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Playing Together

Helping Your Preschooler Discover Healthy Relationships

The other night as Phoebe, my 3-year-old, was putting the final pieces of a puzzle together on her bedroom floor, she leaned over to me and said: "When I fall in love, it's going to be with Gray."

This was an important statement that I'm sure she thought long and hard about. My first thought, and a savagely paternal one, was: "You can forget about that, Missy, because you're not leaving this house on a date until you're 30."

But I didn't say that. I asked the question that all daughters eventually hear from their fathers: "Are you sure he's the one for you?"

"Yeah."

"Why do you think that?" I asked.

"Because we play together a lot, that's why."

Wouldn't it be nice if life were that simple, I thought. Her 3-year-old brain had it all figured out. It was a brilliantly carefree and uncomplicated plan.

Listening to Phoebe wax affectionately about Gray, I could hear the wheels turning in her head. I marveled at the simplicity of such a dream. She's thinking about their futures together: going to the zoo, eating ice cream. The memories they'll share: finger painting, molding Play Doh. Deliberating swings or sandbox. Whether to serve lemonade or juice boxes at the wedding reception.

One morning after I had dropped Phoebe off at preschool and was walking toward the parking lot, I looked over to see her class already out on the playground. The children were eager to be outside in the warm sun. Laughing hysterically, Phoebe and Gray chased each other around the playscape. Then they charged up the slide, slipping backward but grabbing the rails, pushing onward. Others above them protested, telling them they were going the wrong direction and holding up traffic, but Phoebe and Gray didn't seem to care. They were having too much fun. They climbed onto the tire swing. A teacher got them going, spinning them around wildly as they leaned back, holding on and giggling.

Watching them together on the playground, I remembered what Phoebe had said to me that night on her bedroom floor. And it dawned on me that maybe she had hit on the formula for happiness: PLAY TOGETHER A LOT.

Even as grownups, supposedly schooled in the ins and outs of relationships, we're still sometimes lost. It seems we often forget something as simple as just having fun. We're obsessed with getting through our daily list, sticking to our tight schedules, trying to cram everything in, and far too often we feel like the day was a loss if everything wasn't accomplished. In light of that, remembering to play together a lot seems like great advice.

I'm sure that somewhere along Phoebe's journey toward discovering a healthy relationship, she'll get her heart broken. It's something we all go through, and I know there's no way I can prevent that from happening. I'm also sure that she'll be out of the house on a date before she's 30, because as much as we'd like to, we parents can't control everything.

But if one day Phoebe and Gray do decide on each other, it's comforting to know the foundation of their relationship will be about playing together. We should all pay attention. Maybe it wouldn't be a bad idea to put some of that simplicity back into our own lives.

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CeReality: 5 Families, 5 Stories, 1 Critical Meal

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