One hour a day, for one more year. Making make-believe a priority.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Play's the Thing

The girls' foray into acting this summer (check out the film's website!) has somehow tumbled now into a new passion for both of them. Both of the girls signed up for the Junior Theatre program after school this fall, and I have been the parent volunteer for Mikaela's group for the last eight weeks...making photocopies, helping with costumes, and basically just getting a chance to spy on the kids in their natural (school) habitat. The thing that has been most fun about this though has been watching how willing the younger kids are to become their characters -- to just succumb to the thrill of it. The older kids are self-conscious, shy, awkward. But the younger kids just go for it. It seems that the littler kids have few, if any, insecurities. They simply pretend; it's truly putting on a play. Mikaela is the Lion in a very abbreviated version of "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe." She's got two lines, but man, does she give it all she's got. But I can see just that sliver of hesitation, the knowledge that she is being watched. Assessed. That awareness of self that will likely become the ruling force in her life in just a few more years. And it kills me.

I did a lot of acting and dancing when I was a kid, and I distinctly remember the point at which I became cripplingly self-conscious. I was cast as a snake in my dance recital. I was fifteen, and I wore a full-body snakeskin unitard. I had to take off my glasses in order to dance, and I was blind as a bat on the stage. A boy I liked was in the audience, and I remember being mortified that he was out there...somewhere (because I couldn't see him) watching me bend and slither all over the stage. After ten years of dancing, I quit that year. That was my very last recital.

I wonder if the best performers, the best actors and dancers and singers are the ones who never lose that ability to let be on stage with absolute abandonment of self.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Playing Dress-Up

First, I apologize for the gigantic lag between posts. To be honest, since summer came to an end, so too did my blogging (and playing) enthusiasm. I anticipated that the beginning of real life would bring this project to a screeching halt, and it did. Screeeeeching. I could go on and on making excuse: the 2 hours of homework my third grader has every night, the gymnastics lessons, the four hours of ballet and Nutcracker rehearsals every week, my own personal chaos (a looming deadline, the laundry, the lunch boxes, the teaching, the editing, blah, blah, blah), but the truth is I just lost steam. It is hard work playing every day, especially when our lives are jam-packed.

However, I am going to keep trying.

On that note...we've been playing dress-up here lately. Halloween is one our family's favorite holidays. I spent the last two months making a pirate costume for Kicky which made it's debut today. As did Esmee's "Vampire Cheerleader" ensemble. Tomorrow we have a carnival, and on Sunday night we're having a ghoulish party at our house. And even as I struggle with my failure...and yes, it feels like a big fat failure, I do feel like I'm being the best mom I can be right now. And all those things have to be worth something, right? Helping with homework, allowing them to pursue their respective athletic and artistic passions, making sure the ballet tights and leotards are clean, packing healthy lunches, sewing costumes, and even showing them that my own work really matters will all ultimately make them into good people who feel valued and important and loved, right? We're also still creating traditions and memories that matter, I hope.

I know, I know. Back to play. And I will keep trying.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Out of the Tulgey Wood

After nearly the entire summer spent away from home, it is both wonderful and awful being back. Wonderful, because I love it here. The girls are back in school. I am no longer driving a half hour just to check e-mail, and I no longer have to rely on the wind and sun to dry my newly laundered clothes. It's awful though, because the end of the summer means leaving our other home in Vermont.

I will happily admit that the hour-a-day play activity did not always include me. One of the beautiful things about being in Vermont is that the kids have something they simply don't have here: freedom. Independence. In Vermont they were able to disappear outside, into the woods, up into the tree house for hours on end without a grown-up in sight. I wouldn't take that away from them for anything. For one month a year they get to experience what I did as a kid: complete freedom from the grown-up world (the one that is there to monitor and protect -- the one that spoils the fun).

However, I did make a conscious effort to play some games I haven't played in a long, long time though. And here are the pictures to prove it.

(This photo was actually take at our old neighbors' house in MD on our way to VT.)

Blocks. I helped build this. I particularly love the Etch-a-Sketch screen and the man trapped in the glass (Jenga) box.

The view from the Ferris wheel...a ride I haven't gone on in twenty years or more.

Chutes and Ladders and a zillion games of Chinese checkers. That's the summer in a nutshell.

Until next year.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Princess(es) and the Pea

We have a tradition in our family that began back when Kicky was just a year and a half old. I think I originally got the idea from the now defunct Home Companion magazine. The idea was to throw a Princess and the Pea party, where little girls come dressed up like princesses and eat strawberry shortcake and give their mothers a zillion photo opportunities. The first year I made little tiny mattresses and my mother supplied homemade crowns. By the second year, we were reading the story aloud and then having a hunt for a glittery pea (the girl who found the pea was the "real princess" and got to wear the crown). We made princess art (wands, fireflies, murals) and ate shortcake (and the mommies drank daiquiris). I decided to make it an annual event after Esmee was born, and we now had two princesses in the family.

My idea was always that it was a good excuse for a party and a really nice way to foster a sense of tradition and continuity with their girlfriends. What I didn't know when I started the tradition was that we would criss-cross the country a couple of times. My heart broke the first year in DC when the girls had to start all over again with new friends at their annual bash. But by the time we left, their girlfriends there began to expect and anticipate the yearly party (which, by the time we left, had grown enormous). And my heart broke again when we had to leave them behind.

This year we decided to scale the party back for a variety of reasons. And I have always known that the Pea Party would have to evolve and change as the girls grew out of their respective "princess phases." But the heart of the party is the same: bringing best girlfriends together to celebrate their girliness and their friendship.

And this year it was such a joy to be back in San Diego where one of my very best girlfriends is also raising two daughters. Her eldest was at the first two Pea parties all those years ago.

I'm not sure what the future holds for the Pea party, but I'm game as long as the girls are.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Face Painting

Yesterday the girls got out the face paints. One thing I've realized during this whole experience is how inclined I am to reject a project because it's messy. In Maryland we had a table that was perfect for projects...covered in marker and glitter glue -- an entire history of the girls various arts and crafts embedded in the wood. But in our California house we only have our dining room table. And carpet. Glitter and paint make me nervous. the spirit of play...I decided to throw caution to the wind. And we had fun. Kick made a sign with her various "designs" -- a skull and cross bones, a rainbow, etc... We took turns painting each others' faces and hands and arms. I was sad to see them disappear in the bath water last night.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Yoyo Mama

I bought the girls yoyos yesterday. I've never been very good at yoyoing, and it doesn't seem to be a skill that gets better with age.

