“Papa, papa, papa! On joue?”
I lower my head in frustration as my son shoves a Transformer toy within a millimeter of my face. I fight back the mounting urge to rip that toy from his hands and throw it out the window so that it becomes another dusty piece of trash in the street.
My son wants to play. He wants to play with his toys – his airplanes and superhero figures. He wants to play all the time, and he is incapable of playing by himself. There are spurts of imagination where he recounts stories to himself but they end after a paragraph of dialogue and then he comes running back to me.
He wants me to make his toys talk, to bring them to life. He wants me to animate the playing so that I tell him what to do. In life before confinement this was relatively straightforward. It was almost easy. Summoning up imaginary bad guys and flying Lego planes around the room sporadically meant that I could do it authentically. When it was in the evenings and on the weekends – spread out between visits to the park, brunches, museums, any sort of other activity – it was fine. Enjoyable, even.
But on Day 18 of the confinement I realized that the urge to scream came from my Id. Playing and playing and playing while sitting awkwardly on the floor has twisted my back and taken a toll on my knees. I cannot muster up one more fake bad guy hiding around the corner. I cannot make one more imaginary flight of the helicopter teranodon. I lay down in defeat before the crawlers find their ways on top of me and I have to protect my balls.
Playing with a 4 year old is complicated. It requires a huge amount of energy and creativity. You can’t create activities that are too complex and you can’t do things that are too simple. You have to imagine, a lot. And you have to be up for repetition. Tons of repetition. Repetition repeated over and over again. You can’t build anything either, since the 10 month old bulldozer is never more than an arm’s length away, ready to destroy.
Being with him 24 hours a day is too much. The incessant phrase of “on joue? on joue?” never stops. When I hear it I physically bristle like a cat caught in a corner trapped by a big dog that just wants to lick the shit out of it. I tell him to go play by himself for a bit, and then I feel guilty. He is as bored as I am probably. While he is not suffering like I am, he knows that the situation is unusual and that he has is spending all of his time at home instead of in the usual places with the usual people.
It takes a village to raise a child and coronavirus has taken away my village. For 18 straight days we have had to shoulder the burden of occupying the kids while not relying too much on cartoons. It is full frontal childcare. No school, no friends, no babysitter, no external activities. Just me, my wife, my sons and their stupid toys.
This might be the part that breaks me, and up until yesterday I was embarrassed to admit it. However the creeping feeling has caught up to me and my emotional tank is on empty. I can juggle work and home, I can continue to look at the numbers of the growth of the contagion with a healthy detachment. I can spend evenings in playing cards with my wife. I am happy to cook all of our meals. But I can no longer stand playing with my eldest son.
In normal times it would be outlandish as a dad to admit this. Who hates playing with their son? The coronavirus is forcing families to come together, and it is probably adjusting roles that were traditionally held within those families. I’ve always been more of a homemaker dad since my wife takes care of all the administrative stuff like taxes and buying our new place. I am longing for doing anything other than playing with his toys in his room. I try to show him how to strum the guitar. I cook with him letting him cut the mushrooms and rinse the vegetables. I yearn to take him out on a bike ride in his bike seat to see the Eiffel Tower, something, anything other than hunching down in his room to push around those toys.
There is one inside game that we play that I like. We take his foam swords and hit a balloon back and forth, it’s like a bastard version of badminton. It resembles something like sports and he’s pretty good at it. It also allows me to violently discharge while swinging hard at the balloons.
I’m going to go out and buy a big bag of balloons.