Saturday, May 31, 2008

Play with me

Our coffee table is back in the middle of our living room again.

We have had the coffee table pushed back against a wall for at least six months to allow for a semi-permanent, gigantic wooden railroad track to consume most of the living room floor space.

This is because Ben has always spent a good deal of his waking hours playing by himself with his trains.

I've seen him spend stretches of 90 minutes at a time with his trains - reciting stories, making up stories, singing songs, stacking engines up in various configurations; all without the need for interaction from us. The huge space we allowed the trains to inhabit seemed appropriate: proportional to the psychic space they occupied in his life.

But over the last few months, there's been a gradual shift in Ben's activities. He's been spending more and more time interacting with us and playing on his own less. In the past few weeks, the shift has been so dramatic that he's been content to put the tracks away in boxes (thank you Container Store) and we've moved the coffee table back to the center of the room.

I don't really care where the coffee table sits, actually, but the rearrangement of the furniture feels like a symbolic victory marking Ben's move toward interaction and away from isolation.

Tonight's activities are a good example of how things are different around here.

When he returned from preschool he ran into the house and shouted, with the enthusiasm of a wedding DJ, "Let's play a game, Mommy and Daddy! It's caaaaaaaalled...Candy Land!"

After a bit of Candy Land, Ben led us in a round of the Hokey Pokey, then we all marched around the house.

Then he discovered a pack of Trident on the counter and when I showed him what it was and how you chew gum, he was content for at least 15 minutes to watch and giggle as I blew bubbles.

Next it was time for antics. Antics involve Ben begging to be chased, tickled, kissed loudly, eaten, held upside down and given raspberries on his stomach over and over. Uproarious laughter and squealing are involved. Until recently, antics were usually reserved for right before bedtime. These days, Ben ropes us into antics about every 45 minutes.

Then a break for some Go, Diego, Go and dinner.

After dinner it was time to pretend Daddy was an elephant, then a horse for riding on.

Next more Candy Land, and a game of "What would happen if...?" which is a new game Ben came up with a few weeks ago where we ask each other about various hypothetical situations like, "What would happen if Swiper the Fox turned into spaghetti and meatballs?" and invent answers.

He didn't touch his trains until 7:45, three hours after he got home.

Ben's need for more interaction with us feels like a hugely significant milestone, but it's exhausting in a whole new way. I realize now how much I had been taking advantage of his independent play to do my own thing or to tune out. After a brief stint of trying Floortime when he was three, I let it go and simply let him take the lead, giving him the space he seemed to want and need.

I'm still letting him take the lead, but now he's initiating hallway soccer games, family dance routines, and games of hide and seek. And while I'm thrilled, I'm also tired.

But at least now I can put my feet up on the coffee table.


jaki said...

Wonderful post...full of optimism...I smiled.. good work for both Ben and his parents!!

Anonymous said...

Hooray for Ben! He is expanding his repertoire of play, the work of a child. Candyland, my favorite. I play that game many times a week in my school activity room. Maybe I will get the opportunity to play with Ben so he can expand our horizons. Hugs, Julie