So far nobody's lost an eye, but it's just a matter of time.

Tomorrow we're having a sleepover with the Anderson girls, and then the 8th Annual Princess and the Pea Party -- scaled down due to prevailing pre-vacation chaos. It should still be a lot of fun though.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Hiring: One Fairy House Contractor

Today Kick and I had a rare day together alone...and so we decided to start really building the fairy house. It is a work-in-progress, but I would live there. Seriously.

Check out the rooftop garden.

And yes, those are glow in the dark stars on the ceiling.

Monday, July 19, 2010

I will pay for this play tomorrow.

When was the last time you did a cartwheel in your living room...then somersaulted onto your loveseat? Would you believe me if I said today??

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Playing Catch-Up

Busy busy busy....

After Flagstaff, the girls and I went to Los Angeles where we MADE A MOVIE!! Thrill of all thrills. For a whole week we were surrounded by people who live in the land of make believe. It was a remarkable experience, and it was incredible to be behind the scenes for the first time. We were in LA for a whole week, spending three days on three different sets. The girls were amazing. They worked (played) so hard...and I truly believe that this experience will be unforgettable for all of us.

The most remarkable thing about the entire experience was how dedicated the entire crew and cast were to making the process a joy for the kids. Thanks to the lovely Kai (the director), the starlets felt as though they WERE the little girls in the movie...searching for fairies, unlocking the door to a fairy house, and swimming in a river. We are very, very lucky to know such tremendously talented and caring people. Thanks to Miranda, Kai, Elizabeth and everyone else involved.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Playless in San Diego

So the girls were gone for nine playing with grandparents and cousins and aunts. Patrick and I drove them out to Flagstaff and then returned to a very quiet and very clean house. It was quite a novelty -- for about three days. It was at that point that we were both pretty ready to have them back. This was the first time that sending the girls off was less of a vacation for us and more of a vacation for them. The stress and exhaustion of having babies and toddlers simply doesn't exist anymore. That is not to say we didn't enjoy having a whole week of grown-up time...the freedom to go out whenever and wherever we wanted to was, to say the least, GREAT. But we both found ourselves a bit restless, I think. Bored even, without the girls.

I went to pick them up two days ago. We went to a band concert at the park, and they played. And I hula-hooped with Esmee. I really, really missed playing with them.

Next week we'll be in LA all week making a movie...and the little starlets are soooo excited.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Wii are Family: Happy Father's Day!

I broke down. I did...I bought that sleek black Wii my husband and kids have been salivating over for months as a Father's Day gift. (And now that I'm thinking about it...I never said "no video games" in my rules for play. This counts!)

Watching Patrick and the girls bowl and wake board and golf together in the living room today also reminded me of the hours my dad used to spend with me at Videoville. When I was about eleven, my dad and I did two things together: long jumping and playing video games. He would take me to the high school track and hang out with me for hours as I ran up and down the pavement runway, flinging myself into the dirt pit. He'd bring his tape measure and track my progress. And he took me to Videoville...the little video arcade down the hill where he'd give me quarters all night long and we'd take turns playing Donkey Kong. Those were great times. I wasn't a teenager yet, but I wasn't a kid. And boy did I love hanging with my dad.

Happy Father's Day, Dad...and we can't wait to get you out here to play Wii golf :)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Pirate Envy

Today I brought Kicky to a girlfriend's house to play and then took Esmee and her girlfriend to a birthday party of one of their classmate's. The theme was "Pirates"...and the house was easy to find because of the 2-story PIRATE SHIP blow-up slidey, jumpy thingy in the front yard. This mother had gone all out. In addition to the treasure map invite, each child got a skull and crossbones bag filled with booty (an eye patch, a bandanna, a skull ring, pirate tattoos, etc...). They had pizza and pinatas (yes, plural -- a pirate and a parrot) as well as a plethora of drinks...including some XXX Jell-O shots for the grown-ups. The kids bounced and ate and the grown-ups bounced ate ate. Afterward, I picked up Kick (who had been slip-and-sliding all day with three of her girlfriends). We had more pizza for dinner as well as strawberry shortcake and now the girls are all curled up on the couch watching a movie before they plan to all squeeze into Esmee's bed.

It is days like these that remind me of the sheer bliss of summertime as a kid. Hanging with your friends, smelling like chlorine, eating pizza three times a day, and so many sunburned shoulders.
And to top it off, I looked at my daily epic To-Do list today and, for the first time in the entire history of me, every box was checked. I even turned down an editing job last week.

Summer, I love you.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Summertime and the Playing is Easy

The playing comes in fits and starts these days (not abandoned but certainly a bit neglected)...and I can't help but wonder if I've been negligent simply because I know summer is coming. It's really coming.

When I was a kid, there was nothing (and I mean nothing) like the end of the school year. It was dramatic...both rife with possibility and imbued with a tremendous sense of closure. (Kicky is clearly having mixed feelings about the end of 2nd grade...she actually cried when she received her final homework packet. I'm assuming she'll get over it.) Because I teach, summer has retained at least most of that original sparkle. I live for summer. I love summer. And somehow, this project has made me even more excited by the prospect of three whole months with no homework.

Here's our summer in a nutshell: School ends. Girls got to Flagstaff for a week (time for Patrick and me to play!). We make a movie in LA. Seriously...who gets to do this?? Then two weeks to spend going to the ocean every day. A cross-country road trip to DC (hoping for some fireflies while we're there). A night in NYC. Then four weeks in Vermont...literally into The Tulgey Wood. Then a road trip back with Summy (my mom)...just us four girls on the road. Frankly, I don't think there's going to be time for any work.

What are you doing this summer?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Origami, Legos, and Movie Making

We had another very playful weekend over the holiday, when Kai came back to visit. Kai is a filmmaker, and the girls are going to be in her next project. Having her with us has been like having another awesome kid around...a kid who NEVER tires of playing. While she was here, they made movies, spent hours folding little tiny pieces of paper into cranes and pegasuses (pegasi?) and planes. She brought the girls Legos...something we don't have in the Stewart Family Toy Box. It was incredible to me to see the concentration and focus both of them had for this. Kai is using play as an amazing tool to get the girls prepared to act in the film. I feel so lucky that the girls are going to get to be a part of such a terrific, creative endeavor.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Dogs v. Kids

Today a friend and I took our girls to OB after school...with their giant dog (the breed escapes me), Jake. OB's main draw for some people is the beach reserved for dogs at the north end of the neighborhood. As a non-dog owner, I haven't been to Dog Beach in years...even though it is really just on the other side of the jetty from People Beach.

