I grew up in North Dakota, where the winters were cruel and seemed to last forever. My sister and I were often bored and peevish in such captivity, turning on one another like snarling badgers. My mother -- who raised us almost single-handedly (my father traveled extensively for work) had little patience or time for such shenanigans. "Separate and into your rooms," she'd bark at us, and we didn't dare sass her. I'd hole up in my room and read a few Archie comics, fiddle on my Etch-a-Sketch and then fling myself onto my bed in utter despair because there wasn't ANYthing to do. It took me roughly 30 minutes before I was longing for the company of my sister, no matter how nasty she was.
"I'm booooored," I'd wail from my room. "It's too cold to go outside and I've read all my books and there's nothing to do."
The door to my room would then open, and a smooth, round stone would sail into the room and land on the carpet. Then the door would shut again. "Your boredom is not my problem," my mother would say. "Consult the Something-To-Do-Stone."
The Something-To-Do-Stone was a thing purely of my mother's creation, probably born out of sheer exasperation and intolerance for the whining of two young and combative children. I imagine we nearly drove her to madness with our complaints, especially in those endless winters, and thus, she came up with the Something-To-Do-Stone. When we'd rail about our lack of amusement opportunities, Mama would simply huck a stone into our rooms. We were then to rub the stone and think on matters, until something to do floated into our thick skulls. It was our responsibility to entertain ourselves -- that was made brutally clear. My mother didn't once haul out a board game or come up with some handy little craft to while away idle hours. The closest she came to entertaining us was to hand us a broom and tell us to "get cracking."
Is it bad to say that now, as a parent myself, I envy my mother's ingenuity and complete lack of parental responsibility for my happiness? I'd love to send my kid to her room and tell her to rub a rock if she was bored.
How smart was my Mama?
The reality of it is, though, that I'd never get away with the Something-To-Do-Stone. I'm not that smart and my kids aren't scared of me one little lick. And I also possess -- much to my chagrin -- some feeling of parental obligation to entertain my children.
How did things go so wrong for my generation?
When did it become necessary to be a "fun mom?"
How did entertaining our children become part of the job description?
Boy, did we screw that one up.
Now honestly, I have to say that I think the changing tide of parenting style between my generation and the next hasn't been all bad. Let's face it; spending time giggling and playing with our children is a feel-good thing all the way around. Sometimes. But I do resent where the burden of responsibility falls in today's world. Our children have somehow become the spectators in this whole debacle, and we're the ones donning the clown costume.
My mother would no longer have spent a Sunday afternoon playing Apples to Apples (or, God forbid, Candyland) with me than she'd orbit and zing around Jupiter. Fun was not her job. It was perfectly acceptable for her to send me outside after lunch on a summer afternoon and say, "I don't want to see the whites of your eyes until suppertime." And part of me is very, very jealous of this.
I was particularly jealous of this when my children were small, because truly, after your third game of Chutes and Ladders with your cherub, you're ready to slit your carotid artery. It's boring. Yeah, I said it. Playing with small children is smack-flat, full-barreled parental torture. I'd rather get a molar pulled than play a few rounds of Sorry! with my kid, and I'm one of those freaks who fears the dentist. I do not enjoy games and "Dora the Explorer" is a bossy little b*tch and no, I do not want to take my daughter to Disney on Ice.
I mean, I did, but I didn't enjoy it. At least half of me was busy planning my escape route and ticking down the digits on the clock. Perhaps it's easier for fathers? My husband gets to throw a ball around the softball diamond or cheer the older one on at a swim lesson. Motherhood seems filled with more arduous sacrifices, like agreeing to play Barbies for half an hour or ignoring the constant drone of the Singing "YoGabbaGabba" guitar. Those are the chores that require a gritting of the teeth and a generosity of spirit that I sometimes just can't muster.
Now that the girls are 8 and 12, it's not so excruciating. The days of Candyland and the singing guitar are (blissfully) long gone. Not that we're free of challenges, though. As I write this, the 8-year-old likes "Scooby Doo" and the 12-year-old wears a C-cup. A four-year difference can feel like a chasm, and it's widening as puberty hijacks the life and personality of my older daughter. It's hard to pick a movie we all can enjoy. They don't want to ride the same rides at the water park. The younger one thinks Pokemon cards are still cool collectibles. It's a feat of greatness to get my older daughter to look up from her phone. I can feel it; a seismic shift is not too far off. For now, I can only wait and vigilantly study the fault lines.
This past weekend, my daughters were out in the back yard jumping on the trampoline. There were giggles and chirps and thunkthunkthunking. My younger jumped cautiously near the edge of the trampoline while my older hurled herself headfirst into blue sky. It made me feel thick-throated and a little wistful. It's this burgeoning distance between them that's now my cross to bear.
Spending time together takes more planning and far more persuasion on all levels. Oftentimes, an activity will be laced with a little sacrifice. My older daughter will roll her eyes and agree to the Natural History Museum. The younger one will fidget and fuss at "The Nutcracker." I will drag out the box of Pictionary on Sunday afternoons instead of reading a novel.
But we still commit to these times together.
There's no magic stone to rub.
Instead, we show up. We sign on. We sigh a little and pray for patience. We say yes.
Because it's worth it.
This essay was originally published as part of You Plus 2 Parenting's 28 Days of Play series found HERE.