Rediscover the joy of playfulness
Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up. - Pablo Picasso
In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play. - Friedrich Nietzsche
These days, who has time to play? The serious business of living - putting in long hours at the office, doing the shopping, paying the bills, getting the laundry done - takes enormous energy. Throw in caring for a couple of kids or aging parents, finding or maintaining a relationship, and making sure the litter box is clean and the cat fed, and you're lucky to get eight hours of shuteye each night. Being an adult means Responsibility, and playing is kid's stuff, right?
Wrong. Lighten up for a minute and think back to those unfettered days of childhood. Conjure up the feeling of freedom as you biked down the street with the wind streaming through your hair. Recall the anticipation as you sat before a brand new box of crayons and a fresh pad of drawing paper. Evoke the sensation of getting lost in the world of your imagination as you and your friends played make-believe. Remember the satisfaction of winning board games on a rainy day. Think back to the times when you laughed so hard you rolled around in the grass trying to catch your breath.
Sheila Edwards can't pinpoint the year when she turned the corner away from playfulness with nary a backward glance. The Ohio native gave birth to her daughter at 19 as a single parent. "I remember playing games with her and wondering who was having more fun," Edwards recalls fondly. "It was wonderful to just dive right into an adventure and let go."
As her daughter grew older, Edwards' playfulness took other forms. "I was always the proverbial life of the party," she says. "I was the one who made people laugh and who thought up wild escapades. I was going at full throttle."
Now 45, Edwards' daughter is out of the picture and Edwards has the responsibility of raising her nine-year-old granddaughter. Somewhere along the way, the process of juggling life's challenges eclipsed Edwards' natural playfulness. Underemployed as an office manager, she struggles to make ends meet and lives with the constant worry that her unstable daughter will pop back into their lives.
"I've had my granddaughter, Brittany, for three years now," says Edwards. "But it wasn't until I started with a new therapist about six months ago that I realized that I didn't laugh anymore and I didn't know how to have fun anymore." With that knowledge, Edwards vowed to change her ways. "Life is too short not to have fun," she says.
Initially, Edwards struggled with rediscovering the playful part of her personality. "At first, I had to force myself. I kept thinking about all of the other things I 'should' be doing instead. Brittany and I went to see the movie Spy Kids. I had to make myself go, because it's a kid's movie. But when I got there, I got involved in the imagination and creativity of the kids in the movie. I wasn't just sitting there for Brittany's sake - I was enjoying it, too."
Edwards eventually began giving her "inner child" permission to come out and play. "I thought about what I liked doing as a kid, and having Brittany made it convenient to indulge in my favorite activities." Edwards borrowed her granddaughter's crayons and spent hours coloring; she reveled in making up stories to tell Brittany, and in listening to Brittany's stories. Edwards confided to a close friend that her favorite childhood toy was her set of Colorforms, and the friend gave her a set as a birthday present.
While Edwards still struggles with life's challenges, she feels she's enjoying life more. "I give myself permission to play, whether that means rollerblading with Brittany or having a game night with my girlfriends," she says. "I feel more relaxed, as though I've reclaimed an important part of who I am."
Lola Harding, a meeting planner from Central California, has never lost her playfulness. Harding, 49, came from a family that took playing very seriously. As far back as she can remember, her parents played bridge at least once a week, and she and her sisters delighted in sitting around the table playing cutthroat games of Monopoly. "My dad worked construction," she recalls, "and he wouldn't work during the rainy season. I distinctly remember coming home from school in the winter, and finding my dad, one of his buddies and my mom all sitting around the kitchen table, chomping on cigars and playing Pinochle." She remembers spending weekends at a family friend's mountain retreat, and a dozen people sitting around a huge table playing Hearts. "Everyone in our family is competitive," Harding says, "but not in a vicious way - more in a play-your-heart-out kind of way."
