Last night, I took my kids to visit some family at a nearby hotel. As we made our way through the labyrinth of hallways, they raced each other to every turn at top speed. At their cousin’s room, they immersed themselves in playing with her and her books, consumed by the novelty of the situation. Then came the main attraction: the swimming pool! They could hardly wait to put their life jackets on so they could cannonball off the side and into the action of beach balls, floaty noodles, and swim races. Oh, and a million more jumps off the side into the water, each one more daring and more exuberant than the previous. In watching them throughout—and of course in participating, because they demand that I be every bit as involved as they are—I couldn’t help but be swept into the conclusion that the whole evening was, for them, simply a celebration of FUN and PLAY.
And then they woke up this morning at home and started that celebration again. “Can we rake up a leaf pile to jump into?” “Watch me do some cartwheels, Dad!” “Race me up the stairs: Ready, Set, GO!!!!” “Watch me be a cheetah!” “Daddy, can you spin us on the tree swing?” “Let’s dino-fight! I’ll be Triceratops, and you be Deinonychus. RAAWWWRRRR!!!” And on and on and on. It is amazing on so many levels. And even though they include me in almost all of their wide wonder, I often find myself wishing I could trade places with them. Of course, I am envious of the sheer volume of energy they have. I think of all that I could accomplish if I could go as hard as they do all day. I would also do anything for their presence. They live completely in the moment. Of course, that makes the day quite a rollercoaster of drama, but it is entirely authentic and marvelous. Within that presence and authenticity is a beautiful open-heartedness. They share themselves and their love freely and completely in a way that we would all do well to learn from.
But the quality that completely captivated me—and stirred my envy up to a frothing boil—was their zest for FUN, their zeal for PLAY. Every game or challenge I joined in—racing them down the hall and down the pool, or throwing them in the water, or playing catch—simply tickled my soul and made me feel so full of Joy. I couldn’t help but think, “Why don’t I do this more often?” I just felt so full of energy and life. So playful. So present. So free. So childlike.
What happens to us adults that we lose this playfulness, this willingness to be free and open-hearted and in-the-moment? At what point does it become uncool? We get so serious as grown-ups, so self-judgmental about allowing ourselves to do things like jumping in the leaves or doing cannonballs into the pool, things that we wholeheartedly sought out and celebrated as kids. It seems that the term “childish” has only a negative connotation. We use it derisively when we talk about people who are acting selfish or petty. It may be derogatory in those contexts, but I don’t think it needs to be that way when it comes to activities, to play.
When I look at the things my kids like to do—playing at the playground, sports of all sorts, riding bikes and scooters, tag, sledding, swimming, building snowmen, running through the sprinkler, the tree swing, creating imaginary stories with their toys, racing each other wherever they go, painting pictures, making bracelets for each other, dressing up as superheroes or princesses and acting out the roles, practicing cartwheels and somersaults, jumping on the trampoline, diving off the dock at the lake, tubing, making leaf piles to dive in, building forts out of sofa cushions, hide-and-seek, piggyback and shoulder rides, trick-or-treating, singing songs, and dancing—they are all born out of a quest for FUN. To quote Shakespeare totally out of context, “The PLAY is the thing….” And it really is.
I could go for just about every single one of those things on that list right now. I am envious of them as I think about it. On the other hand, I am so glad that having these guys gives me the excuse to do this fun stuff, to “act like a kid” again. But why should I need them for the excuse? Why don’t we adults just DO this stuff? Why don’t we just PLAY??? No apologies or excuses required. Play for play’s sake. Just because it is so silly and liberating and creative and energizing and FUN. We need that, don’t we? I know that I do, and the people I meet sure seem like they could use some, too.
Charles Dickens said, “To a young heart everything is fun.” I can testify to that. I see it every day in my children. The challenge I am putting to myself is that, no matter how old my body gets, I will keep my heart young by doing what the kids do: seeking out play. Sure, I know that is going to become more challenging in a few years when the kids are not as young and don’t want to include Dad in the fun anymore. Will I still load up the sled and drive over to the big hill? Will I still get behind the boat on the tube and be whipped around? Will I still do cartwheels on the lawn and run through the sprinkler on a hot day? Will I still build forts out of the sofa cushions and ride my Rip-Stik around the block? Will I still jump in the pile of leaves before I bag them? Or, will I find new ways to play, or focus more on the kinds that don’t require a young body, like singing or making up stories? I sure hope so. All of these things are so much fun, and I am always rejuvenated after I do them. Rejuvenated equals “made young again”. Yeah, that works for me. I am ready to play!
How about you? Do you still play? Get out your journal and think about all of the things you do that are purely for FUN, that make you feel like a kid again. What are they? I have already mentioned dozens of things that my kids get me to do that are deeply rejuvenating for me. Do these things work for you, too? What is different about your list from mine? How self-conscious do you feel when you do these activities? Do you feel like people look at you oddly, as though you are doing something that is only socially acceptable for kids to do? I always get looks when I ride my Rip-Stik or go do down the waterslide at the pool. Are you the parent or adult who takes the kids to the sledding hill—or waterslide or bounce house–and only watches the kids as they have all the fun? Would you—do you–do these things alone, or at least without kids? Maybe it’s time to give yourself permission. On a scale of one to ten, how playful are you? Leave me a reply and let me know: Do you want to build a snowman?
Put yourself out there,