Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Concession

"Maybe he's one of those kids who's just not 'into' play."

A few of Ethan's teachers have said this to me several times over the past few years, and each time the words were like nails on a chalkboard. They talked about video games, about him growing older and being able to better relate to people regarding things on the screen.

They don't know, I fumed. Maybe he's just not there yet. They don't know. How could they know?

So we worked on play (funny, should those two words really go together?) a LOT. And I tried fastidiously to limit his exposure to all things electronic, particularly at home. We played and I fretted, fretted and played.

Somewhere along the way I realized that sometimes life comes up, and everything can't be like a handbook from the American Academy of Pediatrics, a Parents magazine article, or my Floortime books. Sometimes the kids want to play Wii with the grandparents for hours. Sometimes Daddy wants to sit on the couch and relax with Ethan while watching too much TV. Some days everyone's running and I'm doing grown-up type things and can't be on the floor "instructing," and Ethan's going to sit and try to see how many levels of the Windows 8 Ninja game he can beat.

The past few weeks especially, we've had a lot going on. Between the holidays and my mom being in the hospital, freelance projects and various other issues, there hasn't been a lot of time to sit and play. And this is what I've noticed:

Ethan's teachers were right. And so was I.

He really, really does prefer all things on a screen. And yes, he can get obsessed.

But he really loves people, too, and he can play -- on his terms.

Put the two together, and they morph into Ethan-style play. That could mean wrestling outside after school with his friend for a half-hour, making Mario sounds and pretending he's Bowser on the attack. Or asking me to chase him around a la the Mario Chase game as he sings the music that plays when Mario gets the star. Or playing on his own in his room, putting money into his money counter, making up rules about how to get to the "next level."

Yes, I realize these games aren't showing the level of creativity you'd see from a typical kid. It's a kind of scripted play. But I'm learning it's his play. It's not play someone is trying to force him to mimic. It's not something he feels coerced into doing. It's flowing out of what's in him right now, and he's having fun. What can be truly wrong with that?

So often teachers or other professionals do make assumptions, and we have to fight to advocate for our kids and believe in our kids because as parents we do know best.

But in this case I've had to climb down from my high-horse just a little. I thought that because they'd seen hundreds of kids before him, his teachers just lumped him into a category. And while that may be true to some extent, I have to acknowledge that sometimes their experience helps them to see things I may not see, or not want to see, or not be ready to see.

Every day I still have to tell Ethan he's done with Angry Birds, or the computer, or watching whatever he's watching. But the vigilance is ebbing away. He's not the boy in Toy Story, playing in his room with old-school toys for hours, coming up with countless play scenarios. There's no saying he can't be, but that's not who he is right now. I don't want him to ever live feeling we are constantly working to morph him into someone else.

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