I believe in little children who teach adults the value of play. If children weren’t present, who would remind the grownups that it is time to stop working and to start playing? Adults left to their own devices might never get up from the computer or leave work early to watch a soccer game. My three year old grandson is on a soccer team. To say they play soccer is a bit of a stretch, but they wear uniforms, they know the ball is important, and they run after it with fierce determination. I enjoy watching them more than the pros. Everyone cheers each player, and no one keeps score. Could I be spending my time in more beneficial ways than watching three year olds play soccer? It depend on one’s perspective. For my part I believe that life is short. I think I will remember these moments more than those I spend at work, or perhaps more accurately, without these moments, the goal of being productive becomes too significant.
I work as a family therapist. I have listened to people of all ages in diverse family configurations discuss how family life works, or doesn’t. When I ask adults to tell me what they wish they had received in childhood that they didn’t, the most frequent response is, “I wish my parents had been around more to see me play sports, to talk to me and to know me. I wish I knew them better.” I think experiences where people “play” provide one of the best and easiest ways to know one another and to forge strong bonds of trust and intimacy. I wish I had figured that out earlier. As a single parent of three, I spent too much time at work and was too preoccupied with the responsibilities of parenthood. If I had it to do over I would have hung out more with my kids and played.
Fortunately I have a second chance–my grandchildren. One girl, one boy, aged five and three. When they invite me to play, this time I say “yes.” Not long ago, I spent a weekday afternoon at the county fair with my grandson. The negative energy of my morning slipped away as I watched him bounce around on a pony in a dirt ring. “I’m a cowboy, Grandma,” he said proudly. Later, we looked at the baby farm animals. The wonder in his eyes as he petted these creatures reminded me of how amazing pigs and goats and chickens really are when seen through the eyes of a child.
When my granddaughter invites me to play “princess,” I have the chance to be an imaginary person with her. Thinking about fair play, crime and punishment, and who’s in charge from the point of view of a five year old reminds me that how relationships are negotiated in the play house are not that different from how it works in the sophisticated lives of grownups. My creativity kicks in as we have conversations about how to avoid the wicked witch or what to wear to the ball. She gives me her full attention. I give her mine. We are completely present in the moment. How often does that happen in the adult world? I cherish these moment with little children. They have convinced me that experiences of “play” create good relationships between generations and within generations. Come on. Let’s play!
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