The chime on my little girls Playskool kitchenette oven just chimed and that means the cake is done. She gleefully opens the door and with a tiny oven mitt protecting her little hand pulls out an empty pan. The fact that it is empty doesn't matter to her because she's pretending and the cake is fresh from her imagination.
As I watch this scene play out I know what role I will be asked to play…I am the cake taster. I sit at her tiny princess table, my knees high in the air, waiting for her latest creation. I know whatever she brings me will taste delicious. She is a culinary master. Many would expect nothing less from my little girl. She has been toddling around our kitchen for four years watching me bake pies, cakes, and cookies. As she walks towards me an excited smile spreads across her angelic face. This must be a really special cake.
"Here mommy," she says as she slices a piece of cake for me, "it's chocolate." (her favorite)
She watches as I pick up my pink fork and dig in, waiting for my verdict.
"Mmmmm! It's so moist and yummy! This is your best cake yet!"
Her smile reaches her eyes, making them sparkle, as she quickly turns and skips back to her kitchen for another baking experiment.
I loved making pretend cakes when I was younger, then Play-Doh cakes, and finally real cakes. Baking was an outlet for me and I was pretty decent at it. When I thought of having children, I dreamed this scene many times and it was pretty much how I saw my life as a mother playing out. I would play with my daughter. Eat her imaginary cakes. Teach her to bake real ones one day. Oooo and Ahhh over her creations and help her figure out what went wrong because sometimes baking does go awry (my solution for a sunken cake is to turn it into a punch bowl cake).
Like baking life can also go awry.
I don't really play "with" Rae. A lot of times I end up playing "for" her and there's a big difference.
Playing "with" her includes rousing peek-a-boo sessions, blowing bubbles towards her so she can try to pop them with her shaky hands, sitting at the piano while we both tickle the ivories, clapping her hands to silly songs, or sitting her monkey "Mo-Mo" on my head and pretend to sneeze making him fly off and hit her (she thinks this is a hilarious…I have videos to prove it). There are other things too like reading books, complete with silly voices and sounds, and going over flash cards on her iPad. From time to time she will lead the activity like dropping her shapes in a bucket, pushing the handle on her gum ball machine (she really loves that toy), or scooting on her butt to reach a toy. But there are times when I am playing "for" her.
If the activity requires tapping into ones imagination and acting out what you think up then it is MY imagination, not HERS. She doesn't have an effective way of letting me know what she is thinking. I might pick up her doll and pretend that it is dancing a reel with Mo-Mo the monkey, but maybe she wants the doll to be a doctor and healing Mo-Mo the way Doc McStuffins fixes Chilly and Stuffy on her favorite cartoon. I just have no way of knowing. I am playing "for" her at this point. It feels very different and I'm still trying to adapt.
There is no kitchenette nestled in the corner of our home. That wound still causes me a little twinge of pain when I'm in the toy section of any retail store. Most of the time I am okay with that, but around her birthday and Christmas it is more difficult.
Now I use my imagination to come up with ways to play "with" Rae, not just "for" her, and it takes a lot of out of the box thinking (and a lot of energy and shopping). We adapt toys, add suction cups, and create clamps. We buy, build, or sew things I see that might work. For example: The other day I found an artist board that would allow us to paint and color at home! I was so excited!! To paint or color with her requires me to grow a third (sometimes fourth) arm and this board would secure the paper and would be easy to prop up which would enable to me to assist Rae. I'm pretty sure Santa is going to slip the board along with some more fat crayons and markers (Crayola of course) under the tree this year. Shhhh…don't tell Rae.