Playing with My Kids: Coming Together over "Tea" and "Soup"
Until we moved, we regularly attended synagogue on Saturdays at our local Chabad house. When we moved, one of our many tasks was to find a new place to go on Saturdays, so this weekend, we visited one of the Chabad houses within a reasonable distance of our somewhat isolated new home.
This particular Chabad house has their services and offices located on the first floor of a commercial office building. They showed me and my kids to a room where they could play while my husband joined the prayer service. They said usually other kids start coming a bit later. I didn't want to leave my kids alone there without supervision, so I hung around with them while they built with Mega Blocks and Duplos.
The thing about Saturdays is, it's the one day a week that my phone is not in or near my hand. Because it's Shabbat, the day of rest, the use of electricity, telephones, televisions, etc., is customarily avoided. We are not particularly strict about the laws of Shabbat at home, but when in synagogue, out of respect for the day and the people around us, we leave all of that in the car and assume the sacred space of Shabbat.
This meant that, for a while, I was extremely bored and found myself reading a copy of "Mrs. Piggle Wiggle" that someone had left lying open on the couch just outside the room where my kids were playing. After some time, I wandered in to the room to see what they were up to, and I found my almost two-year-old son, G, playing with a plastic tea set, pretending to pour coffee into a mug. He "drank" some of the coffee, then offered some to me. I sat down with him at the table. Soon, my 4.5-year-old son S joined us and started making "soup" in one of the plastic bowls. Then the 6.5-year-old, N, came to see what we were doing. S told us he was making soup and then pretended to pour coffee and tea into the "soup" bowl. N and I said, "Ewww!" and asked what kind of soup it was before the coffee and tea were added. S informed us it was "tuna soup." "Eww!" we said again. We then took turns coming up with the weirdest and yuckiest-sounding soup recipes we could think of. Adding chocolate syrup to almost any savory soup seemed to be the "ew" factor of choice.
The wife of the rabbi appeared with her daughters, greeted us, and told N she might have some Lego around if he wanted. She couldn't find the Lego, but she did find more pieces to the tea set and some toy pots and pans with which we could continue to make soup. G was delighted to find another spoon and a fork to go with the one spoon we had uncovered at first. We spent quite a while making crazy soup concoctions and pretending to eat and drink.
Normally, when I do get down on the floor (figuratively or literally) to play with my kids, I get bored pretty fast. I've learned I'm not alone in this - some have a greater tolerance for the repetition and simplicity of toddler games than others. My style is usually to be nearby but watching, rather than participating in, the play. My three are pretty good at playing together and finding things to do, but an almost-seven-year-old doesn't always want to do the same things as an almost-two-year-old, and that's perfectly reasonable. But for those few minutes, drinking pretend tea and fake, unappetizing soup, all four of us were engaged. No one asked to play with my phone. Facebook notifications didn't call to me for attention. No screens came between us and our silly game. It was just me and my boys.
When you take away all the other possibilities, all the other things you "could" be doing right now - whether it's paid work, house work, or Candy Crush (er...yes, guilty on all counts) - a simple pretend tea party brings the whole family to the table.