Today I cleaned the kitchen and made a lasagna while listening to this “Play, Spirit & Character” podcast of an interview with Stuart Brown, physician and director of the National Institute for Play. I’d been lured in after hearing a snippet of the interview last night on the radio program “Speaking of Faith.” Brown was discussing the importance of play – and even violent play in teaching children empathy. (He notes that all the murderers he has studied were deprived of rough-and-tumble play experience as children, and he describes how children learn that they shouldn't hit too hard after experiencing what it feels like to be hit hard themselves.) This sort of information always reassures me since I’m often pretending not to hear as Will and his playmates pretend to fight and kill each other in what seems to be very mutually enjoyable play.
So I went in listening as a mother and preschool teacher who is already sold on the importance of fostering lots of free play experience for my children. But soon I was thinking about adult play – and how sometimes as a mother I forget to play enough. (Brown's short definition of play is "pleasurable, apparently purposeless activity.") I’d been in my usual day-after-vacation funk, fighting a faint altitude headache and only beginning to conquer all of the piles of laundry and unmade dinners and dirty dishes that await me every day here. In Colorado (where my mother does almost all of the cooking and cleaning) I’d been enjoying hiking, swimming, nightly games of scrabble, backyard badminton, extra time for reading and, well, a lot more extra playtime than I’m used to. And here was Dr. Brown pointing out to me that play is a necessary ingredient for our spiritual/physical/intellectual well being as adults -- regardless of whether we’re on vacation or not. He counts reading and hiking as play too --- anything we can get lost in and enjoy. It's all obvious enough, of course, but sometimes I need to hear an intelligent person talk for 45 minutes on a topic before I remember to apply a basic principle to myself.
So I’m taking a post-vacation vow to make more time for play, even if it means just carving out more space for nighttime reading and taking more time to enjoy free time with Will and Owen -- even at the expense of neglecting some already neglected household chores.
If you’ve got time, listen to the interview. And if you don’t, still take two minutes to view this video (also on the Speaking of Faith web site) of a polar bear playing with huskies. It’s beautiful -- and a good reminder of just how primal our need for play is.