One day after a fun-filled Special Time it was time for me to sit down and balance the check book. My daughter decided to sit with me and do her math work. The first bit was new to her so we worked together on a couple of problems. She seemed to understand it, but was soon whining, “Do I have to do it all? Can I go play on the computer?”
“Finish the first half and then we’ll talk about it,” I said. She growled, got up from the table and stuck her tongue out at me.
Oh boy, I thought. She came back to the table, struggled with a problem and then started waving her pencil toward my face. I could feel myself triggered by this action, but managed to calmly say, “I don’t like that. Please stop.” She replied in an ever-annoying ‘tween tone. “Whaaat? I’m not touching you.”
“You’re not touching me,” I said. “But I still don’t like it. I want you to stop.”
“Grrrr!” she growled. “I just want to throw it at you! You’re the meanest mom!”
My words were not getting through to my usually cooperative daughter. I knew that whatever tension had its grip on her, it needed to be broken with some play. I got up, smiled at her and said lightly, “Ok, throw it at me.” She looked surprised.
I walked to the far end of the house where I knew she wouldn’t be able to really hit me, and then she threw the pencil hard. I playfully flinched, even though the pencil wasn’t near me, and she laughed. I moved close to her, putting my arms around her waist, and said playfully, “You wanna fight me?” She struggled against me as I acted as her opponent and commentator.
“Oh, she’s getting me now! She’s taking me down!” I said as I rolled to the ground. She promptly sat right on top of me. We wrestled with her doing her best to stay in control and keep me down. I gave her a challenge by flipping her onto my legs airplane style, but I always let her manage to get back in charge of the game.
We played this way back and forth with me begging her to “Go away” (as she often tells me when she’s upset) and then after she went away I would cry, “Hey wait! Come back! Don’t leave me alone!” She would then return to jump on me and wrestle around more.
At one point, she got the tape and proceeded to tape my mouth shut! I played along with her and let her keep the upper hand while still putting up a “fight” to get away. I tried to talk with the tape on, begging her to take it off, but I was all mumbles. She laughed and just added more tape.
As our play slowed I went back to balancing the checkbook and she quietly sat at the table beside me and started to do her math work. Barely a minute later, she handed me her completed paper. “You’re done already?” I said. She smiled big. I was amazed at how quickly she completed the work she had been complaining was too hard for her.
The math work itself wasn’t too hard, only the tension she was carrying made it seem too difficult. By allowing her to take the more powerful position in our play she was able to work through the tension so it could dissolve and her intelligence could flow again. I am continually amazed at how play and wrestling can transform a tense situation and I am always pleased with the happy, connected place we end up.