Today I was watching my son play with his Fisher Price Noah’s Ark and noticed something: he would pick up two animals, put them nose to nose, have one animal tell the other that they were in “big trouble go timeout now,” and then facilitate an apology and resolve by having the animals eat from his play trough. Over. And over. And over. And I thought, knowing full well the answer, “Hmmm: why would he be saying that with his play animals?”
See, he’s been having a hard time as of late: new baby brother, turning three, starting preschool, starting MOPS, starting soccer, dealing with sleep-deprived parents, etc. The developmental stuff is enough on its own, but throw in all the other whirlwinds, and you have yourself a perfect storm. So, it’s natural that he would be talking about time out because, well, he’s fairly familiar with the timeout corner.
Being the researcher that I am, I turned to my small arsenal of recommended parenting reads, one being Playful Parenting. The author starts off by talking about the two towers of isolation and powerlessness: when kids retreat into these, misbehavior is a biproduct. The remedy is connection, and play is one of the best vehicles with which to connect.
But Judah couldn’t possibly be feeling isolated or powerless. He’s in my face *all* *day* *long*, cajoling me to read another book or sing another song or go to the store, etc., etc., etc. Isolated people retreat; powerless people slump over.
Correction: isolated *Aj* retreats; powerless *Aj* slumps over. Isolated *Judah* runs around and throws toys and bounces off of walls; powerless *Judah* talks nonstop and tries to coerce everyone into doing just one more whim of his.
He’s been telling me in a thousand different ways that he wants to play with me to the point that he put my stuffed bunny (yes, I still sleep with a stuffed animal; if you sleep with an object for so many years, it because a necessity – how well would you sleep without your pillow? Hmm?) in my hands and asked me to throw it at him and knock him over. Because once a couple months ago we played the game “throw the bunny at Judah and knock him over.” Once: that’s all. But he remembered it as a time where he felt connected to me, and he was asking for that connection again. However, I saw it as him needing to roughhouse and thought playing outside would better meet his needs . . . or my needs . . .
It makes sense that this desire for connection is so great, not in just a practical every-day-living sort of way, but in a grand scheme “God dreamed of us and knew before the foundations of the earth that we’d biff it and God would have to send His Beloved Son as the perfect atonement to bring us, the Bride of Christ, back into relationship with Him” way. It’s all about relationship. Connection broken; connection restored.
I just listened to a fascinating podcast from “This American Life” talking about the importance of love, of connection, and what happens when it’s lacking. In the fifties(ish – I think) a psychologist studied baby monkeys to show that love does indeed matter. He set up two “mother monkeys” for the babies: one was very mechanical and stiff but provided milk; the other was comfy and cuddly but lacked food. The babies would go to the food provider to eat, but then returned to the comfy “mothers” and tried to cajole them into demonstrating affection: they would pet them and snuggle and cuddle and make happy noises. In a variation (I think this is how it goes: I was trying to fold laundry and bounce a fussy baby while listening) it was just the food provider and the baby: the provider’s “nipples” were sabotaged to hurt the babies by jabbing barbs into the babies whenever they fed (not serious pain: just a brief shock). The babies would cry, turn away, but in the end try all sorts of tricks to put themselves back in the good graces of the “mom,” abusive though she was.
Love. Connection. Amazing to see where it shows up, how it is manifested.
So needless to say, I’m working on playing more with Judah, noticing the ways he’s trying to connect with me and the ways I’m answering his requests. Which in turn causes me to look for areas where I’m feeling isolated and powerless in my own life and acting out, all with the hope and belief that God is giddily excited to connect and wanting to play a game of “throw the bunny at Aj and knock her over.” Or something like that.
[And no wonder Bloody Wink’em is such a popular game, especially with anxty teens: who knew camp was facilitating inner healing? Or, again, something like that. . . 🙂 ]