Melissa Carter

Melissa Carter: On letting go and remembering to play

Have you ever realized just how much we adults have been separated from our childhoods? I’m not talking about our more mature bodies, it’s more about our minds and how we automatically react to the world around us. The fact I have forgotten how to be a kid becomes quite evident when my son, Mr. Carter, wants to sit down and play.

My son loves trains and just about the only thing he wants to do when we’re home together is play with them. Currently we have amassed quite a collection between our small finds at Target or Toys “R” Us, his grandmother’s treasure hunting at Goodwill and his aunt’s contributions from Nashville. My living room has become a train depot, and anyone who visits must take care not to step on a random tender or railroad sign that might have become the projectile during my 3-year-old’s spontaneous throwing fit.

When my true adult status comes into play is when my son begs, “Sit down, Mama.” I say adult status because my first thought to his instruction is not, “Oh, boy I get to play with trains!” Instead, it’s that I need to load the dishwasher while he’s distracted, or this gives me a chance to feed the animals, change clothes, check my phone, grab some tea, go to the bathroom, find an adult-themed show on TV, etc. And what a shame it is that over the years I’ve allowed my thoughts to adapt to that of a busy woman who fills any empty space with an obligation.

I remember I felt the same way about my mother. Millie Pete was a kind, loving mother who could never sit still. I recall frustration and anxiety knowing that if I did get her to sit down with me to do something, it wouldn’t last long, and the cycle of attempting to get her to slow down long enough to play would begin all over again.

And here I am, just like her.

My son’s prompting to sit down on the floor and play trains has helped me understand Millie Pete better, because if she didn’t do what was needed at the time, it wouldn’t get done. It has also made me sadly realize I learned the same behavior as her. If my son has to ask, then he’s noticed I don’t automatically play with him and he’s trying to change that. And, since I don’t see him every day of the week because he’s with his other mother then, my distraction is an even bigger violation.

How did we as adults get to the point that play is not a natural reaction for us anymore? When did random tasks like laundry take on such an emotional meaning?

I don’t want Mr. Carter to worry about the wrong things; I want him to enjoy the right ones. So yes, son, I will stop everything to push this little train down its wooden track and leave the adult world behind for now. Choo choo!