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“Mama, when are you going to play with me?”

Her fingers reach out like thin cords, pulling me upstairs to her pink hideaway constructed of blankets.

“I have to make dinner, Love,” I say.

Play seems impossible. I’m busy wiping slick surfaces, concocting healthy meals, clicking through glassy task lists on my phone. If I glance at the latest Facebook feed, I’ll see too many selfies and perfect travel destinations that cost money, time and calm kids – places where I can’t go. I see a new threat in Europe, a homeless man’s picture, a story on the Black Lives Matter movement, an article about the nature deficit in kids, the increase in anxiety. I cringe, picturing my two oldest kids with attention challenges and fear of underachievement.

What cause should I take on today? My middle-aged psyche somersaults through the chaos, searching for a landing spot, but another text flashes and bings. I’ve got alarms attempting to perfect me, connect me to those who become annoyed when I’m unreachable.

“Mama! Listen!” My daughter grabs my tendinitis enflamed (from holding a phone, of courses) wrist. “Kitty is talking!”

She wants me in her imaginary world where our smiles link in real time, where rose soapy smells sail calmly among blankets, where a melodic morning dove “hooos” through the white panes of a sticker-covered window. She needs me to get silly, to squish low to the ground and peek at the tiny flowers her clay cat clutches.

No time to play! I think. Kids should play with kids. Then I remember the other wee ones are out doing some competitive, or highly productive scheduled thing.

Meanwhile my daughter below tries to break through. She pursues the running, scrolling, reading, replying, loving, cooking, protecting, writing, stay-at-home, working mom who says stuff like “Did you remember? Hurry! How could you forget? Oh, it’s OK to be imperfect but Go! Come ON! Be patient. But hurry. Get ready! I love you! ”

She must feel befuddled. But still she still she has the will to transport me to a place made where minds revel in made-up experiences, where she and I can go anywhere, be anyone for a while.

How many days remain before she gives up, before she too dives into the play-less, productive, output oriented, perfectly imperfect world?

“Which animal do ya want to carry upstairs, Mama?” she asks. I glance down, noticing the new freckles on the edges of her cheeks. Her front teeth have descended a little farther.

“I’ll take the littlest one,” I answer. “And let’s order pizza.”

Upstairs, under the soft blanket, I revel at the well-loved plush faces of penguins, kittens, squirrels organized in rows besides “beds” covered in tissue.  In here, everything makes sense. The pen is a tree, the Dixie cup a sink. There are no intruders. On her dresser are heaps of drawings where cats dress in polka dots and play with bugs, where squirrels carry acorn purses, where every living thing is equally adored. Everybody is good. Birds fly with music notes trailing after them.  Smiles are as big as rainbows.

I imagine how we were created. God had to relax, even crouch down, I bet – into the tiny soft places. He had to fill his heart, his breath, his being with an imagination large and supple enough to create light, sky, sun, stars – he had to be playful enough to create creatures as complicated and hilarious as we are.

I pick up the penguin, gently placing imaginary food into its mouth.

Let’s play, I think.

AmyChallenger_x125Amy Aves Challenger is a writer and artist focusing on topics relating to the marginalized, families and children. She has been published regularly in The Huffington Post and also in The Washington Post,, and Brain, Child Magazine. Her poems and a short story will be published in an upcoming anthology by Kind of A Hurricane Press. Amy lives in Fairfield, CT where she runs a support group for special needs mothers and also leads a writing workshop. She is writing her first novel about a child with special needs. Her poetry can be read daily on twitter @amychallenger.