I wasn’t the most relaxed young mother, but who could blame me? With three at once — triplets — I found it hard even to catch my breath. Then again, it also took me a while to work up a worry fit. That didn't happen until Lily, Max, and Sam were three-and-a-half years old.
One Sunday afternoon, my children's pal — I'll call him Juan — came by with his parents for a playdate. For half an hour or so, the four kids romped like puppies. Then, as my kids kept romping, Juan sat down to play with some Playmobil figures and furnishings that I had stored in an old shoebox. After 10 minutes, I noticed that he had created a little living room, complete with couch, lamps on end tables, and “Grandpa” sitting in his teeny rocking chair.
I was stunned. I had never seen my children engage in focused, orderly play. Did kids really do this? Was Juan — an only child, older than my kids by three months — precocious? Or was something amiss with my own wild bunch?
Watching for signs of trouble
I began watching my brood, hoping for signs of organized play. Initially, I was relieved. Lily, Max, and Sam were not engaged in a free-for-all. There was logic in their play — rooted in negotiation and dynamic, creative collaboration. Even better, while their play frequently gave rise to rivalry and anger, it just as frequently produced high spirits and laughter.
For years, their favorite focus of activity was an elaborate play kitchen on our front porch. The stove, pots, dishes, and pretend-foods gave rise to a restaurant, which naturally called for waitstaff, cooks, and customers. Max tucked a notepad into the waistband of his blue corduroys, brandishing a pencil to scribble orders (and to write parking tickets in his spare time). When Lily wasn't assembling food on plates as a boisterous short-order cook, she was putting little dolls into plastic teacups. Sam, sometimes in the role of cook, but more often cast as a customer, would noisily pretend to consume the culinary creations — or, when he was feeling especially full of himself, demand that the waiter return his meal to the kitchen.
I was delighted to see that their play wasn’t insular. My trio ingeniously involved others in their hijinks. Kids visiting the house would be swept into the game as customers or line cooks. Adults were always relegated to customer status, with the children catering to their every whim.
Never a quiet moment
Their imagination reassured me that my kids were OK. But I saw signs of trouble. Lily, Max, and Sam rarely gave each other a moment of peace to engage in a quiet, contemplative activity.
I had art supplies on hand, but no one ever sat still long enough to paint, draw, or sculpt. Nobody ever assembled kingdoms from their herds of stuffed animals — or built imaginary worlds with Playmobil figures.
When Lily tried building something with blocks, Max would “accidentally on purpose” knock them over. If Max grasped a piece of chalk and approached a blackboard, Lily swirled around him, providing the temptation to chase her rather than to draw. Sam could sit poring over a picture book, smack in the middle of the action. Oblivious to the hurricane around him, he would look up, stunned, to see that it was time to duck-and-cover.
This article comes from the February/March 2007 issue of ADDitude.