When Paloma was very little, she wouldn't ask you to play. Instead, she'd thrust whatever toy would be yours in whatever game she had spun in her head and say, "One for youuuuuu!" It was, in my highly biased opinion, one of the cutest things ever.
Nowadays it's much rarer for Paloma to sidle up to me while I'm sitting at my desk and say, "Wanna play with me?" Hunter is at the exact right age to feel like having a playmate is his right so he doesn't hesitate before saying, "Let's play!" But his big sister has learned that mama has to work and on top of that she's creeping up on the age when playing with a friend or even playing alone is more fun than playing with a parent who needs a guide to play pretend.
I had kind of an emotional moment this morning thinking about how much less frequently I am invited to stop and play. Now I'm not exactly sentimental about the fact that my kids will grow up, way too soon, because that is pretty much the whole point. But I will admit that I did stop and wonder if Paloma, even at the ripe old age of seven, would still be asking me to play if I hadn't said no so much.
The feeling I'm feeling isn't exactly guilt and it's not exactly regret. The money I make puts food on the table, after all, and having a parent that can only say yes to games sometimes is better than having a parent who always says no because they're too worried about finances to get into the game. And chances are good that it all has much more to do with Paloma's age and her evolving play style and maybe even the fact that we have been spending more time together because I've been making the effort.
In any case, it's strange what you miss. Being asked to play while I'm on deadline or in the middle of a call isn't always pleasant. Having to say no is the worst, especially when the end result is tears and frustration on both sides. I can't go back and change the past but I can put my listening ears on now and really hear it when Paloma and Hunter sidle up and said, "Wanna play with me?" And then I can ask myself - is the deadline that's keeping me from saying yes half an hour from now or tomorrow?
If it's the latter, I need to stop myself from automatically saying no. Sometimes work can wait.