Time to Play: Playtime During Our Time of Crisis

I never knew the type of person I’d be during a time of crisis. It turns out, though, I’m an equal mix of crazy and calm—or so I’m told.

Over the past year, my family has had a slew of medical misfortunes. From my husband’s anaphylaxis episode to the baby’s epilepsy diagnosis and subsequent episodes, we’ve seen the ER quite a bit lately. Crisis mode, as a parent, is something you hope to never know, but when it does happen, something I’m learning is that your reaction has a ripple effect.

In between the ambulance rides and specialists visits, as a mom, I’ve tried to hold it together for all of us. I unravel in private to friends and family, but when we’re in crisis mode, I have to remind myself that rationality often equals resilience. Children, no matter the age, feed off the emotions of those around them. And while it can be dangerous to keep emotions bottled up, the National Association of School Psychologists reinforces that how adults express their emotions will influence the reactions of children.

I’ve had some practice on my crisis mode reaction. In fact, on our last ambulance ride to the Children’s Hospital ER, the EMT thanked me for being so calm. Then again, in other situations, I’ve screamed my head off because I was so scared and confused. I can’t even begin to imagine how that made my kids feel.

Above the crazy and calm, playtime has proven to be the all-time neutralizer. Because the baby’s diagnosis is still so new, we’re still learning about the nuances of this brain disorder. And so, with each hospital trip, it’s our quest to remain calm and avoid the crazy.

Like most families, we never leave the house without our smartphones. Our iPhones, especially in our darkest hours, have proven to be our most valuable resources beyond our family themselves. Beyond Googling diagnoses and procedures, the iPhone has entertained and educated our 5-year-old and doubled as a major distraction. From PBS Kids apps to Angry Birds Star Wars, zoning out with an addictive game, we’ve learned, has quelled our older boy’s anxiety while waiting on procedures or test results in the hospital.

Because we don’t have local family and separation anxiety comes into play, our 5-year-old is usually along for the ride in most of our medical emergency situations. What does a healthy big brother do for four hours in the emergency room while everyone is tending to baby? He plays. Most recently, the LeapPad2, Play-Doh, puzzles, and good ol’ crayons and coloring books from home have been our on-the-go staples for all of these hospital trips. These playthings—a juxtaposition of tech and classic—are convenient to stash in my bag, especially when we’re quite literally running out of the door. These sorts of toys encourage creativity and imagination, which have been an important outlet for emotional expression.

In most emergency room waiting areas and doctor’s offices, stagnant toys and outdated books take up space in the corner. But many children’s hospitals are equipped with the latest technology to appease and add comfort for the young patients. As with many families who spend an extended period of time in the hospital, it’s a gift when there are updated and fully equipped playrooms. Our hospital, in fact, was stocked and updated via the Starlight Foundation. Speaking of experience, the toys, games, TV, and amenities for the pediatric patients and their families truly make a difference and add a sense of comfort for an otherwise stressful time.

In that wonderful playroom, our 5-year-old learned how to play Candyland. He loved this classic game so much, he befriended patients, who, like his baby brother, suffered from seizures or were undergoing EEG testing. Despite the fact that our baby was undergoing some serious procedures in the other room, I loved watching my older son make friends with patients through play.  Playtime, especially in a hospital setting, is a common bond and the best distraction for everyone. Candyland is now one of our family’s favorite games. And because playtime during a difficult time means so much, the baby’s 1st birthday was Candyland-themed.

There’s no telling when we’ll find ourselves in the ER again—hopefully never. But, in the end, it’s all about self-preservation, or more accurately, family preservation. And for this family, playtime not only enforces normalcy, but also heals with joy and laughter.

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