Tag Archives: kids playing doctor

Little Pitchers, Big C

“Mama, come on! Play doctor with me!”

“One second.”

I tapped hurriedly at my computer. I was trying to list something on ebay while simultaneously keeping MJ company. She’d been patient, considering she’d been asking me to put the laptop down for over fifteen minutes.

“Give me…one…more…minute,” I muttered, as I tapped out a description of the hideous kids’ top I was trying to sell. What’s a euphemism for “I wouldn’t put my child in this if she were naked in a nuclear freeze?”

“To die for,” I wrote.


“OK, OK,” I said, not glancing up from my screen. “Are my patients ready?”


“Doctor’s tools?”

“I laid them out.”

Done, finally. “I’m coming right now.” I hit enter, waited for confirmation–Congratulations! Your item is for sale!–and shut my laptop. Standing up, I smiled gamely. “I’m ready.”

Then I saw the waiting room. Otherwise known as the row of small chairs MJ drags in from all over the house to prop my patients on. There were, like, fifteen. Each one containing a stuffed animal, fluffy and impatient-looking.

“Jesus. That’s a lot of patients, Myra-Jean.”


“I have errands to run.”

She looked at me sweetly. “Just do these guys and we’ll be done.”

I took a deep breath. We could start, I guessed, and see if she got bored.


Sighing, I walked to my office. The couch. “Bring me number one.”

MJ–who moonlights as the ambulance driver–hopped onto her plasma car, drove it all of three inches to the waiting chairs, and grabbed a small brown horse. Pivoting the car slightly, she drove it another half a foot and dropped her passenger on the coffee table.

I picked it up. “Hi, little horse. What’s your name?”

MJ replied squeakily: “Lisa.”

I petted my client’s mane. “Hi, Lisa. And what seems to be the trouble today?”

“I have a stomach flu.”

“Oh, dear. Let’s start by listening to your heart.”

As I tucked the hard plastic of the stethoscope into my ears, I drifted onto auto pilot. I was on script now, and frankly I could recite my lines in my sleep. The ailments never varied; neither did the treatment. Patients came in with one of three things: the stomach flu, a fever, or a cough. They got their hearts checked, blood pressure taken, ear mites removed (a mysterious process involving  waving a strand of yellow straw around their heads), and a stool sample taken (don’t ask). Then they were declared cured. They left, another one took their place.

What a grind. I can imagine just a little bit what doctors under managed care must feel like. I often consider going into dentistry. But then I remember my patients have no teeth.

I was interrupted in these musings when, three patients in, something woke me out of my stupor.

It started with a dog. A small one, with dirty-white and brown fur. At first her visit seemed routine. Myra-Jean pulled up in the ambulance. The dog was thumped onto the coffee table. Her voice, when she told me her name, was as pipey as always.

“I’m Mina!”

In my mind I was way off at the mall, choosing a new suit for work. I said my next line absently. “What brings you in today, Mina?”

Myra-Jean smiled brightly. “I have cancer!”

I looked up quickly, pushing my stethoscope off of my ears. On the other side of the room, Mike glanced up from his reading, eyes wide.

“What did you say?”

“Cancer!” So cheerful. She might have been saying “ice cream!”

I shot a glance at Mike, then twisted my lips uncertainly. “Um, I don’t handle things like that.”

“Yes you do,”  Mina/MJ squealed blithely.

“No, I don’t,” I told them pointedly. I looked directly at MJ: “Honey, where did you hear about cancer?”

My daughter smiled, clearly satisfied that she had stumped me. “Awigas told me.”

Ah, Awigas. The imaginary friend. Denizen of San Francisco, outer space traveller, expert on all things, and recipient of any and all free-floating responsibility.

I nodded sagely. And said nothing. I really didn’t know what to say.

Fortunately Mike chimed in. Thank God. With perfect eloquence and kindness he explained to Myra-Jean that cancer was a serious sickness. That she probably knew about it because she’d heard us talking. Because we knew people who had it. That it was so serious it didn’t really belong in a game. That if she had questions about it she could ask, but that Mommy wasn’t comfortable making light of something so grave.

Myra-Jean nodded, appearing to understand. I hoped things hadn’t gotten too serious for her.

