Rules for playing with a three-year-old

It’s the end of a rainy weekend. I estimate that over the past 48 hours, I have spent at least 20 trying to dream up ways to entertain two tiny tyrants.

Through the course of this latest wintry endurance event, I have discovered some key things about playing with a three-year-old.

The rules make no sense. I don’t mind joining in the weird make-believe games in which I am often pretending to be him and he is being some random person I don’t know, or a dragon, or a superhero, or … you get the picture. But then he’ll tell me for this game I have to be willing to “kermangle” or some other such made-up word. I have no idea what this means and he isn’t going to tell me but it is VITALLY IMPORTANT THAT I DO IT IMMEDIATELY. I usually look so stricken that he takes pity on me.

Even when I do understand the words, the conversations are nuts. We spent about half an hour talking about robots and how the robots might one day have a fight with bees but the bees would have to win because we need bees (aye mum?!!!) but robots are big and strong and awesome and we should have a robot that lives with us.

He’s only listening to me when I don’t want him to be. “Put your gumboots on so your feet don’t get wet.” “Please could you put your gumboots on?” “Where are your gumboots?” “How about we find your gumboots… Oh your feet are muddy – that’s why I suggested we might wear gumboots.” But one almost-silent “damn” under my breath and he suddenly has hearing to rival a gifted dog and an indelible memory.

Whatever we do, he must win. He’s totally got the hang of competitions and races and generally winning. But he’s not always so clear on the rules. For some unknown reason I agreed to play a version of statues – that game where you dance when the music is on and stop when it stops. Even though I controlled the music and he kept dancing through every music break, he won. Then he demanded I come up with a prize.

Their attention spans are short… He really really really wants to play trains. But you can guarantee that by the time I set the track up he will be off playing with his rubbish truck and look at me, completely mystified when I suggest he comes back. Or by the time I’ve climbed up in the cupboard to dig out all the colouring pencils and paper, he’s decided that what he’d really rather do is make a fort out of his bedding.

Except when they’re not. When we’re not jumping from one activity straight to the next, we get stuck doing the same thing over and over and over. And over. I thought it might be fun to hide some painted rocks in the house, since we couldn’t go out and hunt for other people’s creations outside. He agreed. So it ended up that we had nine rock hunts in which I had to hide the rocks in EXACTLY THE SAME PLACE in the house each time.

The danger element makes the game. He’s going through a stage of jumping off things. The couch, the coffee table, the bed. But it’s not fun if I get the bean bag out and put it in place to catch his fall. It’s only really good if there’s something large and heavy in the way to narrowly miss.

None of his toys are as good as the things he’s not meant to be playing with. Over the weekend I found a whisk, a spoon, a memo pad, a pile of my pens and an amethyst crystal all used in the place of any number of his 456 perfectly good toys. It took me until 10.30 this morning to find my keys, which had somehow ended up in the toy box.

Some of the best stuff happens when you’re at peak “wtf is going on”.  About half-way through Sunday afternoon we were sitting on the couch, me pleading with him to keep his voice down as he battled monsters with his Maui hook, because his sister was asleep. I said: “I like hanging out with you.” He turned around and gave me a hug and said: “I like hanging out with you, too, Mum.” That earned him at least another couple of hours of rock hunting.


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