Today, I feel compelled to write about play. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. There are so many moments that my kid asks me to play and I think of some excuse not to. I tell myself it’s because I have too much to do. Or that her idea of play is confusing, which really just means I don’t like it. She likes to replicate what is already happening during the day – like shopping, going to school, playing family, or horse camp. And, I laugh as I type this, because usually I have to do all of the play while she sits and watches. So not only do I have to re-do my day, but I have to do it alone!
For example, last time we played horse camp, she was the director and I was one of the campers. The director tells the campers what to do and then they do it. So, I did all of the work while she disappeared in “the house.” Or with school, she’s the music teacher and I’m her teacher and all of the kids. So, she hangs out until music class starts while I run the rest of the day. Or my favorite is where we play family and I’m the mom and she’s the kid. Last time, she was the baby and I was the Mom who had to set up all of the play while the baby took a nap.
This kid is hysterical. Simply, she loves to relive moments. And clearly I am struggling with this.
I do have a good time with her, a bit. And I cannot figure out why I can not just surrender to the play. To be in the moment. To make it not about me, or what I have to do later, or how I don’t want to play this way.
When as adults, did we learn that play is no longer acceptable? That it’s something we weren’t allowed to do, or didn’t have time for? Or even that it’s something that made us so self conscious of what others might think if we actually played in public that we simply gave it up? It happened sometime, and I am stuck in this narrative. I can’t initiate play and I am having so much trouble engaging in it.
A few weeks ago, I attended a friend’s adult play group. She is inspired by play and makes it a regular practice. She is now inviting others to join her once a month.
When I arrived, I took a giant bubble wand and made bubbles before entering the building. We then danced to further open the play date – movement with no direction or specifics. We listened to the bouncy sounds of Footloose and did whatever our body told us to do. This was my favorite part. I think I maybe have never danced like that, certainly not that I can remember. Afterwards, my body was light, exhausted, exhilarated. Next, we finger painted and played with play-doh. I primarily played with the play-doh, making my own little pizza, drinks, silverware, salad and pizza cutter. I would have done that as a kid. I Ioved to make things likes that. We ended with a bedtime story about how to look at life differently. It was called How To by Julie Morstad.
I simply remember the one page saying “how to clean your socks” and the picture was kids jumping in puddles with their socks on. A parent’s worst nightmare right? I mean think about it. If your kid jumps in a puddle outside in the rain in their socks, how would you feel? I know I’d feel annoyed, worried that the socks were ruined, irritated at the mess of it all. Now, imagine as your kid jumped in the puddle, there was deep, boisterous laughter. Then, how do you feel? I know I would still respond the same. If the laughter continued, I’d be more likely to let go and see the fun. Would you join in? I very much doubt that I would. Or if I could be convinced, there is no way I’d do it in my socks.
Why am I like this? As a kid, a light rain storm was an immediate cause for bathing suits and water toys. The cool icy water on a hot summer’s day was one of the best playgrounds. I can still remember the smell of the rain on the sun burnt grass desperately soaking up the rain in thirst. I can still feel the pebbles that gathered at the end of my driveway in the street gutter where the biggest puddles lay. I can still remember the feel of the change in the breeze when the rain turned to thunder. I can still see the bright colors of the water balloons and supersoakers that were only played with during this time.
I want to find my way back to socks in the puddle. As an adult, how do I do that? Part of me feels that my survival, my adulthood depends on this.
Over the last several months, I read The Artist’s Way. A key component is a weekly artist date, taking your artist out for something it enjoys. Julia Cameron writes that your artist is your inner child, so you must take this inner child out to play. I have had a heck of a time trying to figure out what to do each week. I have done a lot, some I would call play, others I would call likes. Last night, I chose to stay in and read a book, in a quiet room all by myself. This was close, believe it or not. I did some deep thinking on what I did as a kid. And knowing that I only had time at night this week and that we’re in the deep throes of winter, I worked to remember what I did when I was eight during these times. I remembered lying on my bed, reading, getting so enraptured by stories that I wouldn’t come out for hours. So, I did that last night. A small step, but also a giant one.
I want to want to play. I want to play with my kid and release the burden of being an adult in those moments. I want to jump at the chance to be the teacher, the horse camp director, or the even the mom. I want to look at this sweet child of mine and see her tiny little body so ecstatic by her play. So deep in the fun that she’ll never forget that feeling.
Today I am thinking that even though I have lost my sense of play, I can still find it. I need to do it for me. And I need to do it for my kids. I need her to know that you can hold onto this desire, to let go of who you are, to be someone else (or really a different version of yourself). I need her to know that when the world comes at you one day and tells you to “act like an adult,” she will also know that acting like an adult means you get to decide the moments that make up your day. And that play should be at the top of your list.
*Jessica Taubner is a friend who is inspiring play in all of us. She hosts a monthly play-date in Boston called It’s Okay to Play and if you are nearby, you should go, more info here. Or at the very least, take a moment all by yourself today, and pick your “Footloose” and dance the hell out of it.