Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Art of Play

For several years now my son has been nursing a desire to grow up and be a mathematician.  When I ask him what he thinks mathematicians actually do he says that it has something to do with numbers and that he gets to work with his dad.  Ah.  The dream makes sense.

But just a few weeks ago, when he woke up at night and needed a drink he poked his head into the kitchen. There was his dad, hard at work on his computer, like he very often is just after bedtime.  Apparently this trend has not been overlooked by the child and so he asked my husband, "Dad, will I still get play when I grow up? Maybe I'll do what Mom does instead of work with you."

I could have been insulted at his insinuation that I do not work much, but the kid had just seen me "working" all day by singing onstage and working with electric guitarists and drummers. (His personal heroes.) So.  

His might seem like a cute, innocuous question. But from the moment my child wakes up in the morning until roughly 10 minutes after he goes to bed every night, every waking move of his day revolves around the possibility of play.

Morning Situation (Usually around 6:45 am. He did NOT get this from me.)
Josh: "Dad, wake up, it's time for legos!"
Reed: (unintelligible mumbling)
Josh: "Come on, we have to PLAY before school!"  (Because preschool is so strenuous with all that counting to 10 and learning to stand in line.)

Lunch Situation (Usually driving home from preschool)
Josh: "Mom, can we play before lunch?"
Me: "Let's eat first and then play before rest time."
Josh: Silent treatment. Disappointment. Probably internal rage that will come out as a teenager.

Afternoon Situation (Right after "rest" time which has consisted of a 1/2 hour of actual rest (read, sitting on bed staring at toys) and 1 hour of playing with said toys)
Josh: "Is it time to play? How long can we play before dinner? Will we have time to play after dinner? How much time can we play?"
Me: Head explodes.

So, you see, my child's entire life is oriented around the art of play.  The idea that he might one day grow up and be unable to play every waking moment of the day led to that panicked late night question.  Now, I know it's possible he'll grow up to be a Lego engineer and play until he's 90, but more than likely a lot of his life will begin to revolve around work. I assume his desires will change at least a little before it comes time for him to choose a major, although given the current state of education I wouldn't be shocked if Legos were a major by 2025 when he starts college.

The more interesting point to his question is that I think play gets a strange rep after a certain age. People like to rage against adult adolescents, those people who never grew up, who play video games and avoid responsibility and act like they are 3, but have a lot of fun while at it.  The polar opposite gets the rep of sellout, of people who have given up on fun and taken on all the responsibility life has thrown at them and they just trudge out of bed every day, have that cup of coffee, go to work, raise their kids and forget they had dreams of their own, right?  But what's the in-between?  Do we, as adults, get to have FUN apart from our kids? Apart from Disney and parks and building sand cars for hours at the beach for a car-obsessed preschooler? Is it OK to play?

Sure, a lot of us have hobbies. I love a good jog or working in my garden. I adore a captivating book.  But how often do I play? A few months ago I went out to dinner with a group of women I'm really coming to love. I've know them for about a year now and this was the first time we've all just gone out, left our kids behind and had a fun night. When dinner was over, we found ourselves lingering. Did we really HAVE to go home? The kids were already asleep, right?  So we went to a dessert place and told crazy stories about the worst dates we'd ever been on while gorging on desserts.  Or at least, in my case, on coffee.  (Incidentally, this is a great party question. I'm still chuckling over some of the train wrecks.) 

The thing was we had fun. We laughed, we had conversations that had nothing to do with our children, we played.  And then we talked about why we need to do it more often. Why it's so important for our souls in this stage of life, with work and responsibilities, with being wives and moms and owning houses and being on adoption waiting lists and dealing with aging parents, why it's SO important to play.  To delight in the beauty of life, the gifts of growing friendship with each other.  And I know that sounds cheesy, but sometimes cheesy is just right. It's so easy to get too busy to enjoy life.

So the answer, my darling son, to your question is "Yes, adults do play.  We just have to want it enough to make it happen. And we have to choose to have margin in our lives so it's possible."

So, I shall host a movie night, full of margaritas and Girls Just Want To Have Fun and I will wish once again, like I did when I first saw that movie as a kid, that I could be on Dance TV and be friends with Helen Hunt.  I may (read, will) even get up off the couch and dance along because, let's face it, I probably still have half the dances memorized.  I will ask my friends, much like my son, when we can play next and I will ask it until we make it a habit.

I will learn again to delight in each moment of the day and cherish those chances to laugh and play, to be thankful for the family and friends I have been given as playmates, not at the expense of my responsibilities or roles in adult life, but in complement to them.  

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