I am, therefore I play!
Playing is fun.
Fun is important.
These are things I learned early in life. And like most things we pick up early, I learned them at home. Which I know may seem like a pretty unusual place to learn about the importance of having fun.
When my father was a boy, he and his brothers coaxed a cow from the pasture into the house—and up the stairs to the second floor, just to see if they could do it. AND because they thought it would be fun. At least that’s how the story went every time Daddy told it, and believe me, he told it dozens of times. Many years later in a house of his own, and with no livestock of the bovine kind readily available, he enticed a semi-willing, fairly gullible squirrel into our back hall and up the stairs, for what must have been the exact same reasons. Why else would he do it? And to the delight of my brother, sister and I, that little fluffy tailed rodent stopped by often for a visit and a treat (peanuts in the shell). We named him Tony. And sometimes he brought a friend along. Tony (and his descendants) became a regular visitors to our home and when my mom sold the house after my dad passed, she adopted a new squirrel family at her new digs…because it was fun.
My mother, somewhere in her mid seventies at the time, was caught red handed, in a contest with my nephew who was then seven or eight, to see who could stuff the most grapes in their mouth. My sister found them sitting on the sofa, cheeks bulging with grapes they weren’t allowed to chew—how else could you keep count and determine the winner?
And these comical, entertaining parents of mine had the nerve, the temerity, to call me their “silly” child!!! Duh?! I say “takes one to know one!”
In one of the novels Donna and I wrote, one character admonishes another saying “the surest way to end up with nowhere to go, is to forget where you came from.” And although it still feels odd, even after all these years to quote our own work, I think the words Loretta spoke to Pat in Tryin’ to Sleep in the Bed You Made are a wise warning we should all heed and a sentiment that is perfectly applicable to aging.
The surest way to get old, is to forget what it was like to be young.
I’ll repeat that just in case you missed it the first time.
The surest way to get old, is to forget what it was like to be young.
I don’t know how much of our forgetting is truly a failure to recall – goodness knows most of us, at this stage of life, have more than a touch of “CRS” (Can’t Remember Shit), and how much is a deliberate choice not to recall. This is choice results in a peculiar form of amnesia we can all be found guilty of. You watched your parents come down with it, promised yourself it would never happen to you, and yet, here you are—so far long life’s rocky climb to wherever it is you think you’re supposed to be going, that you can’t even remember that fun used to be important—hell, it was everything. In your full speed ahead quest to reach adulthood—and you really were in a hurry weren’t you? You deemed certain behavior childish and unsuitable. And since we have been taught that there is a time and a season for everything under the sun, in the name of being a grown up, one of the first things to be declared out of season and cast aside, is play.
Play means doing something simply because it brings you pleasure. No other reason is needed—just plain old fun. There may be some tangential value that comes from playing, but it’s a by-product and should be considered gravy. So while your workout at the gym may leave you invigorated (or exhausted) and the hour you spent in spinning class makes you feel strong and smug, these activities do NOT equal play. Yes, they are healthful, helpful and undoubtedly important, but they are not to be confused with playing.
Just in case you can’t even conjure up a picture of what having fun really looks like, take a gander at any four year old seriously engaged in her most important task—playing. She can be lost in an imaginary scenario involving an ersatz family of dolls for whom she has created specific relationships, and will tell you so in no uncertain terms. “No!! That’s the Mommy not the Big Sister!” She may be moving sand from one pile to another, watching with delight as the grains spill through her hands, repeating the process over and over again. Or she may be running in circles until she’s dizzy with glee and vertigo. It doesn’t matter to her—as long as she gets joy from the experience—and she will.
And because, as a general rule, children play every day, she will wake up the next day anxious to seek and find joy in play once again. Of necessity, as we get older, the amount of time we spend playing diminishes proportionately until we’ve reached the age of presumed maturity— at which point we proudly kick play to the curb permanently, declaring fun a “waste of time.”
This is a BIG MISTAKE. One you are now in a position to correct.
The honest truth is that men are way better at keeping play as a part of their day to day life than women, and we give them grief for it. Whether it’s golf, poker, fishing or a pick-up game of hoops, we are more likely than not
to harp on the amount of time they waste being childish– playing silly games or complain about the hours they spend glued to the tube, playing vicariously. How dare they goof-off when there are errands to be run, gutters to be cleaned, garages (attics, basements, spare rooms) to be cleared, lawns to be mowed? Their “Honey Do” list of chores is relentlessly endless. What immature, childish oafs they are! And what conscientious, hardworking, mature adults we are by comparison.
But what if, instead of being indignant at their irresponsible, juvenile behavior, or flexing our passive-agressive (“It’s ok. Go on…play games with your friends. “) muscles, we considered the possibility that maybe, just maybe, there is a little something we could learn from them?
I know, it may sound like sacrilege. I’m probably even in violation of some secret female code of conduct known only, and instinctively, I might add, to the members of the XX Chromosome Club. And I will probably be hunted down like a traitor and forced to cut
up my XXCC membership card for uttering this. Don’t you think it pains me to admit that areas might even exist where women are not equal or superior to the XY Guys?! But I willingly make this sacrifice because I call ‘em like I see ‘em. When it comes to honoring play- and the spirit of play, the boys win– hands down.
When is the last time you exhausted yourself having fun instead of worn yourself out with duty or obligation? Can’t remember can you? So what’s a woman to do? Well in the case of the play- challenged chick, the answer is: definitely not what she’s always done. You must accept first that play is not ageist—
OK, I grant you my knees don’t hold up as well during a kitchen floor game of jacks as they once did. But like with everything else about this getting older business, I’m smart enough to compensate–I don’t play jacks often, a pillow is helpful, I only play for a short time and I’ve even played standing at a table. The point is that I still enjoy jacks so why not play? Of course, there are other, more mature things I have fun doing as well— going dancing, cooking for friends and sex (Yep!), but I thought my love of jacks, precisely because it’s silly, would offer a better illustration.
The street lights haven’t come on yet, the day isn’t over and your Mom is not waiting at the door for you to come inside (or maybe she is, but that’s an issue for another book.)
There’s still time…but the clock is ticking. It REALLY IS OK to have fun—for no reason and have no guilt about it. You don’t need excuses, or apologies, or to make it look like work in case you get caught. Keep in mind—YOU are the only one who can define what fun is for you.
Think back. Way back. No. No. Longer ago than that. Keep going—-until you can remember what it felt like to be on a swing. Flying and free. You had waited and waited until it was finally your turn. Your braids and the laces of your sneakers were both coming undone. You didn’t care. And when the swing slowed, didn’t you pump as hard as you could to keep aloft?
Now take that feeling, not the image, the feeling of pure delight, and tuck it somewhere easily accessible (your heart, your brain, your purse—whatever you’re likely to open fastest.)
Done? Are you sure you can grab it at a moment’s notice?
Now each and every week, you must make a play date with yourself, or someone else—as long as it takes you to experience that feeling of delight. So whether it’s a kite, a karaoke machine, a kiln or a kayak, unearth your inner little girl and carpe play!