The Day My Kids Stopped Playing-Wisdom from Einstein

Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better. – Albert Einstein

Logic will get you from A to B, imagination will take you everywhere. – Albert Einstein



Friends, Have you ever had a fire in you that died out? How do you lose that which once seemed inseparable from who you are?

Just as I did not know, going into this, that publishing a book would require me to become some kind of social media maharishi, I did not plan for this site to become quite so personal. Yet invariably, a person in the position of "selling oneself," is forced to take inventory of one's wares.  

In another life, I was a granola mom; a Waldorf mom; a homemade mayonnaise mom; a "my kids will never be mindless screen addicts..." well, you get the idea. That's also when I began writing my children's books.

Then, following some events which shall not be here delineated, as a mom of 2, I entered the desolate world of single parenting.

Along came Daviekins (I love to make my teens gag!). Tall. GORGEOUS. Sings like Mandy Patinkin. Sings SHOWTUNES. TO ME. Fiercely intelligent. Self-evident honesty and LOYALTY more attractive to me than any pretense at lofty ideals.  I swooned. He'd lost his incredible, angelic wife to cancer a year prior. SIX KIDS.

There was nothing for it but to jump in with both feet.  Being big fans of kids, and even bigger fans of each other, along came 3 more in 3 years. I declare, here and now that I love and adore this tribe down to my bones, and would never change places with anyone. Yet...

I was out of my depth. The sheer volume of laundry was mind-altering. Keeping the house clean was an impracticable absurdity. I was a "hot mess". And my dear ones had a burden of grief. I tried to be present when each crisis erupted. Children continued to take refuge in the hand-held devices which had also held their world back from crumbling.  Complete restriction was unthinkable, and systemic limitation was spotty and difficult to manage.

Our bunch of kids was incredibly smart, amazingly talented, and unquestioningly attached to screens. It was imbued in our family culture. TBH, it still is. 

My two year old was bright-eyed, verbal and precocious. As I drove one morning, listening to Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point on audiobook, with its examination of the superior developmental appropriateness of Blue's Clues, I thought perhaps that my two year old could get something out of it, and I could have a moment of peace to get something done. He was smitten, along with his one year old brother. They stood stock still in fascination.

"Well... he's learning words like 'scurry' and 'ferocious'! He can tell us about the habitat of the giant anteater." 

Then it was Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood- "Look, it's based on Mister Rogers. They're teaching my kids to be nice!"

Tumble Leaf- "Look how artistic and imaginative it is. It looks like a Waldorf show!"

Word World- "They're totally teaching my child to read! And look how well he's retaining it!"

My two adorable toddler boys were spellbound, and conveniently out of everyone else's hair. 

"Oh look. Ammon's just fallen in love with Thomas and Friends. He's learning how to be trustworthy and really useful!"

I went from a mom who pretty much squelched all TV other than movies like "Heidi" prior to age 8, to a mom who, on a rare, strong, focused day, limits her two and three year olds to two shows in the morning and two more before bed. On not so strong days? The sucker's going live all day long. 

A few days ago, with the big kids in school again, I  took my little ones outside to play. We have a play structure with 3 swings, and I count any outside time as good for them. We recently moved to 15 acres of property, with fantasies of the kids bonding with nature, but ironically, as the wilds of the terrain require closer supervision, and there's a great deal of work to be done on the inside, outdoor time is still in short supply.

This time, instead of dutifully pushing them on the swings, I sat down at the picnic table to catch up on a project and told them I'd push them when the timer beeped. I then waited for their kid powers to kick in and spur them on to exploring the great outdoors. And waited... 


Gideon, my three year old halfheartedly went down the slide. Once. Then sat down next to me and whined. Ammon continued to stand in front of the swing and whine.  For a full forty-five minutes. It seemed that my poor little ones had forgotten how to play outside. And it was my own darn fault. I despaired and declared a moratorium on shows until their imaginations come back.  Until they could manage to exist for an hour outside without someone pushing them on the swings.  What have I done? How can I undo this damage? Can I find a local Forest Preschool? 

(Images of other moms tossing their rosemary and bergamot scented hair and smiling at me condescendingly as my child whines about going home and playing on someone's Kindle ensue- crushing my resolve.)

I love this quote by Albert Einstein:

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.

"Imagination" has been tossed about so much, it seems to amount to nothing but a bit of fluff.  What is imagination anyway? defines it as the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses. 

It kind of cracks me up when TV stations spout off about building kids' imaginations.  If the most engaging content hitting their brains is fully formatted external objects present to their senses, courtesy of Nick Jr., what practice of actually holding and manipulating pictures and ideas in the mind by their own power is taking place? None. What patience are they building for the process? Even less.

Did you know that part of Einstein's journey toward his formulation of the theory of relativity was imagining himself chasing a beam of light?

That is some intricate imagining. Can you conceive of the elegant trajectory of his thoughts? No, Summer, I'm not Einstein. The silent, elegant mental puzzlings? The persistence through countless unwieldy layers of intrepid, unprecedented logic? I can't either.

And the sad truth is, my kids would consider it too boring to be worth the effort.

As I type this post with my right hand, I'm pushing my kids on the swing with my left. But we've gone for a couple of days with no shows now.  I don't know how long I'll hold out, but I do know that writing is beginning to spark an inner fire again, and I have no foolish notions that watching Little Einsteins will nurture an Einstein style inner space.


What are your thoughts? Talk to me!