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

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? ;)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Need to Play

“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.” -- Carl Jung

I love Jung's notion that "the play instinct" arises from an "inner necessity": that playing is a need as vital as food, water, shelter. But I also really love the idea that play and creativity are complicit. That the intellect has nothing to do with invention.

Every creative impulse I have today I can directly attribute to my parents' encouragement of imaginative play when I was growing up. I remember writing my first "novel" when I was nine years old. My father was the one who dragged the clunky old electric typewriter out of the closet for me, plugged it in, and gave me paper. I wonder if I would have become a writer if he hadn't let me sit there banging out words on that typewriter instead of studying flashcards.

I make my children sit down every day after school and do their homework. I am the overseer of the homework packet, the iron fist of cut-n-paste. But if my husband and I expect to raise children who make and appreciate art, isn't it our responsibility to emphasize the value of their imaginations as well as the value of phonics and multiplication tables?

Monday, March 22, 2010


Lately, my daughters (now 6 and 8), don't need me to entertain them anymore. They are quite content to play together (with all the requisite squabbling) for hours on end. It's easy for me to find myself for long stretches at the computer or in the kitchen or folding the seemingly endless piles of laundry spit forth by our dryer, emerging from a haze only to discover that it's already dusk, bedtime for the girls, and realize that I have barely seen them all day. And I just know that one day soon I'm going to look up only to see two teenagers staring back at me. Scowling.

When they were littler, I was a hands-on mom. I was always with them drawing with sidewalk chalk on the pavement, capturing fireflies, assembling various costumes for various productions in our basement playroom. But now that they are in school full-time with busy little lives, we really don't play anymore. I miss it. And I miss them.

(By the way, this is them and over there, on the sidebar, is me.)

I am a novelist. Playing make believe is my racket. My livelihood. How could it happen that I stopped playing with my own children?

When I was a little girl, I used to spend my summers playing in the tree house that my grandfather built in the woods next to our camp in Vermont. Over the years it's gone through a lot of renovations: a new deck, a new front wall, and a gate added to the entrance to the forest. At some point my grandfather, an avid Lewis Carroll fan, started to call this area the Tulgey Wood. (The trees there are not the birches and maples they appear to be, but rather Tum-Tum trees.) He joined my sister and me in the tree house, we played Scrabble and chess, we played croquet.

My grandfather passed away seven years ago, but my own daughters now get to spend their summers in this magical place. When I am there with them, it is like a return to my own childhood. But that only happens for a month in the summer. What about the rest of the year? Recently, I started to wonder what would happen if I made an effort to play. To go into the Tulgey Wood every single day?

The gate to Tulgey Wood.

This is where the blog comes in. I intend for the next year (from March 28, 2010 thru March 28, 2011 -- March 28th being my grandfather's birthday) to spend one hour a day playing with my kids. I mean really playing. Not watching, not supervising, but playing. And I also plan to write about it here. With pictures. A year long play-date with Mom.

Anybody else wanna play?