Sometimes when my kids were preschoolers, I tossed aside the Lego, the 100-piece puzzles, the games of “let’s pretend I’m a cute fluffy kitty and you, Momma, are a ferocious, two-headed alien,” and found something really useful to play with my daughters.
By then they were curly-headed blondes with will power and endless energy. I created two games, one for periods of exhaustion, the other to coincide with rare bursts of energy.
“Let’s play naturopathic physician,” I’d suggest, giving a modern spin to the old favourite as I eyed the couch and pictured myself prone.
Then I’d plop down on its cushiony surface and attempt to doze off while the girls used a mixture of shamanism, medieval doctoring equipment and ancient crystal-stone-wood techniques to cure me of whatever ailment (usually death) had overtaken me on this day. They opened my mouth to check my heart. They placed a badminton racket on my face. They used lotion (after I removed the jar of vapour rub) to coat my feet.
Often they’d chant little healing verses while I slipped off into another world, only to emerge refreshed and to find my now-bored physicians happily arguing about whose turn it was to be the princess and who must be the dreaded prince.
However, as good as this game was in theory, it didn’t always weave its intended path; there were dangers, such as the “healing the hair” activity. In this process, a razor-edged club, disguised as a brush, was banged into the scalp and ripped down the length of the hair. From the carnage emerged several thoroughly knotted shapes called “braids” by the physicians-turned-hair-stylists.
Once, as I relaxed into the couch and let my eyes get a little heavy, I was jolted awake by a burning pain in my arm. Four big, innocent eyes stared at me. “You needed a shot, Momma.” I also endured teeth cleaning, suffocation and nasty comments about stubble growing on my calves.
I drummed-up the second activity in one of those curious moments when I felt inspired to clean the fridge and vacuum the beams. I adopted a French accent, called myself Marie, and explained that I was the royal maid of the royal princesses here to clean the royal palace. I actually had some success at cleaning the house before I was diverted into preparing royal snacks, de-fleaing the royal hound and mopping up a royal food mess.
Toys and games aside, I loved watching the pure and sweet imagination that went into child play. Most often, the girls would flitter in and about me as I washed dishes and prepared endless snacks, and caught only sparks of conversation. But once in awhile, I’d hear them chattering in the back seat of the car, like the time I picked up one of Sierra’s friends for a playtime. They immediately launched into their latest game.
“Let’s pretend we’re princesses with horses.” / “A black horse and a white horse.” / “All the horses in the world.” / “And a unicorn.” / “All the unicorns in the world!” / “And we didn’t have any parents.” / “Just sisters.” / “All the sisters in the world!”
Later, as I watched the two create a wonderland of very deliberately placed books and blankets and dolls, I suggested that perhaps I should play with the Barbies while they put away the groceries.
The young visitor fixed me with a stern look.
“We are the children. You are the adult,” she said. “We get to play and you have to clean the house.”
Susan Lundy is the editor of Boulevard and Tweed magazines.