Playing with the kids and the dogs today, it struck me suddenly that kids and dogs really are pretty much the same thing. They'll both approach any other kid/dog, no matter what shape or size, and try to make friends. (Though some are more prickly or reserved than others.) Arguments are usually fought out in a matter of seconds, and they're usually over some stupid toy. They are both fascinated by poop, and they rarely obey. Neither kids nor dogs leave the beach willingly, and, when they finally do, they both manage to fill the car with bucket loads of sand.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Finding Uranus (tee-hee-hee)

So the girls were in this Mad Science after-school program this year, and one (of many) goodies they got to bring home were these cardboard blocks with a quarter of a planet (or the sun) on each side.

The idea is to match them up and make Mars, Saturn, the Earth etc... Yesterday Esmee asked me to play with her, and (you'll be glad to know) I obliged. We actually had more fun mixing them up: The Smoon, Marturn, the Plun. Then we decided to hide them (like Easter eggs) and find them. It was a blast. "I found Uranus!" Luckily, the girls are young enough not to get Mommy's juvenile (not to mention tired) bathroom humor. Grow up, Mommy, right??

Thursday, May 20, 2010

I Don't Wanna Play!

Okay...this was bound to happen, and it pains me to admit it, but I seem to have fallen off the little red play wagon. For the last couple of days I have been terrible about making the time to play. I won't make excuses, because they'd all be lame. I'll simply say, I haven't been feeling very playful...due to lots of things, both in and out of my control.

This morning I volunteered in E's classroom. And there is a little boy who has been problematic all year who was in rare form this morning. He hates school, wails like an animal when his mother (angrily) drops him off, rattles the fence like a prisoner, and then proceeds to sulk and mope throughout the classroom, crawling under the desks and causing general mayhem. The teacher's patience is wearing thin. By the end of the morning, mine was gone. After I firmly asked that he stop disrupting the other children and sit down and cut and paste already, he looked at me like I was an idiot. He wasn't going to play by anybody's rules. Not his mother's, not the teacher's, and certainly not some lowly volunteer's. He was pissed about everything: the colored pencils, the snack bin, the other kids.

It took me all day to realize (and accept), that he and I are not so different. But I'm forty, not five, and so instead of crawling under a desk, I've been crawling into the safe quiet of my office. The house is a disaster, we are out of groceries, and the shirt Kicky needs to wear on her field trip tomorrow is filthy. I think I just had a mommy overload this week, and refusing to play has been my way of lashing out. Granted, it doesn't make it right, it just makes it make sense.

I owe the girls at least two or three hours. I promise I'll jump back on that Radio Flyer tomorrow.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Toys Post-Script

Just found this. We didn't get sugar cereal in our house. Ever. I would have killed for some Freakies. And wouldn't you know, those Freakies toys are collectibles now.


There are few things that I am as sentimental about as the toys I played with as a kid. Fortunately, I have parents who are equally nostalgic, and as a result, many of my toys have survived. They kept my Sunshine Family Dolls,

my Wizard of Oz Dolls,

the doll house my grandfather made, my favorite sock monkey, George, as well as my beloved Sasha doll.

I have such strong memories associated with each of these toys; I am practically transported back to my childhood simply by holding one of them. And for the lost toys, I have spent hours on ebay searching: for the Freakies Cereal plastic figurines I coveted, the Fisher price farm whose door moo-ed when you opened it, and for the "lemon twist" contraption I spun around my ankle in the summertime.

Ever since starting this project, I have begun to look at my girls' toys differently. For one thing, they LOVE the Littlest Pet Shop creatures. Until now, I have tolerated those bug-eyed bobble headed critters in the same way I suffer the Polly Pockets, the Cabbage Patch kids, and all of the assorted noisy accoutrements to their respective babyhoods. But yesterday, I sat down with the girls and played with the Littlest Pet Shop puppies and snails and frogs and, for the first time, I saw the allure. For one thing, they have tiny little things that belong to each of them: lemonade stands, and tiny houses, even a miniature dance floor replete with a disco ball. The girls have given them each a name and a personality. And it struck me yesterday, I would have LOVED these ridiculous little things as a kid.

I guess now I am responsible for insuring that they too survive the rigors of my kids' play...and wind up in their mailboxes thirty years from now, preserved and ready to elicit all sorts of sweet memories.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Home Sick with Flip

I don't get enough alone time with either one of the girls. They really are like flip-flops...they come in a pair. But the last two days Esmee was super sick with a bug, and so she stayed home with me. After I got over the fact that I would get no work done while she was here, I decided to take advantage of my Esmee time. We played Sorry, watched movies, and yesterday we made chocolate chip cookies. The coolest thing about spending time with the girls individually is getting to see what they are like alone. Just the Flip or the Flop. Esmee is very funny. She has an incredible sense of humor. She's also affectionate and smart. It's hard to see that when she is swallowed by the shadow that is Kicky.

However, the sweetest moment of the last two days had to be when, while licking the batter off the beater, Esmee said, "I wish Kicky was here. She'd like this."

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Painted Ladies on Stilts

I love the Ocean Beach Farmer's Market. And it seems like lately it's been drawing more and more "talent" in addition to the fabulous food and requisite beach freaks. Today there were at least five musicians playing various instruments, staggered in alternating shop doorways. There was also a man painted completely silver whose bucket said that if you paid him he'd dance...however, bucket empty, he was as still as the paralyzed Tin Man until Dorothy gave him some oil. My personal favorite was this white painted lady on stilts. Esmee didn't know she was real. She gave Kicky a beautiful rhinestone ribbon.

