An Invitation to Play
SHEDDING THE “SHOULDS”
Each Monday, a friend of mine and I exchange the hosting of playdates for our sons. It gives each mama a chance to do things that are more expedient without the presence of a 4 year-old: work, household management, or simply having a cup of tea in silence. The two boys love spending time together; which also allows the "on duty" mama some space as well. It's a win-win-win-win situation.
When we first began this arrangement, I would get a lot of household chores crossed off my "to do" list, interspersing them with constructing blanket "forts" for the boys who happily played Legos or pretended to be tigers or ninjas or ninja tigers.
As the daylight hours grow shorter and my opportunities to escape into nature lessen, we've been taking advantage of the myriad of Sheriff's Meadow and Land Bank properties that we have at our fingertips--I take the boys "adventuring." My original inspiration was two-fold: release some of the energy from those little bodies and get some exercise myself. And it works. My son, who will often be "too tired" to hike with me, scampers merrily along when he has a friend with him (don't we all). I can cross exercise off my "to do" list.
But lately, I've been exploring the idea of releasing my grip on that list of "shoulds" and allowing myself to have more fun, to embrace joy, to move my body because it feels good. I've been taking our "adventuring" to heart and am learning from my son: I observe him as he plays, discovering wondrous new things with every step. As he moves from jump to gallop to skip to hop, the delight he feels in his body is evident in each and every marvelous moment. I have been experimenting with this playful practice, following my son's lead: stepping only on stones or only in the shadows, playing, experimenting--noticing what my body can do, what my feet feel, how my balance shifts. I'll admit that I sometimes feel a bit silly, but other times, if I'm lucky, I can catch myself grinning and then find him grinning back and then, just like that, I'm no longer exercising, I'm PLAYING!
This Monday's adventure took us to Blackwater Pond Reservation and Duarte's Pond Reservation. As I parked the car, I realized I hadn't been there in over 20 years. And what a spot! Two ponds with a bridge over one of them, magical paths through woods of oak and pine with glacial erratics interspersed throughout. We traipsed about for a while, each boy sporting a foam ninja sword, protecting us from any surprise adversaries. Across the bridge, over the hill, through the wooded pines. Then a white sign: hunting season, property closed. We backtracked, having decided that foam swords were no match for shotgun season, and found another path that led to a waterfall and a large downed pine tree--perfect spot for our snack picnic.
GROWN-UPS DON’T PLAY
The crown of pinecones atop a twig caught my eye. Lower down the twig, I recognized a pinecone tutu. Picking up this "pinecone ballerina", I twirled her in my hands, smiling all the while. My 4 year-old son and his friend were sitting on the downed log enjoying their snack. His friend looked up and said,
" What are you doing?"
"Playing," I replied.
"Grown-ups don't play," he observed.
There was a part of me that wanted to argue with him. And a larger part of me that recognized the truth and sadness of his words. He returned his focus to his snack and the ongoing banter with my son; I searched for a special spot to perch the ballerina, then paused to let the profundity of his words sink in.
They have stuck with me; especially with the Thanksgiving holiday behind and the December holidays ahead. How often do I allow myself to play? To enjoy? To laugh? While I am currently in an unfolding process of increased presence and awareness, I need to be vigilant about the sacredness of play, especially this time of the year.
In the quest to create a holiday season for my family and others that is full of love and joy, hope and anticipation; am I enjoying the giving or am I acting as the martyr, the "poor me" who "has" to do all of the tasks that are on my list? Am I including myself on the receiving end of joy & delight? Am I playing?
For almost 20 years I have been singing in Roberta Kirn's Songs of Peace, Hope & Light Concert. For the past 3 years, I've sung with the Unitarian Universalist Church in our Candlelight Service & with Grace Church in the Messiah Concert. When the rehearsals for the three different holiday choruses began, I was in the midst of a prolonged sinus cold. I did not attend the first gatherings. Then, with Thanksgiving preparations underway; I was tired and overbooked. I went to the rehearsals anyway. I always do. With my focus on awareness, I began to gently question my experience and my choices.
Do I want to sing in the concerts? The answer was "yes". And I was so tired and just going through the motions when I was there. What was going on? When I got quiet and looked within, I realized that what needed to shift was my attitude, the energy surrounding me that I was carrying with me—to rehearsal, but also throughout the day and week. Yes, I was tired because of illness and busyness, but I was more tired because I was perseverating on how much I had to do. Giving myself the choice to continue or not AND knowing that the responsibility of our Thanksgiving gathering was behind me; I began to embrace how much I love singing, how the songs connect me with myself and others and something greater than all of us.
Last night as we sang "Abre La Puerta" during rehearsal, I felt a profound shift. The door did open and the light came in. I could feel the peace, the hope, the light--and the joy of singing in community. We were all PLAYING together in the moment--and it was beautiful.