My youngest son, Eli, is a natural-born people-person. When we have company, he gives them an hour or so to settle in before bugging them for their undivided attention. Usually, his request involves playing with cars in his bedroom.
Unfortunately for Eli, most of our adult guests come to hang out with me and the hubby. So there are frequent promises of play time, but not always a lot of follow-through.
One cannot underestimate the ingenuity of a determined 6-year-old. The last time my sister Ninnah came to visit, Eli came marching out of his bedroom carrying a clipboard and a pen.
"Aunt Fluff, I need you to sign this contract," he said. Sure enough, he'd scribbled out a document, with illegible text and a big X next to the line he wanted her to sign.
"This says you will come play Hot Wheels with me. I need you to sign here," he said, pointing to the X. "And here, here, and here," pointing to various spots on the document.
I have no idea where the child learned that contracts are tangible proof of an agreement, or that signers of them are often required to initial throughout the document. He probably saw it on an episode of "Spongebob Squarepants" and like most things he sees, carved it a permanent place in his memory.
Eli tried the contract approach again when we hosted a baby shower at home a couple of weeks ago. He appeared with his clipboard while I dished up the fluffy pink cake.
"This is for all the women, to come into my room and play Hot Wheels with me," he announced, passing the clipboard around the room. He just can't seem to get enough interaction with adults.
Though his behavior is good for a laugh, deep down it makes me feel guilty. Perhaps it's a sign that I don't spend enough time with him?
I'm a reality TV junkie, and I've noticed that Jo Frost, better known as ABC's "Supernanny," is a real stickler for parents playing with their children. She often chastises people for being so busy that they ignore their kids.
All parents know how easy it is to do this. Frost's theory is that misbehavior and boredom go hand-in-hand. If we keep children busy and engaged, they don't have time to act up.
I agree with the Supernanny, but I also believe that kids need to learn how to play on their own without being constantly entertained.
Regardless, children still crave time with their parents, even when they become like my older son Zachary: too old and too cool to always verbalize that need.
I just want to have more fun with my kids during this summer break. It sounds like an easy goal, since they're around all the time. But I often find it a struggle to exchange my chores and tasks for playtime with the kids.
The other day, their faces lit up when I told them we were going to paint together. Too often, they ask to paint, and I'm so wrapped up in something that I just dismiss the request with a "Not now. Maybe later," and of course, later never seems to come. I hate disappointing my children.
But if I'm honest, too many times I've turned off the light at night and realized I didn't devote any quality time to either of them that day.
Painting alone after they've gone to bed is far easier and much neater than painting with two active boys. But if love is anything, it is meant to be sacrificial. I love my kids immensely, and they felt it when I included them in my hobby.
It's harder for me to immerse myself in their hobbies. Building Bionicles, driving through Paris on the Xbox, racing Hot Wheels around the carpet - I could've lived happily without ever having done any of these things.
But life without those wide, beaming smiles that appear when Mama is willing to get down on the floor and do their thing instead of my own? They are some of the sweetest moments life has to offer. I know I'll cherish them forever.
Kari Apted may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.