She looked a little like I imagine The Tooth Fairy might look...the same Tooth Fairy who had to visit TWICE this week already. (I'm starting to think Kicky is yanking her teeth out for the cash.)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mother's Day

When I was a little girl, my mother always, always took time to play with me. She made all of my clothes and toys (most of which she saved for me to share with my own children -- before I even had any plans to have children). She was the queen of craft projects and always let me use grown-up things like scissors and knitting needles and sewing machines. We used to sing in her pickup truck together at the tops of our lungs (sipping on Tab and eating Cheetos). She let me stir the batter and knead the dough and when I put on a show in the front yard, she always had a quarter for admission. I love you, Mom...and thank you for teaching me how to play.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Mamma Mia

I know I said that watching TV with the girls doesn't count as quality playtime, but I make the rules so I am allowed to break them, right?

Tonight Patrick had a gallery opening to go to, so after eating breakfast for dinner, the girls and I plopped ourselves down on the couch and started flipping through the channels. Both of them squealed with delight when I found "Mamma Mia." The first time we watched this together was last summer in Vermont with my mom. And we all fell in love. My mom wanted to be Meryl Streep. I wanted to be Meryl Streep. And seven year old Kicky could see herself in Sophie; declaring that someday she's going to live in Greece and have long hair just like hers. So tonight we watched it again, and we danced to all the Abba songs across the living room floor. And when this scene came on, I cried.

It was eight and a half years ago that I became a mom. And those years really have slipped through my fingers.

Hold on tight.

Happy Mother's Day.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


Sometimes the best thing about playing a game is learning something new about your kids. Esmee, acting as a kangaroo last night, hopped and then gently patted the head of something in her pouch. "That's my Joey," she said. Who knew she knew the name for a baby kangaroo?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Rockin' the Three-Legged Race

This project has really made me think hard about my tendencies and annoying quirks. Today I was forced to face another one. I am, and always have been, a wallflower. I would much rather observe than participate. At parties, I'm the one on the couch watching people and eavesdropping on conversations. At events, I am the photographer, the one on the sidelines. It's part shyness, part laziness, and part just-who-I-am. And so today, at our friends' three-year-old's birthday party my first instinct was to reach for my camera at the announcement of the three-legged race. But guess what? I am 100% committed to playing...even if it is absolutely contrary to my nature. And you know what? Kicky and I rocked! We won our heat by a full lap. I was exhausted at the end and am thinking maybe I need to exercise more...but it was great. I even tossed a water balloon later. And, I threw some crazy thing that looks like a cross between a football and a dart. Wow.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Warhol Meets Marie Curie

We've been busy here lately...but still trying to keep up the rigorous play schedule. Today was a day at the beach...buried Kick to her neck, and she's now filling the bathtub with about six pounds of sand she brought home in her bathing suit.

The other night I did something I hadn't done in awhile. Kicky had drawn a picture...titled "Science Lab"...and I offered to help know like one of Warhol's Factory workers. And it was great. I'd forgotten the sort of calm that comes with coloring...especially when you're just coloring inside someone else's lines. (Yes...I'm an inside-the-line kind of colorer -- surprise!) But look how amazing our collaboration wound up.

And news flash from the tub -- and I quote --- "We're playing a game called Destructive Meanings." I'm not even going to ask.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Meet Johnny

I think this play thing is becoming infectious.

Today my husband traded in his Ford Explorer for a Vespa the ones he used to ride in high school. I haven't seen a smile so big on his face in a long, long time. I think that in addition to the savings (gas, parking, the car note, insurance) and environmental benefits (90 MPG!!), this purchase will put him back in touch with his inner kid. It's hard being a be so serious all the time. But how can you take anything to seriously when you pull up to work on this??

And coincidentally, during our game of Apples to Apples tonight, the adjective was PROUD, and the winning pair for it was RIDING A SCOOTER.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Fuzzy Was He?

This is our first spring away from the east coast in five years, and I must admit I do miss it (a bit). Spring back east is always such a breezy sigh of relief -- the gray desolation of winter giving way FINALLY to all those green promises. And, my favorite part -- the arrival of the critters. Lady bugs, birds, squirrels, and caterpillars. In Maryland you can barely take three steps in April without having to step over a caterpillar making its slow way to munch on leaves. So it was much to my delight the other day when the girls discovered Fuzzy: a big fat black fuzzy caterpillar living among the tiki totem poles in out backyard. And not only did they manage to find Fuzzy but befriend him as well, because he came back the next day (despite the games they played with him -- luring him into the gaping mouth of a rubber alligator and then shaking him out, etc...). The sense of wonder that spring always brought in MD returned this weekend...despite the fact that it's been 70 and sunny for weeks now.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Happiest Place on Earth

I love surprises...not getting them so much, but giving them. This weekend, so far, has been filled with surprises. On Thursday after gymnastics, I told the girls I had to go downtown to pick something up. When we got to the airport, I said that some guy named Charles had some paperwork for me to get...but he wasn't off his plane yet. We circled a few times until "Charles" -- AKA Ceilidh, my sister, was waiting at the curb. So, an unexpected guest was the first surprise. Then, on Friday morning was the biggie. In the morning, we told the girls we were going to take KK (Ceilidh) out to breakfast before school. They love Urban Solace, our friends' restaurant, and so we said we'd head down to North Park for some French Toast...but we'd get them to school on time. Well, another hour and a half later as we approached Anaheim, they were both miserable....and hungry. And Kicky, nervous, made me call the school to tell them we'd be late. But when Esmee finally noticed the signs, it was all worth it.

The last time my sister and I went to Disney together was twenty years ago when I was in college, and she was about 14. The last time Patrick and I took the kids was when they were too little to remember anything. So this time, I was giddy with excitement. And we did everything (everything the girls weren't terrified of anyway). The Tiki Room, the Jungle Cruise, Alice's Adventures, the Finding Nemo submarine. We spent way too much money on lunch and KK treated to some extravagant gifts in the gift shop. It really was a magical day.

On the way home, Kicky kept asking questions about what our memories were about growing up together. Now, my sister is seven years younger than I am...which is great now, but when we were kids we didn't have much in common. My memories were of various ways she tortured me (especially on road trips). Her memories involved her wanting to play with me, and me wanting to sleep. Strangely, we didn't really play together until we were grown up.

