R.I.P., Mommy

A 32-year-old north side woman was turned into a banana and eaten this morning. The only witnesses, her two- and three-year-old sons, were unable to recall exact details of the incident, but it appears it might have involved foul play.

An angry young chef chopped up a 32-year-old Chicago mom at 4 p.m. this afternoon. He then put her in a soup with carrots and cinnamon. Her husband and two sons are being questioned.

A mother, confused for wild game, died of fatal wounds from a bow and arrow this afternoon. Just before the incident occurred, neighbors say they heard a young voice yell, “You’re a turkey and I’m a Wampanoag. I’m gonna shoot you, turkey.”

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Sharks? Guns? “Yes, please!” Charlie and Kip say. (Daddy is much more comfy with violent play than I.)

I die at least three times a day. Each time, it’s new, in a way I’d never imagined possible and it extrapolates me way out of my comfort zone. The experts tell me it’s healthy and even important for my young preschooler’s development to explore these themes of power within the context of play. Yet I’m contemplating my mortality a little more than I’d like.

It’s not that I’m afraid of death, save for the idea of how my absence would impact my loved ones, but the constant pretend play in which I reluctantly engage with Charlie, who’s (obviously) struggling to find ways to explore his sense of power, really throws me onto a macabre train of thought. “Honey, it makes me a little uncomfortable when you pretend to shoot me,” I tell him. “I just don’t have very much fun pretending to get killed.”

Most of us aren’t raised to be comfy with the blatant violence to which very young kids are drawn in play. It’s not “nice.” We don’t want to encourage present or future bad behavior. We want to teach them never to point a gun at someone. It scares us.

I’ve been working really hard at growing less squirmy about the obsession with weaponry, the superheroes, the chasing, the cannibalism and the animal attacks that seem to come with being mom of two little boys. Part of my efforts entailed poring over a PowerPoint from Amy Zier, a rad pediatric occupational therapist, titled, “Power and Aggression in Play: Is this really needed? Yes, for emotional health and social competence.”

According to the research in Zier’s presentation, boys spend 15 percent of the day in rough and tumble play-fighting and chasing (it’s more frequent with boys than girls.) Also, aggressive play is a means whereby children address developmental issues. It helps them to resolve issues of power and control, allows them to resolve or reduce fears or anxiety and permits them to act out their aggressive impulses in a safe, controlled environment.

But the point that really got me on board with chasing, wrestling and feigning my own death repeatedly: If the parent is uncomfortable with aggressive play, the child will not move through this stage as quickly and may have anxiety/shame associated with feelings of power and aggression. The child may be slower to get through this developmental phase.

“You better run, Peter Rabbit! I’m Mr. Macgregor and I’m coming to get you,” I holler. “If you don’t get out of my garden, I’m going to turn you into a stew!” Charlie squeals with glee and jumps into the air. Kip begins laughing hysterically and running in circles.

Admittedly, it’s still an emotional stretch for me to follow Charlie’s lead in this kind of play, but to both boys, Mommy dying a violent death-by-dragon on the sunroom floor is hysterical. “I know you don’t like it, Mommy,” Charlie says, in his own sweet voice rather than in the screechy roar of the dragon, out to get me a moment before. “But I think it’s so, so, so fun!” And he giggles while collapsing onto my chest.

That’s when it strikes me that death doesn’t have the same baggage to him as it does for me. Little kids have so few of the judgments and attachments we have as adults. While pretending to die launches me into a million what-if scenarios, all of which include worry about his future as a torturous oppressor, for Charlie, death is something he knows only in his imagination, the idea of it only lasts for a few seconds and causing it makes him feel awesome in his body, superhuman, even. What’s more, after this free, explosive expression of power, he’s a whole lot nicer to his little brother.

And then, almost like a eulogy, immediately following my death, I’m covered in hugs, shined up with smiles and hear things like, “You’re such a nice mommy. Thank you so much for playing with me just now.”

Being a parent pushes all kinds of limits within a person’s core and, despite massive resistance initially, I’m proud to say I’m getting pretty good at dying with drama. As long as I’m rising a half second later armed with roars and tickles against my gleefully fulfilled opponents, I’m willing to handle a few more years of thrice-daily obituaries.

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Rising after death-by-tackle at Millennium Park

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11 thoughts on “R.I.P., Mommy

  1. Ah Em! In our house we call it “roughing up” and I love getting down on the floor the minute Z says “Let’s rough up Mommy”. We then burst into a ball of tickles and wrestling and airplanes followed by tackles from behind and sword fights where he is Peter Pan and I am Captain Hook. Its a great point you made about our attachments to killing and death as adults, where to our children this form of play is just another way they figure out the world. Personally, I love all the physical contact it gives me with my boys outside of hugs and kisses.

    Love the blog!

  2. You look so good for a dead woman!!! A good read as usual!!

  3. Thanks Emily! I have struggled with the same thing. Very insightful and helpful! Love the blog!

  4. Emily, Joanie and Frank, thank you so much for writing. Joanie, you totally made me laugh. Em and Frank, it’s just as heartening to me to hear you both face this stuff, too. Sometimes you just can’t help but wonder if you’re the only one dealing with something (anything!), so thanks for sharing your comments. Great point about the awesomeness of the physical contact outside of hugs and kisses. So true! I can totally picture you “roughing up,” by the way. So cute.

  5. Have I ever told you that you are awesome sauce? So proud to be your friend. Leo love.

  6. You articulate in such a thoughtful, rational way what many of us (especially males) who are children-turned-parents-turned-grandparents merely intuit. I very much enjoyed the read, the happy thoughts your story recalls and the affirmation.

  7. Pingback: Why the marriage of cooking and TV triggers my deep shame, or, how I kicked in the windows at the shame factory « emily en route

  8. Pingback: And, just like that, I’m feeling light again. « emily en route

  9. Reblogged this on emily en route and commented:

    I’ve been getting some interest in posts about Sensory Kids lately, so here are some thoughts on aggressive play from a couple years ago. I just had to confiscate a light sabre this morning, so it seems germane…

  10. Wow, how interesting!! My son is only 1 but I can already tell how completely different he is from his sister. Thanks for the knowledge though–I guess I too will soon have to endure the many deaths! 🙂

    • Thanks for writing, Sasha! Really cool to know you found it interesting. Regardless of whether your little guy ends up being the full-on death-and-destruction sort like my boys are, I wish you much patience, creativity and laughter throughout.

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