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Slacker Mom, On Purpose

When Maddie was a toddler in New York,
we’d hit our local playground every day. Every morning
– and some evenings as well – we’d be swinging
and sliding for a good hour or two. I’d chase Maddie all over
the playground, going down slides with her and hanging from bars
together. We’d kick the soccer ball and make water balloons,
and even when I was heavily pregnant with Cora I still got my daily
workout on the jungle gym.

I’d see the moms and nannies sitting on benches on the side
while their kids played and swear I’d never be THAT person
– how could I teach my child how to interact with other kids
if I wasn’t there to correct her, teach her manners and how
to behave in society? And wasn’t it, um, my job to play with
her? I mean, Maddie had her friend Naomi that she played with, but
Naomi’s mom and I still followed around and participated in
tea parties and climbed through tunnels with them. Play time
wasn’t time for Mommy to check out.

As Maddie’s circle of friends grew,
there was less and less room for Mommy on the playground, and now
I’m content to watch her run and play with friends from my
seat on the bench. But if we’re the only people at the park,
I’m still up there swinging with her, and I’m fine with
that – as I said, it’s my job.

With Cora, though, I’m starting to re-examine my role as the
sort of in loco playmate. I’ve noticed that Cora
doesn’t interact with other kids her age nearly as much as
Maddie did at this age. Yes, Cora plays with other kids a lot
– but they’re nearly all Maddie’s age, which
means Cora stands around and stares at the big kids adoringly while
they do their own thing, and runs after them if they go somewhere
else. She’s not really engaged in their game and is content
to simply stand in their shadows, being doted upon briefly if
someone needs a small “pixie” or “puppy” or
“baby” for the game. For the most part, though,
she’s simply a watcher.

Put Cora on a playground with kids her own age, though, and she
doesn’t know what to do. She has no desire to engage any of
them in play, or even speak to them if they approach her first. If
we head to a kids’ store and it’s got a play area for
toddlers to hang out in, Cora will refuse to go in if there’s
another child there. Drop Cora into the nursery at church, and
she’ll simply stand in the middle staring at everybody,
refusing to be drawn in.

Refusing unless, of course, it’s Mommy doing the drawing.
I’ve long known that Cora’s waaaaaaaaaaay more attached
to me than Maddie was, as evidenced by the fact that she still
cries sometimes when I go to the grocery store. But I can clearly
see that she’s too dependent on Mommy to be her playmate as
well, and it’s only gotten worse since Maddie’s started
school and Cora gets huge chunks of Mommy Time all to herself.

So I’m deliberately detaching a bit during play times, trying
to encourage her towards kids her own age. I remember that Maddie
at this age practically pinned a child down once she saw them:
“Hey, there, friend! My name’s Maddie! What’s
yours? Will you be my friend? Will you play with me?” My
biggest fear was that she’d be constantly rejected by people
giving her the “Um, who are you and why are you talking to
me?” stare. Cora, though, will retreat from any situation if
another kid walks in, and that’s gotta stop.

When we go to open gym, I spend two hours playing with Cora all
over the equipment. And granted, it’s a difficult place to
make new friends and start games. But any time a friend of ours
comes along, I encourage Cora to play with them rather than with
me. If we have a playdate at the park or our house, I withdraw as
much as I can, gently prodding her towards her friends and
encouraging those tenuous attempts at game-playing.

I’m seeing a difference, I think: Cora did stay in the
nursery this Sunday for the first time in months, and for the first
time ever without crying. And I do see her react to a couple of her
“closest” friends her own age – she becomes
positively pro-active around Ahna sometimes, and loves spending
time with her younger friend Nate. For the most part, though, she
prefers to play with friends Maddie’s age, and I’ve got
to work on that.

I know she’s only two. But by age two, Maddie had been in the
church nursery for a YEAR, and had her best friend Naomi with whom
she played every day. I know Maddie and Cora are apples and
oranges, and Cora’s attachment will work itself out at its
own pace. But . . .

But for now, Mommy’s getting benched. I’m officially
the slacker mom I used to scorn. Let the silent judgment begin.


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