You Call That a Tickle?
“I have an idea for a column for you,” my sister said to me on the phone the other day. “I was trying to tickle my son,” she continued, “when it struck me that I really had no idea how to tickle him properly, and that, when it came down to it, no true desire to tickle.” This suspicion of hers was confirmed when he looked up at her as if to say, “you call that a tickle?”
“You should write about the differences between mothers and fathers when it comes to playing, or not playing, with their kids,” she suggested. In her house, her husband does the tickling and is apparently quite expert at it. His brand of father-play also features a healthy dose of chasing, she reported.
“Hmm, very interesting, my husband is more of a tosser,” I said, thinking that she was on to something. “His play method involves a lot of boy-throwing, be it onto beds, sofas, or pillows.” This type of play also applies to pools or other bodies of water. “We don’t do much chasing here,” I added, “but there is a lot of Greco-Roman wrestling, with bare chests and all.” It’s really quite cute to watch, until someone gets hurt.
They used to play this game called Monster, when the boys would run and hide and wait for Daddy (the monster, complete with roars and grunts) to come and find them. After our youngest ran into a wall while finding a place to hide and required a trip to the ER for stitches, that game lost its luster.
I think I can safely speak for a lot of moms out there (or, at least the ones I hang out with) when I say I don’t toss, chase, tickle, or wrestle with my children and have no desire to so. I don’t work outside of the home, so between taking care of them and the house, I’m plain too pooped for much horseplay. I love them and nurture them, do I have to entertain them too?
Sure, on occasion I’ll put a puzzle together, draw a picture, or toss a ball around. But on the whole, I prefer to take a much more supervisory role, making suggestions, setting mood and tone and letting them take it from there. Show me a playground for them and a nice bench for me to sit on, and I’ve got myself a pleasant afternoon.
I don’t feel that my attitude in this regard detracts from my relationship with my children. I’m just not that kind of mom. The youngest of three, I have no memory of playing with my parents when I was child. I do, however, remember that my mother would always say how good I was at entertaining myself, a life skill she clearly valued.
A sparring partner I may not be but if you need a squeeze or a cuddle, I’ve got your back. So please don’t ask me to push on the swing for an hour or play touch-football. I’ve got to make dinner and fold a pile of laundry. Just wait for your father to get home. He’s your man.
Judith Margolis Friedman, 2008, revised 2022