Photo by author

From kid-dom to bigger kidness: missing how we played before the pandemic

Another morning of tears.

My eight-year-old wants to play.

It used to begin with his wonderful high-pitched kid voice bounding into the room — “Mommy, play with me!”

From baby-hood, he loved balls. After “Da-da,” the next word was “Ba.” He had three intonations — “bah” “Ba” and “buh” — the first meant ball, next was grandma, and the last one I can’t remember. It could have been a name for any object he desired but couldn’t pronounce. At two, he could dribble a “bash bah” (basketball), we’d play “kustu” (volleyball) with a “beesh bah” (beach ball), we’d toss the “hutta bah” (football), or we’d make a day of throwing balls up in trees and getting them “duck” (stuck) and “unduck” (unstuck) — which involved throwing bouncy balls at the ball stuck in the tree. This lasted hours and even Ba or Daddy got involved. Bathtime was bouncing a beesh bah against the tub walls. In the car, his backwards facing carseat enabled him to bounce a ball against the back seat of the car. On long trips, I set up five or six little balls next to him, with a few snacks and his “taggie” (blanket) and he was happy for hours — I learned how to situate barriers, so the ball didn’t land up front where I was driving. He had amazing control for a two-year old.

Of course he gained other interests over the next few years. First, T-Rex. Ankylosaur. Steggie. Fragillimus. Then Iron Man. Black Panther. Thor.

But we still had our favorite games like “balls on the couch” when we’d cover friends or family members with fifteen or twenty balls, as they lay still. Then we’d yell “go” and they’d kick and fling all the balls off. Any kid (and many grown ups) coming to our house loved this game. It made of a mess of the living room, and it was so worth it.

Interests change as kids grow older, and ball play had less prominence as he entered bigger kid-dom and began school.

But, since the pandemic, real-time “play” became lost. It was replaced with…video games. Minecraft, to be more specific. The kid-addiction I’d seen in my friends’ kids and had carefully avoided for seven and a half years. But as my work-at-home Zooms moved from a few hours to eight or ten, Minecraft replaced friends, self-play, and parent-play.

So now, the familiar weekend morning call of “OK. Let’s play!” comes from my energetic voice, and he cries as he is dragged from his screen (where real play happens), and he has to be forced into coloring, walking outside, kicking a ball around the playground, Scrabble, baking, playing with Dinos or Gecky (his pet Gecko)…or any other real life game.

I mourn so many more important things — the loss of lives, the exhaustion of health care workers and first responders, the inequitable shortage of vaccines for non-wealthy countries, the deaths and violence against Black and Brown bodies, the loss of businesses and jobs for so many.

But, in my little corner of the world, the loss of kid-dom — with its imaginative, spontaneous, and exuberant play — has come down like a wall, separating the before and after of the last four hundred forty-two days. I can’t get back there. I miss it dearly.

Professor and salsa dancer. Believer in peace-making through dialogue. Playful mom. Persistent. Nature-lover.