My kids are quite good at playing on their own. Well, mainly the big two. They will happily go off and create an elaborate fantasy world together, and remain there until food is mentioned. And even though Squeak is in the ‘OMG, where are you? Phew, there you are. No wait, where are you again?’ phase, she’s still content to barrel around the living room on the hunt for small objects.
It’s pretty sweet. I can check the computer, do some knitting, maybe tidy up if I’m feeling extra energetic. And if they’re really focussing on their games, I can even sneak in some secret eating.
But you know, you can’t do that all the time.
Sometimes, I want to feel that warm glow inside me that says, ‘You are good at this shit.’ I want the children to look at me with grinning, excited faces and love in their eyes.
This is when I engage in the aforementioned Virtuous Parenting.
For me, it can take numerous forms, some of which I will describe below. But they all have a few things in common. They are simple, they are fun, and they almost always result in a big mess.
1. The Nature Shelf
The nature shelf came about as an unexpected flash of inspiration. We had been out collecting autumn leaves to make pictures with, for the girls to take into school. In my mind, this was a fun park outing, where we would discuss the different textures and colours of the leaves, and hunt for acorns and other small things. Virtuous. And that did happen, up to a point.
Other things which happened included: Me yelling, ‘Don’t pick up that one, there’s poo on there!’, me pulling fake pleasure faces when a dirty hand offered a soggy, torn leaf for my perusal, Big Girl and Little Girl falling down the same hole within 30 seconds of each other, and the finding of 4 bird corpses. Hmmm, maybe not quite so good.
Back at home, they had a great time making their pictures. I mean, yes, Little Girl did spend most of the time gluing herself to herself, but we managed to get a few leaves to paper. There were a lot of bugs in that bag.
It was then that I had my lightbulb moment.
‘Do you know what would be cool?’ I said. The girls looking at me expectantly, if a tad warily. My ideas are not always good ideas.
‘We should totally make a nature shelf! We could put some of the things we found today on it, and then collect more when we’re out and about!’ They were pretty keen.
Handily, a friend had given us a shelving unit just a few days before, and there was a spare shelf just waiting for us to leaf it up.
So I got out my hand-knitted, leaf-green wool blanket (I know, right?) I had made for a newborn Squeak, and spread it out as a base. The girls loved laying out the different leaves, acorns and seeds we had found.
There it was. That warm glow. I may have given a happy sigh. I felt totally virtuous and awesome.
And now, every time we go out, they hunt for new things to add to the nature shelf.
Therein lies the problem. I got swept away in the idea of the amazing shelf, and I made one crucial mistake.
The kids love bringing stuff home. As much as I try and persuade them to ‘leave it for the birds’ or ‘leave it with its family,’ my house is still completely stuffed with organic matter.
In the warmer months, the mounds of expiring dandelions exude a slight scent of urine. And of course, there are the branches, stones, bugs and other natural items.
What was I thinking? I just went and gave the kids an actual reason to bring home the rotten debris that they find on the floor.
Yeah, really clever, Char. Really virtuous.
2. Messy Experiments
I can place the blame for this one solely at the door of Pinterest. Over a period of a few months, I have viewed far too many amazing photos of cool crafts and science experiments. It is addictive. So when I saw a tutorial for erupting snow, I was hardly going to say no, was I?
I planned it carefully. Every base was covered. Squeak was napping, so there was no small baby interrupting the proceedings. I had bought some cat litter trays to contain the chaos. I set it up in the kitchen which has a wipe clean floor. Nothing could go wrong.
And do you know what, it was pretty awesome. The snow felt really nice and, somehow, cold! Big Girl and Little GIrl spent a good hour making snowballs, burying toys and pushing diggers through it. An hour. That is like, forever. They were so into it that they forgot to argue. And once they finished doing that, I got the vinegar sprays out.
So cool! The snow fizzed and bubbled. The girls thought it was the most fantastic thing they had ever seen. They made mini volcanoes and bubble baths. I added baking soda and vinegar until there was none left in the house. I was the best mum in the world.
There was only one downside to this experiment.
By the time the girls were done, they had splashed just about every surface in the kitchen. And Squeak woke up, so I decided to leave it while I got her fed and happy to play.
When I got back to the kitchen, the mixture had dried and somewhat adhered to everything. I wiped and scrubbed for what seemed like forever. Are you aware of how abrasive baking soda is? My hands were soft for ooh, about 3 hours.
I had to give up in the end. There’s only so long you can spend rubbing the same powdery dust from one area to another before you have to call it quits.
I think it took about 4 weeks until it was finally all gone.
It was totally worth it though.
3. Made-Up Games
I have to say, the talent for this mostly lies with Big Girl. Her imagination knows no bounds, and some of ideas are actually really fun. She’s a livewire though, and can never sit still. Her games reflect this character trait.
My wires are decidedly not live.
So when I came up with the idea for ‘Bad Fairy,’ I was delighted. A game that involves me sitting on the couch while the girls run around? Genius.
This is how it goes:
I sit on the couch, preferably wearing a too-small witch’s hat and holding half a fairy wand.
Then I growl, ‘I’m the Bad Fairy, and I’m going to turn you into an… ogre’s armpit, unless you can find me something… red.’ And off they go in a giggling panic, to find what I asked for. If they look like they’re slowing down, I just roar a bit to speed them up.
They find what they need, and run back before the ‘Bad Fairy’ gets too impatient.
Obviously then you can change the variables for next time, and have them racing around for ages!
There are only two downsides to this game. The first is that they insist on putting everything they bring back on the couch where I am sitting. Within five minutes I am completely buried in a pile of plastic crap with pointy bits and sharp edges.
The second downside consists of just a few short words.
‘Let’s swap places!’
Come and follow me on Twitter! @NoAwesomeParent