Why I Hate Playing with My Son

playwithson“Dad, do you wanna play?”

This sounds horrible, but lately those are the words that strike fear into my heart. And before you get all bent out of shape about the headline of this post (which is definitely linkbait to get you to click on it and elicit that exact reaction — sorry), it’s not that I NEVER want to play with my son. It’s just 1) I can’t stand the kind of playing he’s talking about and 2) I’m terrible at it.

This is all my fault. You see, the whole concept of “play” to me — even as a child — has never been like most kids. I have absolutely no imagination. I know that’s odd for a writer, but it’s true. Even as a kid I never understood all my friends playing “imagination.” Pretending to walk on the moon? Sorry, there’s no gravity and you’d need an astronaut’s suit or else you’d die. Traveling back in time? Not without a DeLorean. Playing with dinosaurs? Sorry, but I learned about fossils and preferred not to harbor any delusions about an extinct species coming back to life.

But seriously, to me “playing” was always well defined, and never nebulous. Usually it was sports. If someone wanted to play then it was baseball, basketball, soccer or tossing the football around. There were defined rules, plenty of structure and always a winner and loser. And if it wasn’t sports, then it was a board game or (when I got older) a video game.

I was just a peachy little kid wasn’t I?

Will, however, isn’t anything like me. And while that’s probably a good thing, I’m having a really hard time figuring out how to relate to him when he wants to play with me. At first I tried to redirect him towards sports. So we tried playing catch and kicking the soccer ball around outside, but I could tell he wasn’t into it. Then I’d break out one of the many games we have, but it’s just not his bag and he got sick of it after a few minutes.

Then he’d start making all these weird requests that not only didn’t make sense to me, but also annoyed me. Stuff like:

  • “Dad, pretend you’re a Parasaurolophus (yes, he actually differentiates between this and other dinosaurs) and I’m a space monkey.”

and

  • “Dad, I’ll be Spiderman and you be Batman and we’ll fight the Transformers but we’ll ride on dragons that poop eyeballs on the bad guys.”

MJ loves it and encourages it. She supports his creativity and imagination, seamlessly adding to it and fostering it in a way that just mystifies me. It’s not that I’m some heartless and uncaring jerk, I really just don’t get it. I don’t understand why people want to pretend when truth is so much stranger and cooler than fiction. I don’t get how MJ’s first reaction isn’t to correct his misstatements and set him straight. And I don’t get how living in a fantasy world of kooky imagination is any fun at all.

But after awhile, the one thing I knew all too well was that he could tell I wasn’t into it and his feelings were hurt. And making my son sad is the truly unacceptable thing in this whole scenario. So, I decided the next time the opportunity presented itself I’d switch gears.

“Dad, do you wanna play?”

The game consisted of a tennis ball and two Velcro circles you wear on your hands that are shaped like frogs. You throw the ball to the other person and it sticks on the Velcro, as if the ball is being caught in the frog’s mouth. But after a few minutes of straight catch, Will was bored. And that’s when I stepped outside the box.

Instead of standing up and playing catch, we’d lay on the floor. I’d throw the ball straight up at the ceiling and try to have it land on Will. If he caught it he’d give a loud “RIBBIT!” and then try to hit me with the ball. From time to time there would be a zombie attack (?????) and we’d have to use our frog paddles to fight the zombies and save the world.

And suddenly, “Frog Ball” was born.

Honestly I still don’t get it. It’s silly, nonsensical and ridiculous. I made the game up and I don’t even understand the rules. Thankfully, what my son has taught me is the rules don’t matter. The only important thing is letting him know I care about him. That I’m interested in what he’s doing. That his happiness is far more vital to me than anything else. The most difficult yet rewarding parts of parenting continue to be the unexpected surprises taught to me by my boy, who is wise beyond his years.

“Dad, do you wanna play?”

Absolutely.

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11 thoughts on “Why I Hate Playing with My Son

  1. As a parent you have to be innovative. There is never a dull moment around here with an only child. The first time I went to playgroup with my son and all the other moms were singing along to “Baby Balugga” and “If you’re happy and you know it…” I felt like the world’s biggest tool. A few months later, I was ready and willing to lead circle time. It was a “What The Hell Just Happened” moment. The little buggers change us, for the good. Mostly.
    Siera recently posted..I Will NOT Google…My Profile

  2. Thank you for this post. I know exactly how you feel. I try hard, but really, as a kid, my life revolved around strat-o-matic baseball, football and occasionally basketball. On the play level, I honestly can’t relate. My sons are incredibly creative, intuitive and are far and away smarter than I.

  3. Great post, Aaron. I totally relate. My twins will be four in a few weeks, and they’re often asking me to play games like this. I usually oblige, but, like you, it’s not really my bag. Thankfully, they have each other to play w/, and so I get let off the hook a lot. So I got that going for me. . . :)

  4. I’m the opposite. I love the nonsense and ridiculousness. I’ll have no idea what to do if my kid ends up being into sports. That world of rules, pointless goals and buts lapping makes no sense to me. But I love my boy too, so I’ll figure something out like you did. Well done!

    -Mike
    Gizzard Stone recently posted..Running Without Falling DownMy Profile

  5. I appreciate this post so much because I struggle with this. My girls want to pretend an endless number of scenarios with parameters that change every couple of seconds and I will play along while wondering “why is this fun, again?” But, like you alluded to, it’s not about me. Thanks for the reminder.
    Mitchell recently posted..My Daughters, My TeachersMy Profile

  6. I am the opposite, always making up stuff and going off topic, and my twin nearly-eight-year-olds think I am nuts.
    Great piece, anybody who can write like this does not lack imagination. Funny stuff!
    ihopeiwinatoaster recently posted..iFauxnsMy Profile

  7. Great post Aaron. I find the biggest obstacle to playing with me son is the time of day. If we (parents) are caught up in busy work (job, bills, etc.) or are just generally tired, the thought of engaging in any activity can feel like an nuisance. For me, I have to remember that’s it’s not about me. That this is their childhood. The memories are being formed in real time and their rate of growth will not be put on hold. Life is in fact short. So dammit, go play. :)
    Vincent | @CuteMonsterDad recently posted..The Best and Worst Parenting Websites of 2012My Profile

  8. Seems like you are having so much fun playing with your son and that is really great. It is really good to have a good relationship with our sons even our daughters so that when the time they will be apart from us they will remember as they old enough.
    Shane Curtis recently posted..Timber Sliding DoorsMy Profile

  9. I lean more towards the crazy imagination based play time. For me its far easier to tell my kids that their foam building blocks are stink bombs, and that we will toss them at each other, and the first to get hit is covered in the “stink” and thus has to go take a pretend shower. Rules might be made to be broken, but I prefer making up the rules as I go along.

    Great post!

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