Recently I went to a library story time with my two youngest kids. The parents sat in a semicircle of chairs behind the children, who were cross-legged on the floor.
All went well through the first few songs . The kids were cute. The parents smiled at each other over their antics. At one point, William lifted his shirt and loudly announced that, like the kid in the book, he also has “pimples” (nipples). We chuckled in unison. All was endearing.
“Okay,” the librarian said, “Now it’s time to shake out the sillies!” Our little ones jumped to their feet and started wiggling.
“You too, moms!” the librarian exclaimed.
A few women jumped to their feet. Several others slowly rose. Still seated, the mom next to me and I glanced at each other with expressions that clearly said “Wait—she doesn’t mean US, does she?”
I wish I could say that this story ends with me realizing just how fun it was to let loose. How, along with my toddler I shook out my sillies with abandon, and vowed that, going forward, I would learn to lighten up and embrace my inner child. But that would be a lie.
Taking stock of my “sillies” inventory, I found none in need of shaking out. I considered saying something sarcastic like “Sorry, I’m fresh out of sillies today,” but not wanting to be rude, I reluctantly rose. But I completely phoned in the performance, half-heartedly wiggling my hands and shuffling my feet.
Even my inner child was embarrassed.
Now, I consider myself a pretty fun parent. I make up outlandish stories to amuse my kids with. I’ll sing a round of “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” or “Old MacDonald” any old time. I’ve even been known to dance around the living room with them…when nobody else is watching.
But I draw the line at public acts of silliness. And you know what? I’m okay with that. Not every adult is cut out for letting loose at storytime. It doesn’t make us bad parents, but when the peer pressure’s running high, it can take a while to get past the feeling that we “should” be acting a certain way with our kids. That is, engaging in all of their activities with unbridled enthusiasm, just as though we were toddlers ourselves.
The experience reminded me of the angst I used to feel about my reluctance to get down on the floor with my kids and play “pretend” with them, pushing their little cars around on imaginary tracks, making up voices and plotlines for their action figures. I tried, and I was horrible at it. I couldn’t come up with a good action figure dialogue to save my life. I couldn’t even smash cars together right: when my two oldest sons were little and I would try to participate in their favorite Matchbox car game, which I called “fiery crash of death,” they’d correct me over and over: “No, mom, not like THAT!”
In fact, when I used to try to get involved with my kids’ imaginative play I often got the feeling they’d rather I didn’t. They tolerated me, but there was much sighing and correcting of my methods. So I stopped…and to my amazement, none of them ever said “Mom, will you play Spider-man with me?” They knew I stunk at it, too. And as it turned out, they neither wanted nor needed me to infiltrate their imaginary world of play, so I stopped feeling guilty.
They also didn’t need me, during storytime, to shake out my sillies along with them. They were doing just fine on their own. I went through the motions for the librarian’s sake, but why should I feel bad about my lack of enthusiasm? After all, I’m an adult, not a kid, and my boys know it. I bandage boo-boos, help with homework, read to them, cook their meals, give them hugs and lots of love. But I am not one of them. Playing with Transformers or dancing around to “The Wheels On The Bus” no longer feels natural.
I guess I’ve become a boring old grown-up, but you know what? That’s okay by me. Every family does things differently, but in ours, we have clearly-defined roles that work for us.
Them: silly and wiggly, dancing around and making up new worlds on the floor. Me: amused and encouraging from my seat.
And happy that way.
featured image: Baltimore County Public Library, via Flickr Creative Commons