When my girls were babies it was so hard...having them two years apart has been a challenge at many stages of their little lives. But now that they are older, it really is like always having a live-in friend. We don't have to have play dates, because they have each other. My sister and I are very close now...but it took many years for us to catch up to each other. And I know that closeness in age doesn't guarantee close friendships. But it's one hope that I have...that these girls will always want to play and when they're big.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Babies to Apples

In brief: brought the girls to play with the new baby. Baby ate, spat-up, slept, grimaced, cooed and, upon opening his eyes, looked utterly confused. Conclusion: babies really aren't very good at playing. And so after dinner we all convened around the Apples to Apples board and I WON. I won, I won, I won.

Tomorrow my sister arrives from Flagstaff...the girls have no idea she's coming. On Friday morning, we are going to pretend to bring them to school and, instead, take them to Disneyland. How ya like them apples???

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Flat Stanley

I really don't know if this counts as playing...but last night the girls and I read Flat Stanley together, each taking a turn reading the pages (which took nearly an hour). I know most people read to their kids...but now that the girls are older, we really don't so much anymore. They are both very independent readers who retreat to their rooms each night with a stack of books -- which they usually sleep with. We read side by side, and we read separately, but it's been a very long time since the three of us shared a book. (And man, do I love Flat Stanley. I have loved him since I was six years old. I remember trying, like his brother, to flatten myself. I wanted to get sent as a letter, flown like a kite.)

I think maybe this is why book clubs are so popular...reading a story together, the shared experience of a book, is something entirely different than reading alone. And then this morning, as Esmee clung backwards to the chain link fence around her school and said, "Look! I'm a picture hanging in a museum!" it was a shared joke...between the three of us. And Flat Stanley.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Big Day

A lot of excitement here today...and though not a traditional play was very playful. Some very exciting news (to be announced soon) came early along with a spectacular brunch at Urban Solace with Kai and her fabulous entourage. (The sticky bun appetizers were as big as our heads!!) Afterward, we came back home only to (finally) get the call that our amazing friends need us to watch their three year old so she can have a BABY!!!

Right now, the girls are playing "Troll Under the Bridge" with him, which involves a lot of running in circles and wrestling. Hoping for a decent bed time...and when he wakes up, he'll likely be a big brother.

I'm being beckoned by the troll....

Saturday, April 17, 2010


So these projects, these blog-jects (you know, cooking your way through Julia Child's French recipes, or taking a photograph of the back of your head every day, or, I don't know, making the time to play with your kids for an hour a day for a whole year) should, at some point, be revelatory, right...or otherwise what's the point? I mean, my main purpose is, as I have said, to give my children more of my undivided attention and also to really play with them while they are still young enough to want me to. But as with any creative project, shouldn't you also want to learn something? So far in this month of play I've had a few moments of inspiration, but not much by way of revelation...until tonight.

And tonight my revelation came from the most unlikely unexpected I'm almost embarrassed to even say it. Anyway, it's Saturday and Patrick is at a gallery opening and the girls are asleep and there's nothing on TV and I am generally restless and so earlier I turned to this movie called "Yes Man." I wandered in and out of the room, letting it be my background jibber-jabber that TV so often is, until this scene where Jim Carrey's character (who has decided to say YES to everything apparently) walks into a club and sees Zooey Deschanel's band -- Munchhausen Syndrome By Proxy playing). Now, I love Zooey Deschanel, I just do. And who could resist a band named after one of the creepiest mental illnesses ever (so creepy, in fact, I even wrote an entire novel about it). And suddenly I got sucked into the Carrey/Deschanel/"Yes Man" vortex. And then came the scene where they sneak into the Hollywood Bowl and are talking about how little it matters what you do with your life as long as it gives you true pleasure. The direct quote is, "The world is a playground.You know that when you are a kid but somewhere along the way, everyone forgets it.”

And it got me thinking. I'm not sure I have seen the world as a playground for a long time. I was kind of a serious kid. I didn't goof off in class. I rarely got into trouble. I actually remember there being moments when I was a teenager that I ached to be able to just let go, to be free-spirited like some of my friends. When my guy friends went through a streaking phase, it was excruciating...the agony of not ever being able to have that same delicious sense of abandon and adventure. (I was always the look-out...never the streaker.) Growing up was, in some ways, a huge relief. And as I watched this cheesy movie (which is paused right now so I can get back to it in a minute), I was struck with a vivid recollection of a road trip that I made about fifteen years ago with my husband and his sister from Seattle, where we had been living, to Flagstaff. I remember getting up to about 6,000 feet (where desert turns to mountains) and that my sister-in-law made us stop to car so she could get out and play in the snow. It was cold, we'd been driving forever, but my husband stopped and they got out and played. I remember sitting inside the truck, overwhelmed with a melancholy feeling, wishing for something I couldn't quite articulate.

Anyway. There it is: Revelation #1. In order for this project (blog-ject) to have some real meaning (for me as well as for the girls), I need to work on seeing the world as a playground and myself as someone who is allowed to play there. That's the hard part maybe. I don't know.

P.S. Tonight I actually did ballet with Kicky in the living room. I may not be able to walk tomorrow.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Happy Accidents

When Kai came last weekend, she brought this amazing fabric which can be used to make sun photo prints. You place objects on the fabric, expose it to direct sunlight, and then fix the image by submerging the fabric in water. Given the amazing sunlight this afternoon, we decided to give it another shot. But this time, instead of using objects (shells and bottle caps and earrings), we decided to use our hands. This one is Kicky's.

What I love about this process are the happy accidents -- the results of a twitch or unsteady hand. The product of Esmee interrupting the exposure as she twirled and cast her crazy shadows. Sally Mann talks about the beauty, even the necessity, of accidents in making her art. My which I kept very still (like a grown-up) is absolutely boring. It's a still, white hand. There is something to be learned from this I think -- about embracing flaws, allowing accidents to happen and enjoying the beauty of imperfection.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bleak Takes a Bath

Okay, so Thursdays are definitely going to prove to be a challenge. There simply isn't the time for leisurely play...but there is time (as well as a great need) for a bath. The girls still take a bath together, though all of those long legs and arms are starting to make it all a bit more complicated. Usually, I get their hair washed and then leave them to their play. But not tonight! Tonight I hung out.

Esmee decided to take the dragon from her Happy Meal (I told you Thursdays are rushed) and bring it in the tub with her. I said Why not? It's not like she wanted to bring The Sunshine Family in the tub. So she did. His name is BLEAK. That's right. When she plays "puppies," her name is always Demon. And now we've got a aquatic dragon named Bleak living with us.

Meet Bleak.

