Tag Archives: playtime

Imaginative play

Mabel is really good at playing. She has a gift, I would even say, for play. Solo play, by herself, with just her imagination and all the toys at once. On the floor. Together. All the furniture out of the dollhouse. All the doll clothes out of their tub, which is overturned so that the dinosaurs can stand on it while they’re lined up for school and so the clothes can become a nice soft beautifully laid out bed for a family of stuffed bunnies (who adopted a platypus).

Scene in the dollhouse

All the other stuffed animals are ranged across the floor because she was looking for Poby the red panda she got at the zoo and he was at the bottom of the basket. All the babies are on the carpet because their container is now a hutch, on its side and covered by the big fleece red blanket that belongs on her bed, for the red panda and his associates. There are acorns strewn around because they were snacks for tigers or squirrels or tiny beavers.

Toy beavers

Four three-inch-square blankets I knitted with my own two needles for the family of tiny rabbits (or beavers or owls), not being used for their original purpose but for something else understood only by their ruler. Plastic babies wrapped in baby blankets that once held my real babies. Teddies dressed in doll clothes; horses dressed in bunny clothes, turtles in hats. Markers and crayons and sheets of coloured paper and bits of yarn cut up and taped together and stuck to other bits of yarn.

Dollhouse scene

She’s like a very messy omnipotent being, and her realm is vast and ever-expanding.

Tonight I picked everything up for the first time in days. I put little people into one tub and little plastic animals into another and big animals in another and stuffed animals in their laundry baskets and babies in their baby baskets and furniture in the dollhouse and blankets in bedrooms. I put all the tiny bits of lego on the shelf and the acorns in the trash.

I’ll probably be in big trouble with the omnipotent being tomorrow, but for tonight, the wide open expanse of floor space is worth it.





Sometimes your children surprise you.

Fine, we all know that. The “I thought you were past the biting phase” surprise, the “Hasn’t unrolling the toilet paper lost its thrill yet?” surprise, the “I swear you know to look both ways” surprise.

But sometimes, I mean, they surprise you in a good way.

The other night Dash lingered over his homework, as usual, choosing to watch TV before dinner and not get down to working till after dinner, as usual, and was angry when it was 7.30 by the time he was finished and I said there was no time for playing outside. All the other kids had gone in and it was getting dark. He went out anyway, followed, of course, by his sister.

He had put on his helmet, because he’s very responsible, and was riding his scooter. As he hadn’t had any outdoor time at all, and the weather was nice, and we’re still getting used to this daylight after dinnertime concept, and – crucially – I was doing bedtime alone, I let it go and said they could have five minutes.

Five stretched to fifteen and it was definitely getting dark. I tried shouting a bit, but nobody ever hears my shouts. Apparently I have a very soft voice. It doesn’t help lend me any sort of air of authority. After a few minutes Mabel agreed to call it a day, but Dash was still whizzing by me infuriatingly. I took Mabel inside, calculating that one out of two was a win and he’d probably come in soon.

He did. I tried to impress upon him, again, as usual, that while I want him to have outside time and I want him to play and I like when he gets fresh air, he also has to do his homework and has to do his reading, and the time for playing needs to come out of TV time rather than work time.

The surprising thing was that he listened. I could see him thinking about it. He came back to me a little later and got me to clarify what I’d said to make sure he understood it. Then he announced that he was going to get dressed early in the morning so he could play outside before school, and that he was going to do his homework as soon as he gets home instead of watching TV so he could play after that, when the other kids are out and before it gets dark.

For the last two days, that’s what he’s done.

I’m under no illusions that this will last forever. But it was a quicker turnaround of disobedience > talk > understanding > good action than I’ve ever seen before. It’s as if it’s a sign of maturity or something.



Conversations with Mabel

Me: What’s going on with the soap, Mabel? Why is it all over the sink? Is there a problem with it?
Her: The problem is that you had me at the exact wrong time.
Me: Oh. Really.
Her: Yes. If you’d had me when you had Dash, I’d be 18 by now.
Me: No, you’d be seven.
Her: Well if you had me when you were born, I’d be 18 by now. 


Mabel: I hope Santa knows that I want infinity toys and things I like for Christmas.
Me, prosaically: Hope so. 


Monologue while playing: 

“Sweetie, how could you have done that? You’re just a horse.
Oh, there’s the phone.
You’re a sapling, just a sprout.” [This is a line from a song in Tangled, I belatedly realised.]
“The next morning, she said …”
“Neigh neigh neigh neigh neigh
Neigh neigh neigh neigh neigh neigh neigh
Neigh neigh neigh”
“Sweetie, you’re going in time out, but I love you. It’s dangerous. Think about it. If you did that, you would drown. And you’d never come back to life.”
Sings: “I would never/ Do that ag-ainnn”
[This must be a musical.]


– You have to do what I want.
– Why?
– Because I’m the smallest and I complain more.


“On the contrary” (repeated, out of context, all afternoon)


– Why is Christmas so important, anyway?
– Well, because it’s remembering when baby Jesus was born. He was pretty important to a lot of people.
– Why don’t we remember when Heracles was born?
– …
He was half god.

I knew that Greek mythology would come back to haunt me.

Mabel painting on the deck

Baby update

The babies have been earning their keep lately, you’ll be pleased to hear.

Dolls on a sofa

They’ve been going to school.

Babies with "Great" stickers

Some of them are exemplary students.

