Playmobile Miracle

Up until the middle of last summer, every single night for God-only-knows how many years, G asked me to play Playmobile with him before bed. What he meant when he asked me to play was that while I tried to navigate a plastic family through a day in their lives, he would interject a series of tragic events to befall the poor, plastic family. Hunched over in the peak-turned-playroom of our bungalow and using my best little Playmobile-people voice, I tried to ensure the survival of the mom, dad, and little brother and sister I was assigned. When G threw out, say, a hurricane to destroy all their meager possessions, I’d send out someone from the insurance agency. He would follow up with a wild-animal attack on the agent. I’d walk plastic mom to the bank to discover they had all burned down. No matter what I tried to help the little family, he thwarted my efforts. In the course of a single evening the children were taken into slavery, a Republican super majority overturned the 13th amendment, and a boss was pulled out of a plastic bin to announce plastic dad’s services were no longer needed.

G would occasionally take pity and toss me a cast-off bit from another set so I could try and assemble a new home, but he’d never let me get very far. There was always another hurricane, tornado, earthquake, or sink hole. Once Playmobile dad constructed a nice wood-burning stove out of an end table, but G objected, “Even if they had a stove, they don’t have anything to put in it. Besides, their house is underwater. How are they going to start a fire?”

At some point, usually after I threatened to quit playing, G would bring in plastic-adult-child Rachel who was “like 18 or 19 or something” and who, as pure luck would have it, had secured a mansion through either a math contest or skating competition. She always had at least two cars, a camper, and a summer cottage. As she entered the scene, I was instructed that the parents would give her a lengthy embrace and then while Rachel listened intently, her parents would list all the difficulties they’d endured since the fire that separated them when she was a baby. As a result of this reunion, Rachel would casually suggest they move in with her. They didn’t have a car, of course, so Rachel had to come first to their house. Looking around at their possessions, she assured them they could leave their scraps and bits behind.

Next they were driven to their new home where they’d be pushed room by room through Rachel’s beautiful mansion and listen as the decor, the electronics, the food, and the furniture were all described in exquisite detail. The young children were given a beautiful room with a balcony, boxes of toys, and lamps that really lit up. The parents scrounged a bit and found a spot to sleep on Rachel’s floor, or sometimes the sofa. They’d ooh and aah and be very impressed and extremely grateful.

Every. Fucking. Day.

Of course I realized G was playing out a fantasy he had of rescuing his birthfamily, but that didn’t make it any less irritating to repeat night after night. I’d try to change the story. Maybe the family liked the old vet clinic where they resided and didn’t want to leave? Perhaps Rachel became a doctor and provided some financial assistance to help fix her parents’ house? Perhaps Rachel helped them connect with a humanitarian organization? No. No. No. We had to play it G’s way. There was no way out–not for the plastic family and not for me.

One afternoon a mom at the pool sweetly reassured another mom that her kids wouldn’t remember how messy their house was but rather they would remember the summer afternoons spent playing with mom. I looked around at the nodding heads and then inquired, “But wouldn’t you rather clean the house, I mean, instead of playing with them?” The silence told me I they wouldn’t. I had reached a new low. Then, finally, a miracle.

In those days G’s rages were frequent and violent, and I was struggling to figure out how to parent him while also mourning my own mother’s recent passing. I was exhausted, spent, but in a moment of rare bravery or insanity for an offense I no longer remember, I announced to G, “That’s it! No TV for the rest of the day.”

This may not sound suicidal, but G didn’t tolerate consequences that didn’t naturally or logically follow his offense. Normally, if he, say, stuck an iron fire poker through the wall, he would be commanded to patch, sand, and then paint the wall, which he would do cheerfully. If he called me an idiot, he’d be expected to write words of apology and flattery, which he would proudly present to me. But, on that particular day, for whatever reason, I didn’t want him to have a happy, make-it-all-better consequence. I wanted him to hurt, and though it went against the advice of his therapist, I decided on a consequence that I knew would make him angrier.

It did. He went to the “I’m a bad kid” place and threw things. He screamed and cried about not being loved or lovable as he ground a stick of deodorant into the wall. He called me “a fuck” while I muttered from behind my bedroom door where I’d been waiting him out, “fuck is not a noun!” He screamed for his “real family.” He accused me of murdering them. He screamed out the window that he had been kidnapped. There were thuds and crashes and brief periods of worrisome silence, and then he kicked out his screen and threatened to jump from his second-story window.

This worked. As I leapt out of my room, he ran in and, armed with a pair of scissors, sat on the bed and turned on the TV. Without dropping the blade, pointed at me as though he were wielding a sword, he proceeded with his other hand to switch to the Disney channel. I briefly thought about pulling the electrical switch in the basement, but decided to try talking him down first. “G,” I tried calmly, “you can’t possibly be enjoying that show while defending yourself with scissors.” It took a long while, but eventually he dropped the scissors. He screamed for his birthfather. He wanted to know why his birthmother had given him up. Did she know he had Tourette when he was an infant? Would she would have kept him if he’d been a girl? Mostly he wanted to know if we could adopt her, too.

He pleaded and begged and though there is really no way to explain to a small child why his mother would choose to be some place other than where he is, something finally settled him. After hugs and more tears he occupied himself quietly in his room. And then, after several more hours and more apologies, he asked me to please play Playmobile with him.

“There’s just one family this time, two parents and two kids. They’re moving to their new house. You’re the boys, I’m the girls.” Hesitantly I fit myself into the small space on the floor. Together we drove the whole family from the modern suburban hour to the grand mansion. As a family, they explored each room together. They all went for a swim and made a fire in the backyard to roast marshmallows. They fell asleep and woke up and the kids went to their new school, which they loved. They watched TV without fighting over who got which spot or what to watch. They went to sleep, they woke up, they did it all again.

I wondered, without the drama, how long G be able to play this game, but it seemed he couldn’t get enough of being this family–this plastic, ordinary family that did ordinary things and was never separated by disaster, natural or otherwise. Eventually I was the one who tired of the lack of drama and announced it was time for bed.

“Can we play this again tomorrow?” G wanted to know. “Totally,” I replied. And we have, nearly every night since, played out dinners, camping trips, marshmallow roasts, trips to the zoo and the pool and the playground, plane rides to the ocean, school field trips, bedtime stories, birthday parties and holidays. He cannot get enough.

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