow. “Want this bag of popcorn?”
When I am my most present self I enter into Child World, succumb to the idea of alternate dimensions, see a tropical oasis emerge in our living room and believe in an imaginary wolf that fits in a two-year-old’s hands.
Being a parent is like being a magician. With practice we become skilled at sleight of hand, slip chocolate bars in and out of shopping carts unseen, appear missing marbles, and vanish talking toys. We fix broken picture frames and dinosaur legs overnight. We make magic appear in hollowed out tree trunks and stories behind shoes hanging from wires.
My mother was a magician. Her skill was in making things appear. Often I would wake to morning glory muffins made from scratch baking in the oven. A new outfit I’d requested the day before would be freshly sewn, draped over a kitchen chair. There would be a copy of my history essay with her editing suggestions marked in red. She had three of us and worked more than full time until I was nine.
Now it is my turn. I am no stranger to balancing between caregiver and play. My child, Jessey who is almost three lives much of the day in imaginary play. Beds are boats. Our blue and green rug is a hot tub. His tricycle is a firetruck or tow truck or tractor. All wheels need fixing. Sound the alarm! Recently after discovering a real dead raccoon there are pretend raccoons everywhere. When I fully engage with him in his play and forget the dishes, that phone call, the email I was going to send, I come away refreshed as though I am living a recent memory of a beach vacation, a lucky rescue, or the peculiar finding of someone coming through our ceiling. (Often before bed there are wild animals and people who pop out of the light fixtures.) Sometimes our closet is a magic machine that sends us to places like Schnishrill where peacocks have taken over the city. There is a etoro platinum plus nap pad we fold ourselves into like a pita pocket. It is a converter machine with all kinds of effects like making it impossible to walk so we crawl around our house with our voices real strange.
Recently I started crying while playing firefighter. I was crawling across the floor beneath the black smoke cradling Jessey on my forearms. It was so intimate, this moment of letting myself pretend at a career I once wanted so badly while simultaneously pretending to save my child. Getting deep enough into play triggers something that is so rarely released in our overextended lives. It’s like a long uninterrupted dream sleep or a “do nothing” vacation. I want to roll around in that head space like I used to as a kid and as a nanny before I became a parent and let guilt of unfulfilled obligations take over.
Too often I find myself wanting material possessions and bought experiences convinced life would be better if only we had a hot tub. Life would be easier with a robot vacuum. I’d be happier with a winter beach vacation. There is nothing like our children to bring us back to the moment of now. Instead of seeing lentils on the floor sometimes I can trick my brain to see a family of pill bugs in our forest home and feel the outdoor air cleansing.
As parents it is relish when the needs of our busy lives, our work lives, our should lives can be pushed aside allowing us to bond with our children in the endless world of imaginary play and the wonder of magic. Recently we’ve started a simple tradition called Screen Free Sundays—a day without computer, cell phone or camera which has helped quiet the anxiety of our busy lives and make room for present connection.
Katy Chatel is a writer and single mother by choice. Connecting with etoro virtual account others, being with nature, traveling and thinking are guiding freedoms in her life. She lives in Philadelphia with her child Jessey.