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Redefining Play

Updated: Jul 28, 2023

Growing up, I was obsessed with Barbies.

If we went out to eat, guess who’d tag along…Barbie.

Pool? Barbie.

Sleep-over? Ken.

I’m kidding, you guessed it, Barbie.

One could say I lived-in a pint-sized world of make-believe.

I didn’t tinker. I wasn’t a builder. I was an observer.

If it wasn’t an ant farm, a Wildlife Fact-File, or a microscope, it was a Barbie.

Most of the time, the play was solely in my head; the scenarios and conversations I’d make up, silent. An imagination party of one.

Olivia doesn’t get Barbies. The one time I handed her a Barbie, Olivia engulfed her head and shampooed her synthetic hair in slobber. Poor Barbie.

Olivia has a room chock full of stuff. Mostly, it’s delimited to an appropriate level of play which averages at about fifteen-months old in Olivia’s case.

She randomly gets the urge to pop whole objects in her mouth, and well…. you can see how that can be a problem.

Instead of typical three-to-four-year-old toys, we’ve stacking cups (a lot of them), mega-blocks (big ones), blocky wooden puzzles, and cardboard books (she eats paper too). This isn’t my ideal play space. Often times I wish to replace a bucket of rainbow plastic for an elegant two-story Barbie townhome, but that isn’t my life. This is my life. These chunks of wood, this stacking ring toy, this Melissa and Doug farmhouse stuffed with randoms: that’s Olivia’s Barbie mansion.

Occupational play, to me, is monotonous. I zone out. Then factor in that Olivia doesn’t always want to play with toys in their designed way. Sometimes, in her opinion, a stacking cup needs to be perched atop the xylophone, and the wooden puzzle, thrown across the room, obviously. Olivia’s play is frenzied. Seen through an impatient lens, it’s interpreted chaos. But perhaps, seen correctly, it’s an imagination party of one!

Keith plays on his phone. I don’t write this defamatory. There are hundreds of Apps out there with large audiences, so he isn’t the only one.

One night, I observed him crushing candy, and found myself jealous. Not at the App. I was jealous of him, the fact that he could find something so basic to enjoy, a thoughtless sense of engagement. I scrolled through my phone and tried to find something that I could fancy. I settled on some App that had me digitally organize random items, hastily. The timer, the single-mindedness…all of it was hypnotizing. I spent twenty minutes on that.

A few days ago, I found myself staring at a blur of mega-blocks on the floor. Olivia had dumped them out and she had no intention of putting them back into the bucket. I gave a tired exhale, then I remembered the App: the mega-blocks slowly transformed into level one.

With a new sense of purpose, I knelt on the floor, made a bigger mess by completely disassembling each one, then waited for the clock to start.

Goal: Re-attach each color, each shape, and each configuration, then place them in the bucket.


I worked ferociously to connect the pieces and place them in the bucket at record speed. Olivia sat beside me fascinated! At the end of it, I found myself exhilarated. Olivia clapped. I’d done it!

Done what? I’m still not sure.

What I think I did was turn an imagination party of one into an imagination party of two. Olivia got to see exactly how each piece gets put back together, and that mommy is brilliant and fast!

The point is: I’m starting to see play through a different lens. Redefining it.

I’m learning that we adults don’t lose our desire for it, we just revise our form of it.

This lesson has breathed new life into me, and into Olivia and I’s play sessions.

How do you define play?

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Shalamar Iris
Shalamar Iris
Jan 21, 2021

Hello Julie, and welcome!

I'm so glad Billie referred this Blog.

It is so hard (in general) to ask (disease, ailment, condition) questions- even if you know someone extremely well. :)

Thank you for the lovely compliments on my daughter, and my writing.

I hope, here, you find a safe space to be curious, as well as glimpses into our little corner of the world. <3


Hi Shalamar. I'm a friend of Billie's (though only for a short time). I've seen some photos and posts about Olivia on Facebook and I have been curious to ask what her disease/ailment/condition was. When you don't know someone THAT well, it's hard to know how they will react to a question about it. So, when she posted that you started this blog, I jumped right to it and read all the posts. I just read this one - Redefining Play. I just wanted to say that first of all, you have a beautiful little girl. Second, you are truly a gifted writer. I look forward to reading more about Olivia and pray for God's blessings to pour …

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