Sissyboo has lots of toys. Sometimes I think she has too many. Not because we have overindulged her, necessarily, but because she doesn’t really need them all. Who does? She seems to need them less than some, though. For all that she loves her dolls and books and board games she will honestly have more fun if you give her a pad of paper, some kitchen roll insides, a blanket and a wooden spoon. This child of ours makes Robinson Crusoe look like an amateur. She can always make something amazing out of nothing much at all.
Role play has always been important to her. At the age Boo is now (19 months corrected) Sissyboo was talking 19 to the dozen in complete sentences. Well, I say talking, I mean ordering. She was making up games of her own devising and we had to get with the programme and play our allotted parts. She still does this on an almost daily basis. Sometimes the rules are tortuously complicated and often she takes the trouble to remind me, when I get too involved in them, that ‘we’re only playing a game, Mummy. This isn’t real.’ Good to know, of course.
Role play has been a huge part of Sissyboo’s life so far. She has a wonderful imagination and it’s undoubtedly helped her learn as she imagines herself and others into all sorts of situations and environments she may never been in first hand. It’s been a heck of a lot of fun, too.
But with Boo, as in all things, it’s been different. With Sissyboo, the fun came first with the role play; the learning was a happy by-product. With Boo, I feel like I never just play with him. Play has been substituted by therapy (therapeutic play is the watchword I was given when he was just a few weeks old and not even supposed to have been born yet). He can’t access many toys conventionally. He can’t really play independently yet either as he loses grasp of what he has. And when he wants to play (which is most of the time) we have to use this opportunity to development his gross and fine motor skills. He can’t even shake a pom pom without me checking and correcting his grasp, his wrist angle and elbow position. Poor lad.
I guess he knows no different, but sometimes I feel sad about it. I miss the days of unthinking play I had with his big sister even though I have a tonne of fun with Boo every day and I think (and hope) he does too.
I especially miss the role playing games. I didn’t realise quite how much until a few weeks ago, when we were having one of Boo’s weekly Portage sessions.
Portage, for those of you who haven’t heard of it (I hadn’t before having Boo) is a pre-pre-school (that’s not a typo, by the way) educational therapy based on the principle of learning through play that takes part in the home. Sadly, it is not offered all over the country, so we are very lucky that we have access to it.
I haven’t blogged much, if at all, about Portage since we started it in April 2013. The reason? Well, at first, I really couldn’t see the point, to be honest. Our teacher was a lovely lady, but all she did was dangle a different coloured toy in front of Boo each week, try unsuccessfully to get him to do Makaton (no mean feat with his stiff arms) and regale us every week with a catalogue of the catastrophes in her life. The hour long sessions only ever lasted 20 minutes maximum because she was always at least 40 minutes late.
As we approached the summer, I thought about dropping Portage. It wasn’t doing anything accept eating into our precious time together unnecessarily. It was one appointment we could do without. But the guilt of giving something up, of not doing all I could for Boo, meant I gritted my teeth and we stuck with it. But as time passed and nothing got better, and after talking to a few people, I thought I would take the plunge and drop it. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or be seen to be a bad parent, but we could do without this. And as I summoned up the courage to say this in our last Portage session before the summer break I was told by our teacher that she was moving on and we would be assigned another teacher from September. I decided to wait and see what would happen.
Our new teacher is, frankly, a phenomenon. She is deeply knowledgable, caring and committed. She has met with Boo’s OT and been into nursery twice. She has played a vital role in formulating his IEP. She has come to physio and SALT sessions and revised his programme and targets in light of what she’s seen and learned. Boo has fun with her. He learns; I do too.
And she has re-introduced role play into our lives.
Every week she brings a bag of toys to help Boo achieve his goals. He is very easy to motivate and we never get through all the toys she brings as he finds it difficult to give up each new discovery. One week, he caught a glimpse of toys meant for the child his teacher was visiting next.
A tea set and doll.
He started making his cute squeaky noise that means ‘ooh, I need that. I need that right now!’ and so his teacher got it out of the bag and pretended to give the dolly a drink. Boo went nuts. He doubled over in laughter and screamed for her to do it again. So she did. Same thing happened. And then she asked Boo if he would like to feed dolly.
The laughter stopped. This was a serious business. Feeding is a hard thing in Boo Land. Self-feeding is very difficult, although he can manage odd bits of finger food by dropping his head to his arm, or eating off a spoon with my hand over his. But as always, he tried to rise to the challenge. With deep concentration on his face, he lifted the spoon as near as he could with his tight arms to dolly’s mouth and we helped with the last bit by putting a guiding finger on his elbow. The giggles came back and then he kept doing it. It was so much fun!
I told Sissyboo when she came home from school. She got out several of her many dolls and her plastic tea set and started playing picnics with her brother. I nearly cried. Yes, this was still therapeutic play (all play is educational in some way or other, especially if you have additional needs). But Sissyboo was playing with her brother for play’s sake. As it should be.
Since then, we have tried to incorporate more role play into the day-to-day. While finishing making their dinner the other night, I got fed up of picking Boo’s bells off the floor for the 50th time he chucked them off the seat of his Bee chair tray and decided to give him a wooden spoon and a mixing bowl, so it looked like he was doing the same sort of thing as Mummy. He screamed the place down in joy, especially when his sister fetched him his Eeyore toy and they pretended to feed him.
I don’t know why he was laughing exactly. Because it was a daft thing to be doing? Because, like his sister, he thinks his Mum sometimes forgets when she’s playing that these things are just games and you can’t really feed a toy Eeyore with imaginary food made of pure air? Because it was just fun? Probably a bit of each of these things.
And me? Well, I laughed too. Imagination is a wonderful thing, and when your body can’t always do what you want it too, it’s pretty great.