"Mamma, we have a problem!" Ethan yelled to me through the screen door.
That's always a great thing to hear on the first day of summer vacation, when your child has been outside for a while playing with the hose without direct supervision.
"What's wrong?" I asked, trying not to sound too weary. We had 10 weeks of summer vacation to go, after all.
"I didn't know it would get stuck," he replied. I headed out onto the deck and looked. The hose that Ethan was supposed to be filling a big bin with was instead poking out of a hole in the ground in front of the swing set. And yes, several hard tugs proved it was, indeed, stuck.
"Ethan, you were NOT supposed to be doing this out here!" Never mind weary, I was mad. I'd told him: no more digging holes, no more mud after the fiasco a few days before. There were holes everywhere and the muck was inches deep. Our yard was beginning to look like some sort of training course for a Tough Mudder race.
"Well, I wanted to do the hot and the cold mixed together, but you didn't want me to do THAT either," he said indignantly. "This was the only thing I wanted to do."
The hot and the cold is Ethan's recent and other new quirky water play idea. He likes to run the cold hose on the hot deck and feel the temperature change to warm. As the deck is right next to area still soggy with mud, I'd nixed the idea.
This is the crux of the problem. Lack of ideas. When Anna was little, water play was simple. Fill up the kiddie pool and throw some toys in. Same for the water table. Or set up the sprinkler and have her run through it.
If we were to make an investment in a pool or some kind of elaborate water slide, Ethan would be golden. He loves to swim; he loves zipping down the slide at his grandparents' house again and again. When he did have one of those kiddie pools, Ethan liked to play in it for about 10 minutes in the "typical" way. His favorite part, however, was the filling and draining the water out. SO, he'd get really motivated to help fill the pool with the hose, play briefly, and open the plug and let it all out.
"Mamma!" I don't know how many times I heard Anna call over various summers. "He's letting the water out again!"
Same for the water table. I'd fill it up for him and put some toys inside. Ten minutes I'd come back and it'd be empty. He'd opened the plugs up and drained everything out. Now the plugs are lost, so the water table is useless, although Ethan probably would enjoy watching it fill and drain simultaneously.
If I turn on the sprinkle he'll jump through it about four times and then want to pick it up and spray it everywhere as if it's a hose. And especially, right now, if it'll make mud.
In the past, I'd attempt to model all kinds of play ideas for Ethan. Look! We can bring the little people into the water table and pretend they're in a swimming pool! We can pretend the pool has little fishes swimming in it, and boats sailing! We can run races through the sprinkler!
Over time I've learned that these ideas rarely carry over. If Ethan didn't invent it, he's rarely interested in playing it. There are times he'll come up with a really cool game that I'd never have thought of. But often he heads into water play with a singular purpose: to carry out whatever the current obsession is.
But now, for the first time, I could almost sense frustration in his voice. It was mostly because I didn't like him playing either game he wanted to play. But there was something else, something when he added, "This was all I could think of to do!" There seemed to be a tiny part of him that wished he could be interested in doing something else, of coming up with a different idea.
"Ethan, does your mind get 'stuck' sometimes, and you only want to do one thing?" I asked. We'd never talked like this before.
"Yeah," he acknowledged. I gave him a quick hug. "Maybe we need to talk about some ideas together, and think of some other things you can do." I thought of looking online for zany ideas, although I also remembered that we hadn't had much success in the past. I felt compassion rather than annoyance. Why did it take so long for me to realize that these obsessions come with the wiring of his brain, that he's not purposely avoiding new games just to be contrary?
Sometimes I tell myself I should just let go and be the cool, carefree mom that lets my kids dance in the rain, stomp in puddles, and slather themselves in mud. Or lets Ethan fill and drain pools to his heart's content. Maybe I should just chill. It's not like our backyard is winning any awards anyway. But then I remember that while we can do those things sometimes as a special kind of treat, allowing them every day will only encourage the obsession. Then Ethan will want to create mud havens at other people's houses, or drain every kiddie pool he sees. He'll be even less open to trying something new, if I only encourage the old standbys.
For now he's not playing with the hose again for a very long time. We had to wait for Dan to come home to dig it out of the muck. But it's a delicate balance as always, between letting him be who he is and giving him the tools he needs to thrive in this world.
Friday, June 27, 2014
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I like water play and extreme water slides. I also like to try to make rainbows with a spray bottle.
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