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If only I had a magic wand....

If I only I had  a magic wand… … I would instantly turn myself into a more confident and less fearful person.  Someone a little more like the person I married. … I would find a way...

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The necessity of play…


The great Nobel Prize winner, George Bernard Shaw, once wrote – we don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.  And we all remember the old adage of our youth that says, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.  In fact, play is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child.  So why is it, that when we reach the ripe old age of 30, 50, 70 we forget just how important play is to life? 

When I look into the sweet face of my newborn grandson as he twists his tiny mouth to mimic my own expressions, I am easily reminded how most of the great milestones we reached as children were learned through play.  In our weekly play dates, my two-year-old granddaughter “sweeps” with a tiny broom and dust pan but she’s not getting a whole lot cleaned.  She is, however, learning so much by the action itself.  She’s picking up hand/eye coordination, a sense of responsibility to clean up after making a mess and an undeniable thrill of contributing to the world of grown up work.  If I set her on a stool in front of a sink full of soapy water, she plays washing up the dishes with all the delight of kitten batting around a ball of yarn.  We play “tea party” and “put the baby doll nite-nite” over and over and she never tires of it.  Is she aware that she is learning how to care for someone other than herself by these games?  Probably not, but the results are there nonetheless.  .  In a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, “ …play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development.” Plus, it’s a whole lot of fun

 When I was a child, I could play “office” for hours.  I would twist my hair into a librarian’s bun, perch fake glasses at the end of my nose and push paper around on my grandfather’s desk.  I “filed” important papers, addressed envelopes for bills and posted stamps with all the perceived authority of a CEO.  I could spend an entire Sunday afternoon immersed in my world of pretend.  In those rosy days of youth, I would curl up for hours, chewing on the eraser of my pencil and lost in my own world while I conjured up “poetry”.  I imagined myself this generation’s Elizabeth Browning.  I would run for the sheer thrill of hearing the ground slapping beneath my pink sneakers and because I loved how the wind blew my hair behind me like a yellow wedding veil.  My bicycle was a magical horse that I would ride on wild adventures and disappear until hunger finally chased me home at sunset.  I read, cradled in the branches of the front yard tree, lost in imaginary worlds for hours while breezes whispered softly around me.  As a child I was a master of play.

 As an adult, it’s interesting how similar my life is to the one I pretended as a little girl.  I still play “office” for hours, except now my “play” has become “work” and, let’s face it; the thrill of putting stamps onto envelopes and filing bills is long gone. I ride my bicycle now, usually under duress, mainly because I want desperately to stay healthy and stave off a saggy backside as long as possible.  I write, too, but it has become serious, concentrated work with an end result in mind and most of the time it’s about as fun as cleaning out the pantry.  Even reading a book is something I do in the smoky hours at night so that I can relax enough to fall asleep. 

Then one morning I woke up to discover that I felt heavy and sad but couldn’t place my finger on what had gone so terribly wrong.  It’s simple.  I’ve forgotten the therapeutic and sustaining power of play.  Somewhere between washing the weekly laundry and paying the electric bill every month, I’ve lost connection with the sheer joy of losing myself in play.  I have become dull, indeed.  When we were children, we didn’t think about play.  We just did it.  So how, as an adult, do we embrace the play-starved child within and let go for an hour, an afternoon, an entire day?  There are numerous books written about the subject from The Gift of Play: Why Adult Women Stop Playing And How To Start Again by Barbara Brannen to The Power of Play: Learning What Comes Naturally by David Elkind (both available on Amazon.com)  One way to reconnect with your playful self is actually as easy as writing down a list.  Start by remembering a few things you can remember enjoying as a ten year old.  Make a commitment to yourself to do one thing on that list every single day, even if it’s only for ten minutes and even if it’s only drawing a picture or coloring in a book.  Continue to brainstorm and add to your “play” list and I can guarantee that just putting aside that ten minutes a day will do all kinds of wonders for your heart and mind. 

 Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a can of red Play-doh calling my name!

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10 Responses to The necessity of play…

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  2. Amy Gump says:

    Thank you!

  3. Lisa says:

    We have forgotten how to play. Leisure “activities” are planned and competitive. We exercise at the gym. Do the 5K for some charity. Play means structureless time. It is a chunk of time unplanned and later unaccountable. “Wasted” by adult standards. We feel we have to be DOING something. Multitasking. Or…we veg-out, hypnotize ourselves with the boob-tube and confuse NUMB for fun. Play was SILLY, free, unfettered, spontaneous and purposeless. We roamed and roamed FAR. Explored sans GPS or Google maps on bicycles far, far from home with but a quarter in our shoe. We came home when the street lights came on. And often….we did it all barefooted. Boys were shirtless. And we got dirty, filthy, in fact. At the minimum, my mom made us wash our feet before bed (blackened soles you could scratch a name in). I agree, Amy….we don’t play. We should.

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  • Whale or Mermaid?

    Mermaid or Whale?

    I "borrowed" this from a friend. It's an email that was circulating a few years ago. Don’t know who wrote it so I can’t cite the contribution. If you find out, let me know.

    Recently in a large city in France , a poster featuring a young, thin and tan woman appeared in the window of a gym. It said, “This summer, do you want to be a mermaid

    or a whale?”

    A middle-aged woman, whose physical characteristics did not match those of the woman on the poster, responded publicly to the question posed by the gym.

    To Whom It May Concern,

    Whales are always surrounded by friends (dolphins, sea lions, curious humans.) They have an active sex life, get pregnant and have adorable baby whales. They have a wonderful time with dolphins stuffing themselves with shrimp. They play and swim in the seas, seeing wonderful places like Patagonia, the Bering Sea and the coral reefs of Polynesia . Whales are wonderful singers and have even recorded CDs.

    They are incredible creatures and virtually have no predators other than humans. They are loved, protected and admired by almost everyone in the world.

    Mermaids don’t exist. If they did exist, they would be lining up outside the offices of Argentinean psychoanalysts due to identity crisis. Fish or human? They don’t have a sex life because they kill men who get close to them, not to mention how could they have sex? Just look at them … where is IT? Therefore, they don’t have kids either. Not to mention, who wants to get close to a girl who smells like a fish store?

    The choice is perfectly clear to me: I want to be a whale.

    P.S. We are in an age when media puts into our heads the idea that only skinny people are beautiful, but I prefer to enjoy an ice cream with my kids, a good dinner with a man who makes me shiver, and a piece of chocolate with my friends. With time, we gain weight because we accumulate so much information and wisdom in our heads that when there is no more room, it distributes out to the rest of our bodies.

    So we aren’t heavy, we are enormously cultured, educated and happy.

    Beginning today, when I look at my butt in the mirror I will think, "Good grief, look how smart I am!"