I have been suffering from a slight imbalance of humours lately; ie, I've been a bit depressed. One of the symptoms of my affliction is that my normally high need for order in the house begins to border on compulsive. At these times, the blessing of abundance, all the accountrements of life with kids, and the need to keep it in some semblance of order, gnaws at my soul.
I would never wish depression on anyone, but in my case, it is excellent for housekeeping. The very thought of the game closet, that has needed straightening for quite some time, becomes almost unbearable for me. The tottering mess of my daughter's nightstand--which, I know, is really her business, not mine--can give me a seizure.
And then there is the playroom. I use this word loosely because it is really a fairly raw space in our basement, with a concrete floor and some very ancient paneling and lighting. Because I am by nature, an organized person, I have a system* for the toys: there are shelves and bins, and the theory is, in each bin resides a different genre of toy. It's very simple and logical; a bin for cars, another one for figurines, (or guy-guys, as one of my friends children called them as a toddler), for blocks, etc. Though I know there is no malicious intent, my children can't help but FUCK with my system, and when I ask them to do a sweep of the playroom, they do the natural thing, and chuck things randomly in the bins.
The playroom was a mess. There were toys all over the floor, and those that weren't, I knew, were intermingling in ways that were not natural. (I also get a little twitchy when the playdough colors get mixed-up together; does this surprise you? I thought not. )
The playroom also happens to be the laundry room, so I am forced to look at the mess every time I go downstairs to do a load. Most of the time, I can let a lot of this slide, but not right now, in my fragile state. So last weekend, I brought Sarah and Gabriel down to the playroom armed with a few large contractor bags for a few hours of recreational cleaning.
To be fair, the mess is really not their fault, but the force of nature that is Sacha, but he is too young, and far to wild, to be of any use cleaning. He is like pigpen, trailing a mess in his wake. I knew that as we were to systematically clean, he would just as methodically dump. So though it caused his siblings much resentment, he was sent upstairs to watch TV. Ah, the benefits of being the youngest child. Ah, sibling rivalry!
We dumped everything. We sorted. We categorized. We got rid of things that were no longer useful; dress-up costumes frayed to shreds and many sizes too small, odd dress up shoes with no mates, broken bits of toys, random puzzle pieces that had long ago lost their missing piece.
And then we attacked the art supplies. We separated crayons from markers from pastels; popsicle sticks from pipe cleaners; scissors from glue sticks, glitter from paint. To quote one of Sacha's current favorite stories, now, there is a place for everything, and everything is in it's place. When my internal world feels out of control, I find the ability to control something tangible gives me some measure of peace.
Then, something miraculous happened. Instead of clamoring to watch tv, or play Wii, or use the computer, my children began to play. With their toys. Unbidden. This was facilitated in part by the gift of some new Lincoln Logs from my mother (AAH! MORE TOYS!!). But because they knew where to find the people, and the blocks, they began to do what children do best; engage in imaginative play. Without being encouraged to do so. They built, and created tableaux and had a great time.
Sunday morning, on Mother's Day, Sarah built a log cabin hotel, which she named the Striker Hotel, for the little dog that came with the Lincoln Logs.
Then she asked me to play with her.
I love to spend time with my kids, but don't really enjoy playing with them. I enjoy their company tremendously. I will color with them or cook with them, read to them, chat with them. But getting down on the floor and engaging in a game of make-believe? GAH! But it was Mother's Day, and we'd just done all this cleaning, so how could I refuse? What followed was an afternoon at the Striker Hotel, where the little people--the old school little people, which belonged to me when I was a child, and I believe that some that some of them were meant to be members of the original cast of Sesame Street--were the hotel patrons. As the proprietor (AKA Sarah) explained, third floor was of this hotel was reserved for guests with pet allergies. The proprietor assured us that the dogs were NOT allowed up there under any circumstances. For breakfast,an assortment of 19 muffins were served, some of which sounded delicious, but many of which were flavored with poop. (For the dogs. Who can't go to the third floor, poor things) I was introduced to the lesbian couple who was coming to spend a night at the inn. (The interracial lesbian couple, I might add; here's a close-up; don't they look happy?)
This is imaginative play in the 21-st century during the Obama years: A luxury rustic hotel that welcomes an alternative clientele, serves a delicious breakfast for man and beast, while being sympathetic to the special-health needs of all their patrons.
*You should see my spice drawer. I'm really very proud of it. When we moved into this house, I spent perhaps too much time developing a system of organization for it, and two years later, it still sends a frisson of joy down my spine every time I open it. Someday I'll post a picture of it.