My girls live in a dream world most of the time. From the time Abigail and Catherine were old enough to play together, it’s been apparent to us that any time they are asked to spend with us is just an interruption of their playtime. Their playtime has always found them in another reality, being other people and using different voices. Most of the time they don’t need any props besides a baby doll or two, but even if they actually sit down and play with other toys, they are never Abigail or Catherine.
Their alternate personalities have morphed over the years, beginning when Abigail was still playing by herself and she was Peter Pan and Wendy, switching voices as she switched roles. They have played with Billy and Sally and Molly, their other “siblings.” They have been every member of the Brady family–all at the same time. They have been Chelsey, Charlie, Ella, and Kelly. They have days when they are every other kid at church. They become their cousins on a regular basis. Sometimes, they even play Abigail, Catherine, and Elisabeth–that one confuses me because even though they are being Abigail, Catherine, and Elisabeth, they are not being themselves. Throughout all the name changes and voice changes and personality changes, though, one thing has become a constant over the past year or so: “Let’s finish playing.”
This is the phrase we began hearing when they would be released from the required time at the dinner table or in conversation with Mom and Dad, or even upon waking up from the interruption that sleep brings in playtime. One would look at the other and say, “Let’s finish playing.” I don’t know who started it, or exactly when it began, but I hear that phrase twenty times a day now. And the conversations that follow this phrase are always interesting, if I’m privileged enough to be able to hear snatches of them.
The appropriate answer to “Let’s finish playing” is “Yeah.” What follows is usually a narration of the next scenario in their world. For example: “Let’s finish playing.” “Yeah, and now Molly is going to church.” “Yeah, and she’s shy of all the kids.” “Yeah, and her sister is going to go in her class with her.” “Yeah, and she’s wearing a purple dress.” “Yeah, and the other kids all like her dress.” “Yeah.” Now, sometimes, one of them will automatically say “Yeah” and then realize they don’t really agree with that particular direction of play, and I’ll hear, usually in a disgusted voice, “Catherine, her dress wasn’t purple. She doesn’t even like purple. Her dress was blue.” Depending on the mood of the corrected child, this can be just a blip that they move past quickly, or this can be the end of the play, since the corrected child is now so offended that her idea was vetoed that she needs to come wailing to Mommy that “she won’t let Molly’s dress be purple!” This is where common phrases such as, “Then I’m not going to play!” or even “I’m never playing with you again!” are heard. But, if I just hold my breath and wait very quietly after sending them to work it out on their own, about 80% of the time, after about three minutes of sulking and glaring at each other, I’ll hear one of them finally say, “Well, let’s finish playing.” The response? “Yeah.”
This phrase has become so much a part of our family’s vocabulary that we no longer even hear “I’m playing.” This phrase has become, “I’m finishing playing.” When they tell me about something funny that happened in their world, they’ll say, “Mom, when we were finishing playing, …” Often, I’ll hear one of them call, “Mom!” But when I answer, I hear an impatient voice call back, “No, Mommy. Not you. We were just finishing playing.” And it’s now spreading to the youngest sister. When Elisabeth, laying on her belly in the kitchen floor, yelled, “Help, me stuck!!”, I hurried to her, asking how she was stuck. She looked up at me, quite exasperated to be interrupted, and said, “Mama, me not really stuck. Me just ‘fishing paying.'”
One interesting aspect of this phrase is that, apparently, one child can finish playing even when the other doesn’t. This is evidenced by the times that one sister will ask the other, “Are you finishing playing?” Most of the time, even if the answer is no, the first sister will say, “Well, I’m finishing playing.” I guess in their world it doesn’t necessarily take two to tango. But maybe sometimes it does, because I also often hear, “Mom, she won’t finish playing and she doesn’t even have a good reason!!”
Overall, this phrase has been both humbling and intriguing to me, personally. It’s humbling because, with the speed that it comes out of their mouths as soon as dinner is finished or as soon as they think they’re free to leave our presence, it’s quite obvious that we are truly just an interruption to their private little world. They spend the necessary time with us, but their thoughts are “finishing playing” the whole time. And it’s intriguing because it’s like the book series that just keeps on pumping out title after title. Because even though they’ve been “finishing playing” for months on end, they’ve never actually finished. I write about it now, because I know one day down the road, I’ll think back and realize that they must have indeed finished playing, and that will be one of those phrases that we don’t hear echoing through our little house anymore. But let’s not be melancholy. Are you done now? Good. Let’s finish playing.