When I was a kid, my mom used to tell me to go outside and play. Before I could come up with a reason why I couldn’t, she’d shove me out the door and lock it behind me. Literally. I was the kid who would have gladly spent my summer vacation holed up in my room, reading. The most joyous moments of my elementary-school playtime were spent working my way through the entire late 1940′s-vintage World Books on our family bookshelf, as well as the children’s classics that came in the mail every month. This literary diet was supplemented with the Redbook and Ladies Home Journal magazines to which my mom subscribed.
Reading was playing. Or, if I got tired of reading, I loved doing craft projects or watching TV. Playing with the neighborhood kids was work for me. My favorite playground was my mind…until I had kids. They enrolled me in the remedial course in play.
When we had 3 babies in 36 months, I tried to remember a little piece of super-true doggerel found on too many cheesy plaques (next to the Footprints collection) at places like the Cracker Barrel:
“Cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow
For children grow up we’ve learned to our sorrow
So quiet down cobwebs, Dust go to sleep!
My baby needs rocking and babies won’t keep!”
Though plaques aren’t usually a source of wisdom in my life, I knew these words were true – and that the last line extended far beyond the newborn-rocking phase to be there, present and fully-engaged with my little ones at each step of their development when I was used to living in my head. I know I succumbed to the temptation more than I should have to replace “cleaning” and “scrubbing” in the verse above with other verbs: “reading”, “helping other people”, “writing”. But that little verse ended up being God’s goad in my life, driving me out of my head and my agenda and to the beach to build sandcastles, to the table to color WITH ALL 64 CRAYONS, and to pull the blanket out of the closet to make dozens of forts.
When we moved 4 years ago, I found a ticket for a magic show given to my husband and I. (Our kids often put on various shows for us after dinner each night: magic, obstacle course, theater, music.) I put the kid-made ticket in my daytimer, an odd oxymoron – a piece of childhood ephemera stuck into the pages of a decidedly adult tool. That little ticket is more than just a reminder of the sweetest moments of our kids’ childhood. It is something I still need to redeem now, today, in my life.
Now that my kids are young adults themselves, I need to learn how to play…again. Bill and I and our amazing friends Scott and Karen went and had a day of adult playtime yesterday: a winery visit, a lot of wandering around, and theater under the stars at the American Players Theater in Spring Green, WI. It was a delightful day, but I have to admit – this recreation stuff still doesn’t come naturally to me.
The things I’ve discovered about play (get my nose out of the book, stay in the moment, and redeem those invitations to attend magic shows put on by 9 year-olds) are the ones I need now more than ever.