Goodbye, Quiet Playtime

Last week, just two weeks after a double ear infection, Julia was sick again. The doctor diagnosed it as strep, and while we found out a few days later that the lab tests came back negative, she was the sickest she's been in years. Fever, zero energy, terrible sleep... it was a long week. Ever since she stopped napping at two and a half, Julia has done an hour to an hour and a half of quiet playtime in her room after lunch, followed by some TV watching. I've been able to count on a solid couple of hours of downtime each afternoon, and she has been happy to play independently in her room.

When she was sick last week, though, quiet playtime came to a screeching halt. She wasn't playing at all, let alone in her room, by herself. And when we tried to re-implement it last weekend, she wasn't having it. I flew into "fight or flight" mode. I fought. I put her in her room kicking and screaming. I was so upset about losing my precious alone time that I went into autopilot, unable to think it through. I slammed around, I cried to Scott.

"I'm alone with them for 12.5 hours per day!" I sniffled. "This is the only time I get!" And then, getting into some deep seated anxieties..."All I do is discipline right now. She only wants you. I never get to do the fun stuff." Scott listened quietly, and then he said, "Go get her. Do something fun. Now."

So I did. I opened Julia's door, loaded her into the stroller, and, because ice cream makes everything better, walked across the street to the new ice cream shop.

As we licked our cones, I said, "So, it seems like you don't want to do quiet playtime any more."

"NO." Julia said. "I don't." 

We decided we would try quiet reading time instead: that, when Margaret takes her afternoon nap, we would lie down together and read. I could sense Julia's relief as we headed home.

Quiet reading time has happened one day out of the past four. It's a lovely idea, but I don't want to force it... and I'm working on saying "yes" more and "no" less. So, when Julia asks if she can do stickers instead of lie down and read, the answer is "yes." Meanwhile, I'm doing my best to be ready with a pile of books when she asks to read.

This week has been adjustment for me. I miss having an hour I could count on to regroup for the afternoon. I do not, however, miss arguing about it, and I'm finding that I enjoy having more flexibility to let these summer days stretch out, schedule-free. I'm enjoying letting Julia return to her play after lunch, when she is engaged in something. The reality is that, at almost four, Julia plays independently a lot. My new task is to recognize these pockets when quiet playtime develops organically, rather than to force them, and to take advantage of a few minutes to get something done, or to rest a little myself.

My summer mantra is "Let it be easy." And even if what's easy seemed like a struggle at first, it was time to follow Julia's lead as we enter a new phase.