Alaska winters test humankind and, when I visited this January, old, hard-packed snow crusted the bleak backyard at Downtown Abbey. The Ladies Cora and Winna joust and tussle endlessly out there, and shredded stuffing from tug-of war-battles with chew toys litter the landscape.
During these short, cold, snowless days, outdoor playing with children requires ingenuity. After dinner Mr. Carson takes Lady Baby (dressed in full cold weather gear) and both dogs (wearing reflective vests and blinking lights) to go “spelunking.” Carrying a small purple lantern she received for Christmas, Lady Baby leads the way through the neighborhood dark.
But indoors is warm and cheerful. In spite of new toys for Christmas and birthday, most favorite is a jumble of toys in a big plastic bag, purchased by Mrs. Hughes at a second-hand toy store some months ago.
The bag contains a pick-up truck or two, a boat, and a lot of somewhat articulated plastic guys – Lady Baby calls them “camping guys.” They do have a tent amongst their gear, but they also pack heat, wear goggles, cargo pants, and vests of different colors. Some appear to be uniformed officers with hats and badges.
But many of these details don’t register with Lady Baby, she makes up job descriptions, abilities, and story. Mostly the guys ride in the pick-up pulling the boat (driver and a passenger in the cab, the rest in back). They can bend their knees into a sitting position, though they often tip and slide from their assigned seats. They have names, but I’m wont to mix them up.
One day I noticed the moment she crossed over from batting-around-bored into an imaginary world. Wanting to finish a small sewing project for her mom, I’d picked up my needle. I sensed her regard me, assess my potential, and then turn to something elaborate with the guys as she moved them around the room. We happily did our parallel play.
At nap and bedtime, she often requests (one of several stalling mechanisms), “tell me about your day.” That’s an irresistible command, so I say OK, and she says, “No, you say, OK if you lie down and be quiet.” Then I begin – “once upon a time Lady Baby got up in the morning and found her granny” – and I carry on describing our activities in detail, ending with – “and then she got cozy with Monkey and the other stuffed animals and went to sleep.” And she usually does.
A participant in The Workroom recommended Greg McKeown’s book “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.” McKeown’s theory of keeping to what matters, though written for hard-driving executives, applies to much of life. He’s adamant about the importance of play and the value of sleep.
Both are Lady Baby strengths. She lives a life of essentialism – few screens, good food, sleep, loving family and friends – and plenty of play.