Kicky, I noticed prefers to make beards and mustaches out of the bubbles. She also pretends that the tub is a swimming pool and "swims" I know where all of the water on the floor comes from.

I think one thing I am learning is that the girls are almost always playing...they don't have to set time aside. They simply seize any moment, any opportunity at all. In the car or in the tub. In the bathroom when they're supposed to be brushing their teeth or in bed when they're supposed to be falling asleep. I wish I could live like that.

What about you? When was the last time you played in the tub?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Practical Peacocks

If you have small-ish children and you don't have the game Apples to Apples Junior, go buy it. Now. It is, hands down, the most fun game to play with small-ish kids. The game goes like this: everyone gets five cards that each has an object/activity/person/etc... on it. Then each player takes turns being the judge who draws a card from a pile that has adjectives on them. Each remaining player must select one card from their hand that best matches the adjective card and then the judge picks the winner. Whoever wins four cards wins the game.

For example, in our game tonight, the green card (adjective) was Practical. The chosen cards were, of course: Lego Blocks, Rice, and Peacocks. Yes. Peacocks. Esmee logic at its finest. (This is the same girl who once paired Rice with Exciting because "I LOVE rice.")

I love this game because it's really the only one at this age that the entire family can play together without going insane. (See the Scrabble post if you don't believe me.) It forces you to really examine how each person thinks...their own personal logic. And it gets ridiculous. Really ridiculous.

(As a side note I should also mention that this whole play thing has started to infiltrate my grown-up life as well. I was invited to compete in a Literary Death Match last night...reading for my LIFE. Those of you who are familiar with my habits know that I am not usually even conscious past ten o'clock, but last night I put on a pretty dressy, put a flower behind my ear, and stayed up way past my bedtime being silly grown-up style. And I must admit that I was really disappointed that I didn't get to participate in the final round which involved a rowdy bout of musical chairs.)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Brought to You by the Letter W

Esmee's kindergarten class has this great activity, where every week the children are given a letter of the alphabet and have to find an item beginning with that letter to share. They also have to provide three clues, and then their classmates guess what the object is. Sometimes parents will provide enough items for the entire class.

This week, the letter is W. And guess what Esmee brought home?

This novelty provided at least an hour of excitement -- for the whole family, until Esmee thought it might make an even louder explosion if she blew it up and stomped on it. Well, it exploded alright. Tears were shed. Emergency surgery was conducted. And the fart jokes, happily, resumed.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Playdate with Kai

This weekend was absolutely extra-ordinary in every sense of the word. Our beautiful friend, Kai, and her mom were here from New York...and Kai's mission was to play with the girls as much as possible in 48 hours. And she did. They played dress-up, make-believe, made sun photo prints, went to the beach, etc... etc.... etc... Needless to say, imposing homework on each of them tonight was excruciating.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Cat's Cradle

Our friend, Kai, a film maker, is here from NYC on movie business for the next week, but she's here all weekend just to play with us. Last night she brought gifts for the girls -- cat's cradle strings, tiny kaleidoscopes, and mini glow sticks for Echo (the fairy) -- which we figure will be good in the event of a fairy rave. We were up pretty late trying to remember how to do all the cat's cradle tricks...and it is amazing the muscle memory that exists when it comes to things like this. My hands were recollecting a game I'd long forgotten. I used to play cat's cradle with my grandmother. I'd forgotten that until last night. I don't remember her playing other games with me, but with cat's cradle, she knew all the tricks. And she was so patient. She would play and play and play.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Backseat Jokesters

So here was one of those days that I've been dreading...the day where we simply did not have an hour to play -- not a single hour that wasn't already spoken for by school, homework, gymnastics or dinner. However, what we did have was some good long stretches of riding in the car. Normally what this means is me navigating the streets while simultaneously making ridiculous threats to the feuding children in the backseat.

Not today. Today we had an extra kid, and so all those jokes that have grown old and stale suddenly got a second chance at life. No time to fight when you're pulling such classic pranks as:

What's your name? Tammy.
What color's the sky? Blue.
What does this mean (a finger gesturing upward): Up.

Tammy Blew Up!!!

Raucous laughter.

By the time they told this joke using everyone in the car's names at least three times, we were all laughing. It was ridiculous.

I guess the lesson for today is that play can be an attitude as well as an activity. And I am a safer driver when my kids are playing instead of trying to choke each other.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Today Esmee went with a friend to the Wild Animal Park after school, so I decided to take Kicky to Ocean Beach for the weekly farmer's market. I try to do this at least once a month or so, more when the weather is like it was today -- beautiful. We usually taste everything and buy nothing and wind up at the pizza place we've been going to since I was pregnant with her.

Today as we sat watching the people go by from our seats, it struck me that in OB, everyone plays. It was three o'clock in the afternoon, and the only people working were the ones inside the restaurants and shops (and even they didn't seem to be working too hard). Yet the streets were full. Folks were wearing their bathing suits and wetsuits; merchant's signs actually read No Shirt, No Shoes, No Problem here. One pretty twenty-something girl in a bright yellow dress was blowing bubbles into the streets from her spot on the patio.

One of the things that I loved about living in OB is that it is, itself, a bubble...floating happily above the rest of the world. It is glimmering and shimmering. How can you not be happy in a place where nobody ever grows up?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Sorry. A simple, two-syllable word.

Now that's something I could have used today as I battled endlessly with the evil, soulless, and incredibly stupid people working in Customer Service at G**C Mortgage Company. After cashing a year old check of ours -- inexplicably -- for the SECOND time, thus sucking the money out of our account like some crazy money-sucking vacuum, I think everything could possibly have been made right again with a simple apology (as well as a speedy refund). But not one. Not a single glimmer of contrition. Not a sliver of repentance or remorse. (And the refund is also suspect.)

It takes a strong person to own up to their mistakes. To take responsibility for the errors of their ways. I guess G**C Mortgage Company is basically just a big meany, a corporate sociopath (and I am sorry....but they really ruined my day) whose mama never taught it the etiquette of the apology.

Not my kids. They're going to know exactly what it means to make amends when you screw up. If I teach them anything it will be how to offer a sincere and heartfelt "sorry" when it's needed.

(Though Esmee, I must admit, quite unapologetically, beat the pants off of me and Kicky.)

