I am gathering the last few things we need for the morning of errands—snacks, water, a sucker for a bribe—and my daughter, slight pixie fairy surfer girl with her sweet, sweet curls hanging down her back wearing a full Spiderman suit makes herself as tall as possible (up to my waist) and stands in my path. “Can we play Beanie Boos?” she asks, her already high bubble voice impossibly higher than usual. This is her sweet ask. A solid approach—more likely to get a positive response than the screechy whine bordering on tears that always gets a “No.” She is learning, I think. This sly little flighty feather is smarter than we think.

You see, she knows. She knows that I hate to play Beanie Boos. Or Princesses. Or Horses. Or Shopkins (seriously…flip flops with eyes? Cat-faced watering cans? WTH are these things?). She knows that I would almost rather pluck my arm hair out one at a time than play pretend. Why do I hate it so much? It sounds fun, in theory, I’ll admit. Let’s retreat to our childhood land of play and wonder, let’s escape for a while into a Neverland of fairy dust and talking animals (and flip flops and watering cans, I guess)—come with me, and you’ll see, the world of your imagination, right?

But it is not like that at all. No it isn’t. It is more like a play session I had with my daughter the other day:

“Okay, you are this raccoon, okay? And I am the owl,” she directed, as if there was a plan. But I assure you, there was not. No clear plan about where this next 15 minutes would take us.
“Okay,” I say, sportily. “And maybe this big one can be the mommy?” I hold up a big cheetah.
“No, she is not the mommy. She is a Cheetah,” she says.
“Girlfriend, you can’t tell me how to play. Your friends won’t like it if you don’t let them add their own input,” I say. Always a lesson.
“Okay,” she says. “I’ll be the mommy.”
She takes the cheetah, has her stand by the other two, and says, “Stop! that’s enough! Go in a time out!” She lays the stuffed animal down. “Okay, now Mommy’s dead.”

And that was the best part of our playtime. The rest of the time our animals stared at each other, walked here, walked there, occasionally jumped, and she told me what to say and then she said her stuff, and then I said, “Oh, look at the time, I have arm hairs that need plucking.”


I have endured years of this kind of play, since my daughter is so persistent and so good in her asking. I give her reasons why we can’t play right now, and she says, “After we do that, can we play?” And eventually, only after the fifth or sixth ask, only after she is saying, “After we run errands, and you work, and you do the laundry, and you scoop the poop, and you stare at the wall considering the state of the world, then can we play Beanie Boos?” And then, I cave. So I have spent the last several play sessions studying why this is so horrible, and how to make it better. Here are a few strategies that have saved me from bald arms in the recent past:

1. Create a crazy character. My daughter has a stuffed animal mouse that she rarely plays with, but I find him and his huge ears and the cheese he is holding hilarious. So I grabbed him one day, and at first she resisted. But then I dubbed him “Cheesy Mouse” and gave him a low, smoky voice like a mob boss and made him totally wild, stirring up trouble wherever we went. He would fly across the room and crash land into walls and say, “I’m alright, now go to the mattresses.” He would try throwing the other animals onto the bed to save them from the hot lava but severely overthrow and they would land in the hot lava on the other side. He would do this over and over and she would laugh and laugh. Find your inner Cheesy Mouse and the time will fly.

2. Establish a routine you can repeat. Like a good children’s book, a good play session can go on for a long time without getting boring if you establish a short pattern that can be repeated in a slightly different way, over and over. Our mermaids will have diving contests that end in award ceremonies—different dives, different winners, and then we play again. Or we will take princesses and pets, and open a pet shop. Each princess will come in one at a time and go shopping for one that suits her. “I’m looking for something with a ton of fur that eats ice and likes to sleep on ice furniture with a soul that is just on the cold side of warm so it won’t melt my ice,” says Elsa. “I’m looking for a woodland creature who won’t take Grumpy’s crap,” says Snow White. And on and on.

3. Secretly learn (sort, pattern, count). Although I feel a little like a boob for loving this, in my favorite kind of game, we are learning without knowing. Our stuffed animals will sit in a circle playing preschool. The teacher will say, “If you have blue eyes, stand up!” Then we count the standers. Or we will sit in a patterned order, “Dog, cat, dog, cat; okay, now predator, prey, predator, prey,” we say. “Okay, now awesome, idiot, awesome idiot…” Ugh, we all know who said that. Cheesy Mouse! You are the worst.

4. Play bedtime. So I don’t love playing pretend, but I do love a good book. Sometimes, if I’m feeling out of creative power and Cheesy Mouse is in Jersey on business, I’ll suggest that we play bedtime. This involves about 3 minutes of brushing teeth and tucking in, and then 30 minutes of reading books that each guy picks. I will occasionally reference the guys we are playing with, saying, “This is good, isn’t it Flip Flops with eyeballs?” so that I can’t be accused of not playing. (Although I am not playing. I am copping out in the most beautiful, educator-approved way.) But I say, “I am playing—it’s bedtime. Now be quiet Cat-Faced Watering Can, so we can get back to this book.”

5. Meet your child. This last tip is a little cheeseball, but I have to say it. When you play pretend with your kid, you get a chance to meet them. The pretend play example at the beginning of this story revealed a lot about my daughter. She is surprisingly dark in her play. People are always dying, or being killed. (No wonder she loves Cheesy Mouse.) It’s innocent, it makes me laugh, and it gives me a chance to know her that her daily chatter, when I am often distracted by other things, does not. So sometimes, even in the most boring of play sessions, I can look at her and say, “Oh there you are, my little girl!” And at least I will have gotten that brief sense of connection—a moment of “enjoying it while it lasts,” as everyone with older kids tends to advise—at least I will have gotten that out of 20 minutes of otherwise boring torture. And like most of the dreaded things that go along with parenting a tiny human, that brief moment makes it worth it.

So the next time she asks, I will say, “No, we have to run errands.” And she will say, “After we run errands, can we play Beanie Boos?” And I will say, “No, then I have to vacuum.” And she will say, “After you vacuum, can we play Beanie Boos?” And I will say “Yes.” And I will employ one of the above strategies. And my arm hairs will remain in tact.

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