Playtime

It’’s Easter vacation and I have been eagerly and sometimes desperately awaiting this break for weeks now. I made a long list of house projects that I would finally get around to. I fantasized about being able to clean and repaint the front porch, do some mountaintop removal of my ironing basket, launch an apology tour to all of my distant and neglected friends . . . I was going to finally organize all my financial papers, teaching materials, computer files and kitchen cabinets. It is now Day 4 and none of the above has been started. But, yesterday I spent the entire afternoon playing with my dollhouse. At least that home is looking pretty spiffy again.

My mother-in-law found the dollhouse at a flea market about 10 years ago and bought it for my daughters. I took one look at it and immediately saw my chance to fulfill my own childhood fantasy. I cleaned the house up, painted it, put in window frames, wooden flooring and carpeting. I tiled the roof with (really expensive!) clay shingles and the bathroom with mosaic pieces. I made little curtains and picture frames. I started buying furniture and tiny accessories to put inside. All the while, my daughters looked on with interest and anticipation. Finally it was done and they were allowed to play with it. They started to pick up things and move them around, as I hovered over them saying “”Be careful! Be careful! No, I think that should stay in the kitchen . . .”” It was absolutely no fun. They wandered away after only 10 minutes or so. Once they were out of the room, I quickly put everything back where it belonged and sighed with relief.

A year later, my husband tried something similar (by which I mean fulfilling his own childhood fantasy) when he decided to make a teepee for the yard. He went into the woods to find suitably long and thin trees. He chopped them down, dragged them home one-by-one, and debarked them. He researched in the internet, ordered a canvass and a teepee building book to learn how to set it up. My daughters looked on with interest and anticipation. Finally it was done and they were allowed to play in it. The first thing they did was to bring in a little table and chairs. Then a vase with flowers. Then pink plastic tea cups and a teapot full of water. My husband looked on and said “”No that’s not right! Flower vases don’t belong in teepees. You are supposed to be building a campfire and whittling things with a pocket knife, making bows and arrows – that kind of stuff!”” The teepee tea party continued for a short while but then got relocated to the sandbox. The next morning, the girls went into the teepee only to discover that a bunch of slugs had moved in overnight. That was pretty much the end of the powwow. For the next nine years, the teepee poles lay in a pile cluttering the yard and slowly decaying while the canvass molded away in the shed.

Meanwhile, the dollhouse increasingly resembled our real house -– dusty, cluttered, disorganized, lots of slightly broken furniture. Our cat had discovered the carpeted living room as the perfect place to sleep, so that part had a “Godzilla was here” décor. The bathroom fixtures were in the attic and the porch furniture in the kitchen. The roof was missing a lot of tiles. The little dolls were all lying in a sloppy pile in the corner of one room, some face down. It was positively post-apocalyptic -– like a scene from a Stephen King movie. But, yesterday, I restored it all to something near its former grandeur and had a lot of fun in the process. My younger daughter wandered into the room, watched me playing for a few minutes and even feigned a little interest in the project. That was really nice of her.

In the evening I returned as usual to my library and laptop. I checked emails and did some blogging. Then I played some Snood while listening to NPR. As coincidence would have it, they were streaming a TED Radio Hour about the importance of playing. One scientist after another stressed how necessary it is for the social development of animals and kids as well as the mental health of adults. They assured the listeners that they needn’’t feel guilty about “wasted time”. Meanwhile, in one of my Snood games, I broke through that elusive 30,000 point barrier. Later, I shut down the laptop and headed upstairs, stopping on the way to admire my dollhouse for a few minutes. I went to bed with a sense of accomplishment.

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