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Sunshine Family

As a little girl, I never really liked Barbies. I think it was partly because the only Barbies I had were my mom's from the 50's. (As I mentioned earlier, the most fun I had with my barbie dolls was chucking them up onto the roof and watching them fall down.) But I did love my Sunshine Family dolls. Anybody remember those? They were kind of hippie Barbies...a mom, a dad, a grandpa, and a grandma. There was also a cat and a dog. There was also a tree house and a van and a craft store (though I didn't have either of these).

Well, today a care package arrived from my mom:

Somehow she managed to hold onto all of the family members as well as most of their clothes. I remember her making little granny dresses and peasant skirts for them. She even made a leather fringed jacket for the dad. Only the baby seems to have had a mishap with some super glue (hence the mohawk), but all the others have held up pretty well over the last three decades.

The girls were beside themselves. They couldn't believe that these were the very dolls I once loved and cared for. We played for a long time. The Sunshine Family went to Vermont and had a hunting party for the mom's 40th birthday. The went on nature walks and the grandpa got down in his funky pants to some music only we could hear.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Play Ball

Easter Sunday, and the last day of spring break...we spent the entire day playing. Egg hunt, jumping rope, barbecuing and general Stewart family backyard fun. But it was also the first day of baseball season and so we decided to play some music in honor of opening day:

Saturday, April 3, 2010

I'd Rather Dye

As Easter approaches, so too does the annual egg decorating event which, in the past, I have relegated to my husband (along with the annual pumpkin carving, Christmas tree lighting, and all other things either electrical or messy). But today, in the spirit, of play...I got my hands dirty too. (Though part of that was because I accidentally knocked over one of the little bowls of dye.)

Actually, one of my favorite holiday memories from growing up involves blowing out eggs. My mother (who sewed) would make the pin prick holes in either end of the egg with one of her long needles, and then she would entrust me with the task of blowing the insides out. I remember the incredible stretching of my cheeks until they ached -- and then the alarmingly satisfying moment when the viscous egg white had passed and the yolk made its way through. Here, we still hard boil. But I'm thinking that next year might be a good year to blow.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Don't Hate the Player, Hate the Game

One thing I failed to address in the rules was the idea of competition. Is it still playing if you're playing to win? I don't know. But today's Egg Drop sure was fun, and Esmee was in it to win it --see around 1:21. And the best part (on top of the trophy and all its associated bliss) was the good sportsmanship of her older sister whose egg unfortunately smashed to smithereens.

This weekend promises to be a play-filled weekend. Tonight we're decorating eggs. And Sunday is Easter. Patrick also just brought home the base for the fairy house as well as some serious looking power tools. Who would have thought I could drag him into this madness too??

Thursday, April 1, 2010

In the Tree Tops

A much better play day today...

After three months, I finally located all of the pieces of this wonderful tree house dollhouse and managed to reassemble it in Esmee's room (no small feat considering the directions -- and some of the hardware -- are long gone). There is nothing quite so wonderful as a forgotten toy.

My personal favorite part of the tree house is the telescope...Kicky thought it would be nice for looking at the glow-in-the-dark stars on Esmee's ceiling.

One thing I noticed in playing with the girls today is a dynamic I have long suspected but had not definitively confirmed: Kicky is bossy. Super bossy. With a capital B-O-S-S. She calls it compromising (she really said this), but what that really means is pushing her agenda until Esmee relents. Hard to play and not be a referee at the same time. But I tried, I really did.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Crabby Scrabble I'll admit it. After accompanying the girls on a 2 1/2 hour play date this afternoon, I really didn't feel much like playing. What I really felt like doing was getting on Facebook or reading a book, watching documentaries on demand on Netflix or painting my toenails (which really need painting, by the way). I even felt like working. Yikes. However. I made a promise. One hour a day. Every day. Even on days like these.

So I figured to ease the pain, I'd suggest my personal favorite game: Scrabble. My grandfather used to play Scrabble with me for hours and hours and hours. He never let me win, and his vo-scrab-ulary was impressive. However, did I mention the girls are 8 and 6? Do you know what Scrabble means when you are 8 and 6? Frustration. That's what it means...especially when you are six and your spelling is phonetic and you just don't get the concept of words building one upon the other. Especially when you are 8 and got to play Wii Archery and Bowling at your friends' house yesterday and now your stupid mother thinks it would be fun to SPELL??!! And especially when you are aforementioned mother trying to show two bored little girls how FUN wordplay can be.

Anyway...the game sort of fell apart after an hour. Take a look at the board and tell me if you wouldn't give up too.

AVIARY...that's mine (the blank tile being the "V"). GO, NO, and all other two letter words are also mine. (This actually ended up pretty much as a game of Scrabble against myself with the girls looking I tried to figure out what to do with everyone's letters.) And yes...EMO is mine too. I know, I know.

An interesting by-product of the game, however, was that it was a good opportunity to work on Kicky's math skills. She added up those miserable scores like a pro.

I think we should go back to making fairy houses tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Meet Echo

I should probably begin this post with a little bit of background info, to give all of this some context. For the last five years, we have had a fairy named Echo living in our attic. She made herself known not long after we moved into our house in Takoma Park, MD by returning confiscated toys accompanied by notes and gumdrops. Over the years, we have learned of her history (via notes and e-mails which come sporadically from a hotmail account). She lives with her mother (a garden fairy), but her father is dead. (He was, before his untimely passing, the attic fairy at The White House.) Echo is fourteen in human years and has wings like a monarch butterfly. She and her mother moved here to San Diego with us but are a bit cramped in our now very small crawl-space of an attic. So....the girls suggested we make her a proper house.

I miss our backyard in Takoma Park. When the girls first said they wanted to build a fairy house, I had visions of acorn bowls and pinecone trees. I thought about twigs and moss and leaves. But alas, our backyard Wonderland was one of the sacrifices we made when we left the east oak trees for palm trees and acorns for seashells. Time to improvise...and at least we have a Michael's close by. So today we got the framework for the inexpensive wooden box which we are painting and covering with Spanish moss. For the rooftop garden, we found a miniature gazebo (I think it was supposed to be a birdhouse) and some balsa wood picket fencing. We got some moss and paint and sparkly stuff. There's been talk of twinkling Christmas lights.

Side note: This whole play project has taken a turn for the If You Give a Mouse a Cookie lately...I'm not quite sure what's going to happen when the girls have to go back to school and I start my next round of classes/edits/etc... and these all day play sessions are no longer possible.

