Parenting

To Play in a Pen

Once upon a time they were called Playpens. Now they're called anything from Playards to Pack N Plays to Infantile Detention Centers. In today's politically correct world, how dare anyone associate the cage we stick our children in with the muddy filth typically reserved for various barnyard animals. It's grotesque. It's repugnant! It's-- Well, I guess I don't really mind. But I digress...

Sifting through the hazy, cobwebbed, cluttered recesses of my personal data warehouse, I find several memories of a childhood during which I spent considerable hours lost in the fantasy world that was my playpen. I actually remember liking it (a memory reinforced by my mom telling me, 'You liked it.') And my sisters liked it as well. I imagine them having quaint little tea parties while my Millennium Falcon and X-Wing Fighter battalions bombarded their Imperial engagements with an endless barrage of Lego people heads, torsos, and legs (don't blame me; blame Lego for designing decapitatable figures). We must have been happy little siblings, sheltered from the super-sized adult world by white fishnet walls and collapsible metal railings.

Fast forward twenty-some odd years to find my wife and I purchasing a "playard" from Babies R Us. Our first daughter still resembled the bulge in my wife's round belly, but we knew the little monkey would eventually love her playpen.

Fast forward a year. Little monkey Smartypants wants nothing to do with her playpen. She never ever never ever never stays in it more than three minutes without wailing endlessly and groveling for us to pick her up and free her from confinement. We feel rejected, sad, lied to.

Marketing propaganda and parental testimonials promised us our child would play joyously for hours in that playpen. I don't think she spent thirty minutes of her entire life in that thing. We wondered, 'Why us?' It was the same longing we had when other children took three hour naps every afternoon (ours napped about an hour each day), the same longing we had when other children would sleep through the night (not our kid, not ever). Why us?

Fast forward two years. Smartypants' little sister, Smiley, is of proper playpen age. Yesterday, for the first time, she spent about 30 minutes in it. Occasionally she would fuss. She'd stand up, look around, whine a bit, then notice some other toy in the corner and go back to playing. It was amazing. The clouds parted and sunlight shone down on our living room. It was heaven, nirvana, whichever form of utopia your religious beliefs point you to. And I loved it.

Fast forward a day. She only lasted 30 seconds this morning. She cried before I even set her down. She wants freedom. She wants to crawl on the ground, eat every dirty crumb she encounters, pull on every random cord, push all reachable buttons, and get her eyes scratched out by the cat she endlessly harasses.

And I wonder, "Why me?" Those 30 minutes of relaxation when she played in her playpen passed too quickly, and I wonder if we'll ever experience them again. My children rarely nap, and so any time I can go to the bathroom without worrying that Smiley will somehow end up cooking a cat in the microwave is pleasure time. Maybe that's just me.

Do your children like their Infantile Detention Centers? I'm just curious.

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