When my first son was little, I played with toys. I’d sit on the floor next to him and make the Little People talk to each other. They went to the doctor. They went to school. They ate family dinners together. I was always better at doing concrete things like building with blocks or playing board games, but I at least attempted to use my imagination.
When my second son came along, he liked the concrete things that I did, like puzzles and Go Fish and Memory. Things that didn’t require me to act like someone I wasn’t. And, when he did want to be a Power Ranger or Spiderman, he had his big brother to act out the scenes with him. I was off the hook.
Then came this little girl who loves to pretend. She wants to be a puppy, so she gets on her hands and knees and barks for treats. She gets the tiniest little Mickey Mouse figurines and makes them have a dance party. She plays with Polly Pockets in her dollhouse, where there’s a birthday party every day. It’s so cute and I love it. Until she asks me, “Who do you wanna be, Mom?”
And inside, I groan.
Because in these past 11 years as a mom, I feel like my ability to be creative has diminished. I have so many other things on my mind — did I sign the kids’ planners, did I pay for baseball, did I register for soccer, did I pick up Rodney’s pants from the dry cleaners — that I can no longer pretend to be something else.
And then last night, an astonishing realization came to me. I’d spent half an hour making dinner, thinking we’d all sit down together and talk about our days. I called everyone to the table, dished up their plates, and poured their drinks. By the time I had finally filled my own plate and turned around to eat, everyone was finished. Gone. And I pretended it didn’t bother me.
I do know how to pretend. I am the master at pretending. I do it every. Single. Day.
I pretend to really care about the 2,300 things my daughter tells me before we even have breakfast. And that I truly love every single one of her beautiful scribbly pictures. I nod and say “Cool” over and over and over again.
I pretend that I think the stupid video that my son shows me on Instagram of a horse brushing his teeth is sooo funny because it makes him laugh.
I pretend that I am TRULY concerned when my kids stub their toes and have to have a Band-Aid even though there’s no blood.
I pretend that I’m not a little happy when one of my children doesn’t feel good, because it’s a good excuse to sit next to them on the couch all day long.
I pretend that there’s not anything I want to watch on TV — that the same episode of Clifford over and over again is what I want to see too.
I pretend that I have to go to the bathroom just so I can sit on the toilet for five minutes in silence.
I pretend that it doesn’t bother me when someone in my house ate the last yogurt that I had planned on having when I finally sat down at the end of the day.
I pretend that I’m not actually kicking the coach’s ass in my head when he yells at my kid on the field. I even smile and say “Good game” afterward.
I pretend to not know what the other mom said about me to someone else. Instead I keep talking to her and even give her a hug.
I pretend to pay attention to the friend who stops by, when I’m actually glancing around my house in embarrassment at the grossness.
I pretend that I’m not envying the working mom in her nicely put-together outfit, expensive hairstyle and makeup while I dig through my drawers to find a pair of unstained sweats. I sometimes even imagine what it would be like to stow away in her briefcase and go to work with her.
On many occasions, I pretend that my head doesn’t hurt or my back doesn’t ache, because there is no time as a mom to stop and feel sorry for myself.
Maybe I can use those skills – with a little adjustment – when it comes time to be the Polly Pocket mom. Maybe her family will all stay seated until she’s ready to eat with them. Maybe she can watch as much HGTV as she wants. Maybe she will tell the other mom how she really feels. Maybe she’ll be okay with her house being a mess. Maybe she can have the last yogurt. Maybe she’ll lay on the beach, or write her first book and have a big exciting celebration.
Maybe when I’m the Polly Pocket mom, it will be all about me.