Monday, March 29, 2010

To the Lighthouse

"What is the meaning of life?... a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark."

-- Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

Today we went to the Point Loma Lighthouse at the Cabrillo National Monument. I didn't tell the girls where we were going, and I think listening to their speculations was almost as much fun as the trip itself. Disneyland? Chuck-E-Cheese? The candy store? Vermont? The dog pound to get a puppy? (Starting to see a theme here?) But the most surprising thing was that they were almost as thrilled by the lighthouse as they would have been by Chuck-E-Cheese. (Nevermind that I would almost rather kill myself than go to Chuck-E-Cheese.) And after a grueling scavenger hunt for answers to all things Cabrillo, they were sworn in as Junior Rangers, received badges and certificates, and we celebrated later over French Toast in Ocean Beach and a trip to their favorite candy store for Pop-Rocks and candy necklaces.

I think Woolf was right...the meaning of life, that great revelation, doesn't ever come to us except in small flashes. I love the idea of the "daily miracle," "the match struck unexpectedly in the dark." Today's flickers: a spiral staircase that looked like Alice's rabbit hole (according to Esmee), Kicky's first experience with Pop-Rocks, and my two little Junior Rangers swearing to protect their National Parks so that other children can enjoy them in the future.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Day at the Beach

So here we are...Day One! And there couldn't have been a better day to start. For one thing, it was one of those days that San Diego is famous for...75 degrees, not a cloud in the sky (in March!!). The girls also just started spring break (as did everyone else, it seems, judging by the crowds at the beach), so it didn't feel like a real Sunday at all. And they were also so excited to "do that play thing you keep talking about, Mommy."

But I'll tell you, this is not going to be as easy as it might seem. I am really, really rusty at this "play thing." And I had to admit to myself today, as much as it makes me feel ashamed, that I have become a lazy mom. Really, seriously lazy. All my play muscles have atrophied. It's so much easier to sit in the sun with a hard lemonade reading Entertainment Weekly, isn't it?

But I was determined, so, when we made sand castles, I just decided to take their lead. No...this is the White Queen's Castle, not the Red Queen! She's over there. And don't knock it over! There are baby Jabberwockies in there. That's where they sleep. And, it really was so nice to just slip into that place...that amazing place I'd forgotten about. Salt water moats and seaweed flags and sleeping baby Jabberwockies. But even nicer was how happy they were that I was not oblivious. That I was right there with them. (In the vein of full disclosure, I did end the day with a borrowed copy of US Magazine, though sadly no hard lemonade.)

I have no idea what tomorrow will bring...but I am ready.

Post-script: The castle was later destroyed by THE BIG BAD GUY, my girlfriend's three year old.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Giveaway Winner

Thanks to everyone who submitted their stories; they were truly wonderful. This is the reason I am doing this: so that one day my own daughters might have such tender recollections about their childhoods. But the prize goes to could I resist an enchanting place like Turtle Hollow -- a place where even grown-up sisters can still seek and find magic and comfort?

And now the final countdown begins. Tomorrow is the kick-off to a year of make-believe.

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1....Ready or not, here I come!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Re-play: Giveaway!

Until I was nine years old, I lived in Concord, Vermont (population about 1000). We had a black and white TV and no cable. There was one general store in town, a small post office, a library and a K-12 school. My sister was a baby then (so not such a great playmate), but I had neighbors who had two daughters who were around my age. We used to act out episodes of "Love Boat" and "Charlie's Angels" and "Fantasy Island" (all shows I'm pretty sure were on past my bedtime). We also pretended we were married to the Osmond brothers or that we lived in a little house on the prairie. My neighbors had a rambling old house, and the upstairs was where we played store, beauty salon, restaurant, and taxes (yes, taxes...their mother did people's taxes). In the summer we brought my portable record player outside and put on shows for our parents. I remember the albums all got warped in the sun. We also lived near the railroad tracks and a quiet river. We spent every day, all day playing outside. We rode our bikes for miles and miles and threw Barbies up on the roof only to watch them fall down again. We didn't have organized sports, piano lessons, or Wii. And it was great. These were some of the best years of my entire life.

Me, at seven.

Here is your chance to share your favorite memories of playing as a kid. Post your favorite playtime recollection in the Comments area below by midnight Friday night (3/26). And make sure you include your e-mail address. I'll pick my favorite, and the winner gets a signed copy of my novel, The Hungry Season.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Playing by the Rules

I am a rule follower. Anyone who knows me knows this. Therefore, I would be remiss if I didn't establish some ground rules for this project before its commencement. (And you've got to admit that there's something to be said for playing fair, right?)

I think the first thing to do is to really define what it actually means to's all fine and good and easy to say I plan to play with my children for an hour a day, but what does that really mean?

The dictionary definition of play that suits my purposes best is "recreational activity; especially: the spontaneous activity of children."

Rule #1:
Each activity should be spontaneous and dictated by the children.


Professor Peter Gray of Boston College also suggests that "Play is activity in which means are more valued than ends. "

Rule #2
Avoid goal oriented activities. Play for the sake of the playing.
(Except, of course in the event of playing a game, when structure and goals are necessary.)

(Playing Uncle Wiggly with Grammy.)

Gray also claims that "Play involves an active, alert, but non-stressed frame of mind."

Rule #3
Do not be distracted by the stresses of work/life while playing.
(Easier said than done, I suspect.)

Musician and author Stephen Nachmanovitch says, "Improvisation, composition, writing, painting, theater, invention, all creative acts are forms of play, the starting place of creativity in the human growth cycle, and one of the great primal life functions."

Rule #4
Play may include any creative activity, though again, these activities will be chosen by the children and will not be goal-oriented.

Of course, I suspect there will be days that the imagination fails, that play doesn't come easily, and for those days, I will opt for Mark Twain's definition (which is slightly loosey-goosier): “Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do. Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”

Rule #5 As long as we're not required to do it, and we're doing it together, we'll consider it play. (Except watching TV. That doesn't count.)

Lastly, there are inevitably going to be days when the girls and I are not together (visits to grandparents, sleepovers at friends' house, etc...) On those days, playing together will not be an option...but I will use that hour to think of new games, ideas, projects for future play times.

Phew. It feels good to have some rules, doesn't it? ;)