I have struggled with the idea of playing with my children. I have never considered myself as being too ‘good at it.’ I’m not sure how that’s even possible, but I often feel like I have ‘better things to do.’ It stings just to write those words. I watch my husband return home from work and jump right into the kids games, building lego creations together, imagining space trips on the sofa, or having a rough housing session on the rug. I am in the habit of witnessing it, not participating in it. I often would marvel at my husband’s ability to fully engage with their play.
I am great at being present for my children’s play and have happily existed alongside it. I am mastering the art of letting them do their own thing without interjecting to help or try and direct their work – because play is the work of a child. But for the most part I rarely involve myself in their games. There are many times where I am invited to play with my children, but choose instead to be near them while I fold laundry, unload the dishwasher, put laundry into the washing machine, tidy the spaces, prepare food, hang laundry on the line, sweep the floor, or any other number of things on my unending ‘to do’ list. The truth is I choose something else. I make the jobs a priority. And they do need to be a priority sometimes, or else our life would start to unravel. But perhaps questioning the reasons why I’m not choosing to participate is the more important issue worthy of some attention.
Yesterday I returned from a weekend retreat to pick up my children at my parent’s place. They had watched them for the day, since Rob and I both had commitments yesterday. The children were glad to see me, and started to get riled up in the basement shortly after I arrived. They had been planning to head outdoors to feed the fish in my parent’s pond before my arrival, so I encouraged our transition to outside. Once outside, a spontaneous game of cops and robbers emerged. My son asked me if I would be a robber. I agreed, running wildly all over my parent’s back yard until they caught me, taking my hands and gently leading me to the ‘jail’ behind the storage shed. The game was splendidly compassionate. The ‘cops’ treated me so kindly, offering me water and good food, like eggs, bacon, toast with butter and ice cream. Somehow, I was always able to escape, making for a predictable outcome each time around. It was wonderful. I was invited to join in their game. I had fun with my children, rather than by just watching them. I let them dictate the game, but brought out my own sense of play within their structure. I was trusted enough to be invited in. I trusted myself enough to step in.
Perhaps it was because I was away from my own home and list of chores that I could participate fully. Or maybe because I missed my babies, and wanted to engage meaningfully with them once reunited. Or perhaps it was because I had just allowed myself to be away from the family in order to do the work of ‘play’ for myself. Regardless of the reasons, the lesson was clear: it is when I can turn off the endless ticking of my internal ‘to do’ list and engage my full self in something that I am truly rejuvenated. Feeling like I’m stealing away from the pile of dishes to guiltily write my blog for example, is not helping me to reclaim true inner peace. It is when I can let loose and be free from my mind’s bidding with the knowledge that it will certainly be there for me to pick up again when I’m ready, that I am able to follow my heart instead. When I listen with my heart, then I can really play.
Play feeds the soul. It is a way to catch and store energy! My adult self has forgotten this for the most part. The overculture is great at maintaining the illusion that I’m ‘wasting time’ when I am doing anything but work. Anything but ‘producing results.’ But what is grossly undervalued in our society is how play sparks joy! Being joyful without money or things goes against the industrial growth mindset. It is for this reason that I consider uninhibited play to be a form of activism. I can sing, dance, run, drum, pretend or barrel roll down a hill for free. The things that bring the most joy are free, an in fact, aren’t things at all. I am beginning to taste the sweetness of freeing myself enough to play. Opening up times for fun without destinations in mind. Time dedicated to no outcome. But out of this release of expectations there is indefinitely an outcome anyway…one that is more beautiful than anything I could have imagined. Play invites connection.