Doll with A+ sticker

And they all have their names on flashcards.

Flashcards with "names" written by a four-year-old.
After a hard morning’s learning, it’s time for a snack and some TV.
Babies on the sofa, 4-year-old at table with apple and yogurt.


I needed a storage solution for all the stuffed toys. Mabel has amassed a large number of stuffed toys, because she likes to put families together. This means that one stuffed dog/horse/cheetah is not enough: the more the better, but at least three or four so there can be a mommy, a daddy, a little sister and a big brother. Aw.

So the stuffed toys were growing out of the red box we had them in and proliferating all over the already laden shelves.

Toys overflowing from storage boxes

On a trip to Ikea I spotted the perfect thing: light, flexible, see-through, inexpensive laundry baskets. We got one for the playroom and one for Mabel’s bedroom, but after the one upstairs migrated downstairs several days in a row, I’m putting up with just having both of them down here all the time.

Isn’t that great? Don’t you think you too should use an Ikea laundry basket as stuffed toy storage?

Stuffed toys in laundry basket

Because then your children can chuck the stuffed toys all over the room and pretend they’re caterpillars turning into butterflies.

Children in laundry baskets
(This is curiously reminiscent of the bottom picture here. They’re a little bigger now.)

Happy families

Mabel is something of a girly girl, with her pink and her tutus and her babies, but she still likes to stick it to the patriarchy.

Ever since she was first talking – and she talked early and often – she has insisted that her toys are almost always “she”s. I’d take a small plastic kangaroo, or a plush puppy, or whatever the item of the moment was, out of her hands to help her out of her carseat and say “Here, give him to me,” and she’d always answer, exasperated, “It’s a her!”

Some children mix their pronouns until quite late on, but Mabel was always quite certain that most of her toys were of the female persuasion. It’s a convention of our language to use the masculine as a neutral, so I might ask her “What’s he doing?” about a clearly genderless rubber frog, perhaps. But Mabel didn’t get that particular lingustic memo, and as far as she’s concerned, everything defaults to female. More power to her, I say.


She always plays families with whatever is to hand: given one large and one small dinosaur, one is instantly the mommy and one the little girl. Given four, there will also be a daddy and a brother, or maybe two mommies and a little sister. (If one is actually a pony, that’s okay: it was adopted.) A box of crayons is just as likely to be sorted into a bunch of rainbow relatives as to be used for their given purpose. Wrenches, nails, pebbles, leaves, french fries: they’ve all been turned into family members by my daughter.

The extended crayon family

Dash has a half-size skateboard that we found at the thrift store a while ago. Last week I caught Mabel running across the road with it to reunite it with its mommy, the full-size skateboard at our neighbours’ house.

Right now she’s outside putting together a family of scooters belonging to all the kids on the street. 

At IKEA, reuniting all the mommies and babies
I promise you she hasn’t experienced any deeply sublimated family-separation trauma in her young life – but you’d be forgiven for thinking that she had.

Junior midwifery

Dash is anti-marriage these days. He doesn’t mind it for other people, and agrees that men and women should be allowed marry whomever they love, but feels it’s not for him. So he won’t play marrying with Mabel any more, but she’s managed to get around that, thanks to the Mr Rogers episode on d-i-v-o-r-c-e that she saw last week. “Let’s play babies,” she tells her brother. “We don’t have to be married. We can be divorced, except you still live here and we have a baby.”

Mabel loves to hear the story of when she was born. Or the story of when Dash was born. She particularly relishes the part about my waters breaking (first sign of labor, both times) and also how everyone I called in the early moments of my first labor had their phones turned off. (True story.)

We have a book called the Usborne Book of Knowledge, but neither of the children are remotely interested in learning about birds, or vehicles, or any of the sections other than the one on the human body. Mabel likes the page about how our bodies fight germs, and how bones fit together, but mostly she likes the two that detail how a baby is made and how a baby grows and is born. Lately she’s been drawing babies in circles and telling me, “That’s the bag of waters.”

Then we have the first-aid book, which is a proper grown-up book that has somehow made its way onto the kids’ bookshelf. Mabel likes to leaf through that and ask me what’s wrong with all the people, or what might have happened to them if I don’t know. There’s a picture in there of a birth, just in case as a first-aider you come across some poor woman in the last stages of labor and need to do more than just boil water and find towels. It exhorts you not to pull on the head of the baby as it emerges. Good advice.

Yesterday I was complicit in a game of babies that was going on around me. Every few minutes a baby would be placed up my sweater, and then pulled out with a flourish.

“Oh, I can feel it starting to come down,” I’d say.
“Push, push,” they’d tell me, delighted.
“I can see the head,” crowed Mabel.
“Twist it so it comes out,” advised Dr. Dash.
“No, don’t twist it,” I said, concerned for my child’s welfare.
“It’s a girl! Congratulations!”
“Yayy! I always wanted a baby sister!”

Five minutes later I was safely delivered of two more babies in quick succession. Easiest pregnancies ever, I have to say.


Sometimes I don’t know why we bother with toys. I know it’s just another riff on the baby-loves-boxes theme, but this is what I found Mabel playing with this afternoon, after she’d raided the kitchen for implements.

And then I asked her to clean up a mess and she found the cutest little family of sweeping brushes.

Three different-sized sweeping brushes

Then again, maybe it’s because all the babies were napping.

Baby doll lying down

Three small dolls in "bed"