Today, Harding still plays the occasional board or card game, but her passion is collecting. She owns over 500 advertising tins, which once held everything from spices to shaving powder. Harding first began collecting tins in 1980, and says that their appeal was "the fact that products weren't being packaged in tins anymore, and instead were being packed in cardboard or plastic." The first tins in her collection advertised old products that had been discontinued, and came from collector's fairs and antique stores. "When I traveled," says Harding, "I'd look for tins that were indicative of the area I was visiting."
Because she has so many advertising tins in her collection and so few commemorative tins are produced these days, Harding has moved on to a new passion - baseball bats. When she and her second husband, Brent, were married ten years ago, they shared a love of America's pastime. She brought into the marriage two wooden bats that a boyfriend had given her in high school, and Brent brought along a single bat from his childhood. "We'd go to the Salvation Army store, where you could buy a wooden bat for about five dollars," Harding recalls. While the price has gone up, Harding says their collection of 50 bats, primarily Louisville Slugger store models, isn't particularly valuable. "Truthfully, the bats are sentimental, because most of them are from baseball players that we grew up watching." One of her favorites is a Kirt Manwaring game-used bat - she found the former San Francisco Giants catcher especially appealing in his tight uniform. But, she says, "Our Willie Mays bat is probably the best, because we both love Willie Mays."
According to Dudley Lynch, CEO and owner of Brain Technologies Corporation in Plano, Texas, "Anyone who takes seriously the collecting of anything is getting in touch with the qualities of delight they first encountered as a literal child, searching for the unusual rock shape, the perfect 'secret hideaway' or the prettiest seashell at the beach." Lynch admits to collecting model fire apparatus, and says, "Nothing diverts me faster from a busy schedule in Europe, Asia or anywhere else, or surfaces delight more quickly than noticing a model shop that might contain new pieces for my collection."
The lighthearted acts of collecting, playing games or drawing can add immeasurable joy to one's life. Reclaiming your playfulness, or discovering it for the first time, can put life's challenges in perspective. If your inner child is yearning to come out and play, here are some suggestions as to how to begin:
Calling all Kids: If you're a mom, you have ready access to both toys and playmates. Challenge your kids to a game of checkers or work together to build a creation out of Lego's. Wait until they've gone to bed and play with their toys or work on your PlayStation skills. If you don't have kids, borrow one. A niece or a neighbor's kid can help you get into the spirit of play.
Adult Play: Get a group of friends together for a monthly game night. Make a few pitchers of margaritas, roll the dice and let the games begin.
While a completely worry-free existence is hard to achieve in today's pressure-filled society, eliminating unnecessary worries can free you from the past and the future and allow you to enjoy and celebrate the present.
Party Time: If you have friends who also don't nurture their playfulness, throw an afternoon party featuring kid's games. Red Light, Green Light, Mother May I? and Red Rover never go out of style. For added panache, why not pin the tail on the donkey?
Be A Sport: Join a recreational volleyball team offered through your local park district, a bowling league or a swim team. Regardless of your ability level, you're sure to find an activity that you'll enjoy.
Arts & Crafts: A set of finger-paints and a pad of paper is a sure-fire way to rediscover your playful nature. Pick up some modeling clay, a set of crayons and begin creating. If you find you need a larger purpose in your art, take up scrapbooking, create holiday cards or make picture frames.
Whatever avenue your playfulness might take, make sure to indulge it. Says Brain Technologies' Lynch, "The child is always there, waiting to be invited out to play. The solution is paying attention to the need, then the opportunity, then the value of the payoff."
Reclaiming your playful nature doesn't have to be complicated or expensive. Here are five childhood pastimes that don't cost a dime:
1. Watch the clouds - Lay back on the grass and find shapes in the clouds go by
2. Play hopscotch - Borrow chalk from a kid and draw a hopscotch - you can play in your backyard or patio if you don't want the neighbors to see!
3. Get wet - When was the last time you ran through the sprinklers? If it's not too cold out, give it a go!
4. Ready, set, jump - What's the point of raking leaves if you can't enjoy them? This year, make a huge pile and dive into them
5. Find stuff - Go on a walk through your neighborhood or on a nature trail, and see through the eyes of a child. Pick up the prettiest leaf, the coolest rock and the shiniest object you can find
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