Every night for the past few weeks, Natalie has been asking me to play Kitty & Dog with her, where I pretend to be a cat and she pretends to be a dog. We crawl around the floor on our hands and knees for a half hour before she goes to bed, pretending to lap water from a bowl, curl up and sleep on the ground, and play with a ball. Sometimes it gets more complicated than that, like when we write each other letters about our vacations and put them in each others' "mailbox," and read them aloud to each other. Or sometimes she says, "OK, now you be my person," and I take her to the "park" to play fetch. (We actually do play fetch).
I have been surprised at how much I have come to look forward to this game each night. of course, I have the normal adult reluctance (though much less so now than when we first started this)-- the feeling we so often have of trying to put kids off, of trying to make them happy entertaining themselves for five more minutes while we finish another chore, the feeling of urgency to complete our own list of chores (which honestly do need to get done).
But there is time for this. I've been overcome with the realization that when I get down on all-fours with my five year old, I enter into her world. It's this fantastical place existing just on the other side of a veil from the world in which I'm forever completing tasks, and she's extending me an invitation, and by some miracle, when I say yes, I am allowed to enter in. It saddens me to think of how often I refuse, because what she's really asking me is, "Will you be with me, in this moment, right now?"
It's only when we are playing together that I experience her personality in its fullness, and strangely, once I cross that threshold into her world, all of the urgency of my own world melts away, and I realize that I'm engaged in the most important activity I could possibly be doing. (And it relieves my stress).
I think that we all, as children, naturally know how to invite people into our world, but that it's a skill many of us lose as we grow older. Natalie has reminded me of how to open that door of Self to usher others in, and there's nothing better than a shared activity to make it happen.
The other night when we were playing Kitty & Dog, she suggested, "OK, let's pretend that you're Mother and I'm Natalie and we're playing together." She didn't want to crawl around on the floor any more but she wanted me to stay in her world. So I did. If she had said that to me when we weren't already playing Kitty & Dog, I don't think I would have understood. But I did. I am learning, slowly.