Saturday, October 4, 2014

The power of play

     When I was a child I remember watching my mom when she was around her friends. They talked, had coffee, and sometimes prepared meals together. I didn't think growing up was something that looked like a lot of fun. I thought about when the day would come when I would no longer think it was fun to play games with my friends. Would I too wear polyester pants with stretch tops and floral shirts? Would I think that it was fun to while away an afternoon sitting around a table talking? These statement are not meant to cause shame to my parent's generation. I'm sure most of you who grew up in that age had parents that were much the same. It is just the way it was.
     I guess I always saw myself as a person with a highly evolved sense of play. That's probably a nice way of saying that I'm a child. I believe it is something within me but I will also say that a conversation that I had with another woman had a profound effect on how I chose to parent, as well as, how I chose to be viewed by others. I was talking with this woman and I'm sure her statement meant nothing to her but it rocked my world. She said "I never remember my mother ever playing a game with us." I asked "Well what do you remember her doing?" She said that her mom was always cleaning and was very particular about her floor. She mopped it all the time. I then asked if she remembered having very clean floors in her house and she couldn't remember. She laughed but to me it stung me. I thought about all the energy put into her house and that in the end it meant nothing to her kids. I knew that I wanted to do everything possible to not leave the same legacy. I wanted to be remembered for being fun. I wanted the kids to view me as a person with interests and when they looked back they might remember the time I took to just play. I wanted them to know me. I had no children at this time.
    I only gave birth to one child but was lucky enough to be blessed with two bonus children when I remarried. Pictured above are The Boy (now 20), Bird (21), and MG (24). MG and I met them when she was 12. As an aside I must say that we hardly ever called the kids by their names. We love nicknames and they all had several that they liked and even referred to themselves and each other that way. They still do. By the time we met my husband and bonus kids my play policy was in full effect.
     Having children made my playful personality appropriate. It didn't look weird when I went roller skating or went on the swing at the park. I did have a home that didn't harbor diseases but I never had a museum type home. I didn't cook elaborate meals and yes I did sometimes put off dinner an extra half hour because we were engaged in an intense game of backgammon. I thought it was important when the kids asked to play something I drop the non essential stuff and play.
     Playing  provided an invaluable tool during the sometimes stoic teenage years. I can also say that all through the years some of the funniest conversations we had were when we were playing something. It provided a non judgmental time to talk about anything. All the kids were able to open up and talk about both important and sometimes silly things. I loved as the kids grew that they would have friends over and they always included their siblings since communal play was so natural in our house. The most telling was when boyfriends became a part of this mix. The younger two got to know who MG was dating while playing a rousing game of spoons.
     I believe play also showcased each child's strengths and weaknesses'. I don't believe letting a child win is a way to build character. So with that in mind I would teach a new game, play it with them pointing out moves and strategy, and when they grasped it I would play to win. No I was not slaying them in a game of chutes and ladders at 3 years old but by 8 they knew how best to protect their pieces in Parcheesi. We did have a sore loser in the bunch so we employed a policy that win or lose you shook the opponents hand and said "good game." I learned from the games of strategy which kid had a grasp on delayed gratification and who was going to be the impulsive one. This might sound crazy but when college rolled around the impulsive one really lacked direction and took a longer time to focus. Say what you will but I learned a lot about the kids and their personalities. I challenge other parents to consider how you spend your time with your kids and what will be your legacy.
     The kids don't live home any longer and so now I'm thrust into a world with no excuse for play. I choose to do it anyway. Just recently I joined an adult kickball league. It's very big here in Baton Rouge but when they say adult they mean 20-30 years old. I looked at photos of the teams and realized that I would be the oldest player by 20 years on my team. Oh well. Is it embarrassing? Yes, especially when the first night one of the guys cursed and the other said "watch your mouth in front of Miss Dawn." I chuckled thinking they have no idea I was a cop for 20 years and heard much worse. We went out for drinks after the first game and had to laughed as my husband and I were not proofed but our teammates were. Am I good at it? No. Is it fun? Yes. I know some my teammates might think it's lame that I play but maybe some are thinking good for her. Maybe they won't define fun as a thing that goes away with age.
     In closing I can say that some of what I set out to be has been shown to be effective. I have heard the kids each at different times describe me. "She's crazy she loves any roller coaster. She's not afraid of anything." Her favorite band is AC/DC, she loves dogs, we watch the same shows, we are Siamese twins. These are some of the things I have over heard the kids say about me. It makes me smile. They never confuse me as their friend but they know I'm a person not just their mother. I also hope I've shown them not to be defined by what others think you should be or do. Make a mission statement for yourself and see it through. What will yours be?