A Womb of One's Own

A Womb of One’s Own: Play to Play

Who knew play was so much work?  Not me, apparently.

Gabe has finally started attempting to play with toys.  It’s a very basic sort of play: he smiles at the object in question, attempts to grab it, sometimes succeeds, and, more often than not, attempts to insert it into his mouth (usually missing and hitting himself in the eye).  It’s endlessly charming and amusing, but it’s also a play that is very parent-intensive.  He can’t sit on his own yet, so he needs to be propped up by someone so he can really give that stuffed lion what-for.  It’s given us a very exhaustive knowledge of his play habits, toy preferences, and the day-to-day evolution of his mind and skills.

However, as an over-anxious first-time parent with a perfectionist streak, I can’t just let him play to play right now (but trust me, that time will come).  I know that play for play’s sake is important, and I love that time, but that’s usually on his back or sitting on my lap.  The real focus (from doctors, midwives, and child development specialists) is on tummy time.

Because babies now are put on their backs to sleep (to reduce the incidence of SIDS), they spend very little time on their stomachs, thus slowing their development.  In order to combat this, we have tummy time.  It’s simple: I pop a blanket on the floor by the dog and put Gabe on it, stomach-down.  It forces him to work to hold his head up, and it gives him a way to strengthen his core muscles (these help with lessening spit-up and increasing the likelihood he sleeps all night).  It also means that I spend 20 minutes a day watching my son lay on his stomach, arch his back, and wave his limbs in the air like he’s trying to swim.  He hasn’t figured how to use his hands to press against the ground and lift himself up, so he shoves his elbows into the air and yells.  He can dig his toes into the blanket to try to move himself, but he only succeeds in pushing his face into the ground (which is funny but also why tummy time must be supervised closely).

When he’s on his tummy, I sing him “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and tickle or hold him in certain ways in order to stimulate serotonin production and make him happier to be on his tummy and with Mama.  The touch stimulates serotonin, and the nursery rhymes stimulate both the language and rhythm centers in his brain.  Because we can’t just do nursery rhymes, there are different movements to do with certain rhymes to trigger muscle memory.  Luckily, he doesn’t understand language yet, so he doesn’t get my long-winded and filthy mangling of “Pussycat Pussycat” (“Pussycat, pussycat, what did you do?  I went into the garden and I took a poo!”).  What he does get (hopefully) is the way I move his arms and legs while I sing it, mimicking the movement he’ll need to crawl.  He doesn’t care about what the state of the wool is in “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” but he’s learning the sensation of rolling onto his back.

When tummy time is over, that’s when we play to play.  I sing to him (lots and lots of Disney, because those are the show tunes I know best), I tickle him, he pumps his legs and blows bubbles at me.  I have a collection of my late grandmother’s vintage scarves, and I toss them in the air or drag them across his face, piquing his senses.  I make tents of blankets over us and zerbert his belly.  He gurgles at the dog and waves his hand at the cat, who rubs up on him for pets.

Slowing my life to his speed and allowing myself to be immersed in his play and his world is hard.  I’m not only a full-time mama, I’m a full-time grad student, and this means I’m up after midnight studying.  But when he smiles at the sun through the leaves on the tree outside, sighs, and relaxes into my arms, it’s absolutely worth it.  After all, I can sleep when I’m dead.

By Jessica Werner

Free-range librarian in Seattle. A sucker for happy endings, teen angst, and books that make me want to sell my possessions and travel the world. Incurable homebody and type A. Send love letters and readers advisory requests to

6 replies on “A Womb of One’s Own: Play to Play”

I’ve never actually been around babies. Like, at all. I’ve seen them. I have friends (now faraway) who have recently had them. But I’ve only held one like, twice maybe? And so motherhood in the next few years is legit freaking me out.

Which is reason numero uno, of like a billion, that I have so appreciated this series.

Until the day after he was born, I had never changed a diaper.  Now I get those things switched out like a surgical strike.  I’d rarely been around newborn babies until I was in my late 20’s, and even then, it was once in a great while.  They seem breakable, but they aren’t.  I mean, they are, but they aren’t as fragile as you fear they are.  Parenting has made me a lot more confident about a lot of things, and a lot more insecure about others.

Play is so intensive! I had forgotten about that until I was over playing with a friend’s baby, who was about 4 months old.  Just to keep his attention and keep him laughing was a lot of work.  I guess my fantasy of being able to just put a baby in a playpen while I take a nap is probably never going to come to fruition when I have kids :-/

There’s hope!  Most of my friends’ babies are good nappers, even if Gabe only naps for long periods in the car.  Today he fell asleep in his swing watching me get packages ready to mail.  You learn your baby’s rhythms and learn to work with them– Gabe’s goes eat, play for approximately an hour, swaddle, nap for 30 minutes, eat, repeat.  I’ve started nursing him right before he goes down for naps as well, it has the double bonuses of making him drowsy and helping him finally chunk up.

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