I was an aunt for 14 years before I became a mom, and I loved spending time with my nieces. When they were little we played Barbie dolls and pretend - cooking in the kitchen and serving up delicious plastic treats was a favorite. Then we graduated to art projects. I particularly loved pastels. A favorite phase of mine were games - when we could really play Memory and UNO and the competition was fierce. Each time we’d play together, I’d have this feeling of lightness. My cares drifted away. We were laughing together, being silly, intent on whatever it was we were doing. We were so present in the moment, truly enjoying each other.
I’ve tried to bring that same spirit to being a mom. My oldest boy is nearly 3-years-old, so it’s no longer Barbie Dolls, but turns out I’m just as good at playing with trucks and making the necessary sound effects. Actually, my sound effects are subpar, but my son thinks they’re awesome. I can wrestle and roughhouse - my favorite is the “kiss attack,” which Hunter hasn’t figured out is just an excuse to kiss him 8 million times. I can play basketball and baseball and run around in circles. I can build rocket ships with Legos and read stories under a blanket. I can play hide-and-seek and I’m quite good at pretending I don’t actually see my son hiding in plain sight. All of this doesn’t just bring me joy because it brings my son joy - although I love to hear his giggles. If you truly relax and let your “big kid” come out, I’m telling you, your entire being will be flooded with joy.
So, parents, I’m writing to propose that this summer you let your big kid come out to play. Like really let it out. No sitting on the sidelines. So, when you turn on the sprinkler for your kids, run through it with them. When your kid wants to color or paint, don’t just get out the supplies for them, sit side-by-side and paint together. When your kid wants to dig in the dirt with his excavator, sit down and dig in the dirt. Okay - that one is really specific, but my son loves this, and it turns out digging in the dirt is fun! Sometimes I just need to remind myself that it’s okay to get messy, dirty, and wet.
If you really engage with your kids this way, you’ll make more memories in your backyard than you ever would on vacation. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE vacation. But, why are we only “letting our hair down” one or two weeks a year? Why can’t we jump into big kid mode at a moment's notice?
Now, some of you are thinking I’m crazy and impractical and maybe you’re even thinking that you don’t actually enjoy playing with your kids. Admittedly, there are some things we all don’t want to play. My nieces used to crawl around on all fours, meowing like cats and begged me to join them. I did at first and then I realized - I hate this. So, I opted out. I would suggest an activity we both liked, because begrudgingly doing something is not what I’m talking about. If you aren’t enjoying yourself, you aren’t really playing. If you find yourself in this position, you just need to find a mutually enjoyable activity: Bike rides, board games, building Lego creations, swimming, painting, etc. That’s up to you… but I’m guessing we all have a sweet spot where our big kid thrives.
So, find your sweet spot and get off the sidelines. Because enjoying time with our kids is what makes the best memories.