Learning to Play

I’ve come to a realization as the summer has started to become less magical and more routine. I am terrible at playing. I noticed this when watching other moms play with their children at the park and the beach. In the spirit of independent play (which is a really important concept, but I totally abuse it for my own selfish purposes), I tell my two boys to find something to do and let me get something done. Rather than jumping in the lake with my eldest, I sit on the beach towel and watch, or rather than constructing a train track with my youngest, I will frantically put away dishes before he wants to come over and “help.”

Although I see this deficiency very clearly in my interactions with my children, I hadn’t realized until a couple weeks ago that my struggle with playing goes far, far deeper than wrestling with my boys and building block towers. Putting aside the role of mother, I also don’t play as an adult. And I think that is the root of my struggle. I work. That’s what I do. I sleep, eat and work. Who has time for play? It’s so frivolous and can I admit, I see it as a complete waste of time?

Since I work at home as an artist, I tend to see any free moment as an opportunity to further my professional career. Five minutes? Oh, yeah, I can totally get another glaze on that painting. The kids are watching a show….I can email those press releases I needed to get out. Nap time….yes! Two hours of uninterrupted painting time! Woohoo! The drive and the ability to effectively use five minute spurts of time the way some people use a whole work day is great and all, but I have to be honest...I’m tired and I think I’ve lost my joy. Perhaps it goes back to that play thing. Maybe, just maybe, playing is not a frivolous waste of time but as the ability to bring life.

I couldn’t even tell you how I lost my ability to play. I think it happened very subtly with the progression from childhood to adulthood and all the responsibility and fears that come with that transition. I have noticed that fear is the root to my distaste for play. I hold it at a distance because I’m either afraid I will:

  1. Fail

  2. Waste time

  3. Look stupid

Regardless of my fears (which I simply need to face and get over), I need to start playing again, for myself and for my kids. If I keep on the same path, they will lose their ability to play too and I don’t want that for them. It’s time to jump in the lake, cannonball style, run around in the yard like a maniac, join the dance party, and roll down a grassy hill. Summer will be a great time to start this journey. Here’s to summer and learning how to play again.

How are you at playing? What kind of playful things do you do, either as a family, with your kids or with your own friends?

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