It used to come easy for me. My two younger brothers and I would build blanket forts and lego castles and watch our hamster spin around her clear ball beside us in our “rec room” that I always thought was “wreck room.” Because it was a wreck! The room over the garage with its orange-black industrial-strength carpet, and my mom never had to see it unless she came up to see what we were doing, and so it remained a happy wreck of the detritus of play most of the time. I played school there and my brothers were my reluctant students; we had a comfy beanbag we would fight over until it began to lose its stuffing one small styrofoam ball at a time. An ancient typewriter and I would be the “secretary.” There’s a great picture of a birthday party – maybe my 6th? – where me and all the little ladies are smiling big (with gaps for lost teeth) while sitting atop an old mattress in that room. And two of those girls are friends now with kids who were our age, and we still keep in touch. (Shout out to Shelby and Schelyn!)
Play was never work; it wasn’t “have-to;” it was our life. We lived for play. We came home looking forward to play, having to be coaxed to do homework at some point; but then it was always the return to play. My parents didn’t put us in lots of programs or schedules when we were in elementary school. They innately understood that play and family-at-home-with-nothing-to-do time was what we needed the most in those early years. They entered into our play as they could. Cultivating our creativity with frequent trips to playgrounds and parks and outdoor picnics and bedtime stories where we traveled with Susan, Peter, Lucy, and Edmund into the magical land of Narnia at the back of the wardrobe. When we wanted to have our own backyard putt-putt course, my parents trucked us around to the local putt-putt establishments asking to purchase/donate the green carpet for our course. And we did it – “Pine Acres Putt-Putt” – our 9-hole wonder – lives on, featured in a local newspaper where the archives from the ’80s hold our proudly displayed homemade sign.
Somewhere along the way, play became work. How? When? Why? I don’t know. It’s almost impossible to pinpoint, but I suspect for me it got buried in the “big work” of academic pursuit and the stress of working my first job and the angst of learning how to navigate relationships as a young adult. Add to that the pressure/dream I had to do big things for God, and somehow I forgot that big things for God must start with learning to be little with God. For that’s who we are as people – we are as small as a child splashing in the waves before the eternal horizon of an ocean, as blessedly tiny as the way I feel each time I drive into the Blue Ridge Mountains. I am small. I am meant to be small, and therein lies the greatness of any person – embracing the small, learning to play where I am and in accord with who I am.
My children are teaching me. Brene Brown and Gretchen Rubin are teaching me. To play (again). I am learning to be as free to play as a child in a sandbox. For I am not God – HE is. I am free to play because the world does not rest on my shoulders. I am free to play because it’s the only way I can manage the weight of the small corner of the world that does rest on my shoulders. I’ll end by asking you (and by sharing with you) one of the best questions of this e-course on The Gifts of Imperfection – what’s on your “play list”? Not your iTunes one, but the list of things that fit the “properties of play” (from Stuart Brown):
1. Fun for the sake of fun
2. Not required.
3. Awakens my heart.
4. Lose track of time.
5. Able to lose myself in it.
6. Exponential creative potential.
7. Hard to stop.
I’m hoping a picture of my “play list” will inspire you to create your own.