Growing Up Is Canceled
By Dasha Peipon
I don’t know about you, but I had unlimited hours of unsupervised play when I was little. I drew pictures of fashion dolls, I created outfits for my paper dolls, I drew comic books (and have piles of notebooks to prove it – thank you, Mom!). I made up complicated drama-filled stories for my Barbie dolls to play out. I remember making dolls out of grass, sticks and leaves. I cooked 10-course meals for my pretend family out of dirt, sand, clay, and water, and decorated my mud cakes with flower petals and seashells.
Because I grew up in the Soviet Union and didn’t have access to bright-colored toys from China, I always dreamed of what it would be like to have all those nice things to play with. When my daughter was two, I got her a play kitchen. It was one of those that looks exactly like a real one, but tiny. Sturdy (ply)wood, stainless steel (shiny plastic), lovely contemporary design… I got a set of little stainless-steel pots and pans to go with it, play food, and a tea set. I honestly believe I was way more excited about this purchase than my 2-year-old.
My daughter didn’t spend nearly as much time in her play kitchen as I spend in my full-size kitchen, but she did enjoy it quite a bit. One of the sweetest pictures from when my daughter was two is of her “wearing” her baby doll in a wrap-around baby carrier, while cooking. We had lots of tea parties in her little kitchen and it was delightful.
Over the years she played less and less in that kitchen, and I knew the day would come for us to part with it.
A few months ago, right before her 6th birthday, my daughter told me she no longer wanted the kitchen in her bedroom. “I never play with it anymore,” she said. “It takes up too much room,” she said. “I just want my books and art supplies in my room,” she said.
While I praised her desire for order and organization and admired her decluttering inclinations, my heart broke a little. Isn’t that the story of our lives, parents? While we admire our children growing in various areas and want to see them move forward, it’s so hard to let go of the little chubby babies they once used to be. And saying goodbye to favorite toys is way harder and more complicated than one might think.
I asked my daughter if she was certain about this decision and told her I respected it. Then I asked her if she would like to give her toys to some friends of ours who have young children and who would give this little kitchen a second life and the love and attention it deserves. She thought it was a good idea and that was that.
I wiped the little kitchen, emptied all the shelves, washed, dried and put all the toy food in a plastic bag, ready to be taken away. It was an emotional process for me. My baby girl was no longer a baby.
Then our governor announced the shelter-in-place order. Delivering the play kitchen to my friend was certainly non-essential travel, so it had to be postponed. The kitchen, though empty and wiped clean, remained in my daughter’s bedroom.
One day we were sitting on the couch reading. Suddenly she started crying with a very quiet, sad cry. You know how parents usually can tell by the type of cry what this is about? There’s the “I want it my way” cry, the “I NEED that” cry, the “I’m hurt” cry, the “It’s not fair” cry, and many more. This one was a sad, regretful whimper and I knew it would be followed by something profound my daughter realized and is about to share.
“I don’t want to give my kitchen away! I WANT to play, but I DON’T play anymore…”
“Growing up is cancelled!” I kept thinking with a big smile while climbing up into the attic to get all the dolls and all the accessories we had, the beds, the strollers, the stuffed animals – you name it.
My now 6-year-old is back to her previous duties – feeding those babies, cooking for them, baking, singing lullabies, putting every one of her stuffed animals to bed before she goes down herself. And we’re back to having tea parties, and they are as delightful as ever.
My almost 9-year-old, who also declared a few years ago that he was done with toys, can these days be seen climbing trees with his homemade bow and arrows, covered in mud head to toe. He spends a few hours doing schoolwork, and then disappears in the backyard for the rest of the day playing with dirt, rocks, sticks and coming up with the most fascinating games and challenges for himself and his sister.
Though this quarantine has been hard and painful for so many people in so many ways, the slowing down that came with it will forever be a blessing for my family. We don’t know how long we will stay under quarantine. We don’t know what the future holds. But we can take advantage of the extra time our children are allowed to stay children. The growing up will eventually happen. But it doesn’t have to happen today.