“Anyway,” I added, more cheerfully, “if Mina really had cancer she’d need a specialist. And I’m just a general practitioner. So let’s give her a stomach flu instead, OK?”

MJ didn’t miss a beat. “My dalmatian doll is a specialist.”

Needless to say the doctor’s office had to shut down early. The physician needed a break. There were some unhappy customers left in the waiting room, but I assured them they’d get seen early tomorrow. They always do.

As for Mina? Her diagnosis is still in question. Mike and I know what we think it is…

But MJ, Awigas, and a certain spotted canine I know? They have a different idea entirely.


Mess En Scene

Every day, our three-year-old finds new ways to throw the house into total mayhem. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I love it. She’s playing. It’s imaginative. It’s what all the books say you want. And it’s fantastic to watch that little brain at work. But it can be wildly dispiriting to contemplate putting it all away at the end.

And even more dispiriting when there seems to be no end.

MJ used to play at something for an hour or so, then grow bored and move on. That’s when I would swoop in, sing “Clean up!” and zip everything back into its place. Done.

These daysthough, one game can stretch on for days. And, from Myra-Jean’s perspective, at least, that means everything must stay where it is until she’s done playing. This can lead to, um, conflict.

Last week, for example, MJ created a”spider’s nest” in her bedroom. It was a major set-up: several blankets, her entire collection of recently-made arachnids, a bunch of blocks, some toy trains, a handful of beads, colored feathers, stuffed animals…the list goes on. Every single element was, for her, indispensable and perfect. And it remained so, even when it was time for bed.

This posed us with a dilemma. MJ’s bedroom is not large. I’ve seen bigger meat lockers. This game effectively took up every inch of walking space. Still, it was sweet. And so clever! We decided to let it go for the night.

But the next day saw no diminishment in MJ’s zeal. If anything, the project grew more elaborate.

Mike and I began to complain on day three. “Look,” we said. “We like your nest, we really do. But it can’t stay here much longer.”

“Why?” MJ asked, her voice quavering.

“Fires, earthquakes, to start–” said Mike.

Honey,” I said, shooting him a look. To her: “We need you to be safe. We need to be able to cross the floor without tripping on, well, all of this–

“I want it to stay!” Instant tears. An actress would kill for such ability.

So it stayed. Until day five, when I snapped. MJ was at school; I was cleaning, in that I’ve-only-got-two-hours-to-do-ten-hours-worth-of-housekeeping kind of way. Entering her room, I looked around. I weighed the consequences. And I cleaned. Everything. Up.

It felt fantastic.

Until later. When Myra-Jean saw what I’d done she cried like I’d killed her puppy. A really cute one, with lopsided ears and a black patch over one eye.

But she didn’t just cry. No, she raced about, retrieving everything I’d put away, and flung it all back on the floor. As manic attempts to recreate the past go it was pretty effective. It didn’t hurt, of course, that I was helping her–feverishly pulling out everything I’d just put away, handing it to her, and chanting “I’m sorry. I thought you were done.  I’m so sorry. Here’s the pipe cleaners. Here’s Bunny-Bunny. Please stop crying. ”

Which brings me to tonight. And my living room.

The game this week is “Spider Doctor.” It takes place not in MJ’s room, but out here, in our common area. The “set” for it makes last week’s play look like black box theater. We’re Broadway bound now! This game involves most or all of Myra-Jean’s possessions, and quite a few of ours. There are pillows covered with cloth napkins on the coffee table, an “examination area” blocking the TV, bins, baskets, play doctor tools, a cigar-box banjo, pots and pans, plastic bead necklaces, a measuring tape, Trader Joes bags…it’s an installation of epic proportions. Think “Les Mis,” with pipe cleaners.

And tonight I can’t do it anymore. Like a Satanic stage hand, I am striking set before closing day. I need a break. I need a living room. I need to watch an episode of “Game of Thrones” without a pile of “spider food” blocking my view.

I need to be a grownup, if even just for a couple of hours.

And, tomorrow, when Myra-Jean caterwauls at the sight? I will help her restore it to its former state. All the while muttering “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

Which will only be a partial lie.