Playwright George Bernard Shaw once said that “we don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” My dad is sixty-two years old, but he will never grow old. He has a wild imagination and the energy he always has for my children never ceases to amaze me.
I love to watch my girls play with their ‘Opa.’ Sometimes it’s on the living room floor — he on his hands and knees pretending to be a galloping horse and both my children clinging to his neck breathless with giggles. Other times it’s at the park — Lilah and Amelia squealing as they run across the bridge to escape the troll that lives underneath. My dad, peeking over the side of the bridge asks in his deepest, most troll-like voice, “Who’s that trip-tropping over my bridge?” He could spend hours assembling a village out of blocks, making a blanket fort in the basement, playing a game of hide-and-go-seek, or (Lilah’s favourite) singing Yankee Doodle.
All of my childhood memories of my dad involve some sort of imaginative play. I don’t ever remember him being too tired, too occupied or too distracted to stop whatever he was doing and play with me. I am so fortunate to have grown up in an environment with two parents that believed in the importance of play. Play was always a central part of our day and through play we were able to fully engage ourselves in the pulse and rhythm of our daily lives. Whether I was sewing a puppet with my mom that we would later use in a puppet show, or sawing and nailing together scrap pieces of wood in the shed under my dad’s watchful eye, I was playing.
As grown ups, there were things that my parents needed to take care of. Bills had to be paid, the lawn had to be mowed, dinner had to be made, laundry had to be folded. These were the times that my siblings and I would lose ourselves in unstructured free play. My sister and I would don elaborate costumes and stage a play in the basement. Outside, we would hide in a tiny closet attached to the house that we usurped and declared our fort. We papered the walls, and hid our most prized possessions on a little shelf above the door. Eventually our collection included an array of things that we dug up from behind the shed: an old broken piece of Delft pottery, a dog’s jaw with the teeth still attached, several shiny rocks and a few empty snail shells.
When we weren’t in our fort, there was tree climbing, bike riding, hopscotch and double dutch. There was seeing who could swing the highest and betting who could run the fastest. There were cartwheels and somersaults, cats-cradle and sidewalk chalk. There was the never-ending search for a four-leaf-clover, and the hope that the hole we continued to dig behind the neighbour’s shed would one day lead to China.
My own children are never happier or more captivated than when they are engaged in play. American psychologist, Charles Schaefer, who is considered to be the “Father of Play Therapy” said that “we are never more fully alive, more completely ourselves, or more deeply engrossed in anything than when we are playing.”
As a parent, my own life seems so incredibly busy – sometimes overwhelmingly so. There never seem to be enough hours in a day to accomplish everything I need to get done. As I type, my living room floor is littered with miniature wooden dolls and furniture. There are several helium balloons in varying states of elevation, three rubber boots, one tap shoe, a ‘fairy house’ constructed out of lincoln logs (which Lilah made me promise not to break after she went to bed), two Barbies wrapped up in a tea towel, some telltale playdough crumbs and a couple toilet paper rolls (“They aren’t garbage mom! They’re going to be a craft!”). It seems like a mess (it is a mess), which I will dutifully clean up before I go to bed, but this mess is really just a sign that children live here, and that the children who live in this house play.
Someday, this daily mess will cease. I will finally be able to purchase a sofa without worrying that it will be covered in finger paint or purple crayon. Maybe I will even plug my iron in for some other purpose than preserving dried leaves and crayon shavings between sheets of waxed paper. My house will be free of fingerprints and my the hems of my shirts will not be used to wipe tiny noses. I’ll stop finding Cherrios in every imaginable nook and cranny, I’ll be able to finish a cup of coffee before it turns cold in the bottom of the cup, and maybe even savour that cup of coffee, but until then, I will immerse myself in raising these two small girls. I will immerse myself in laughter and play and re-connect with my own childlike spirit.
When I take the time to play with my children, to really play with my children, my days are filled with laughter and wonder and genuine happiness. When pondering what I would write for this blog post, I thought about Mike and Tonia and their little Miss J. What stood out to me about this family is that they love to laugh, and they love to play. They are genuinely happy, and they have nurtured an environment in which play is an important, treasured part of their family life. Mike and Tonia, thank you for allowing me to be a play with your family. Thank you for allowing me to run and laugh and and tickle and sing with your beautiful daughter. And thank you for allowing me to photograph these moments of connection so my heart could sing too. Who else can add “imagination” or “silliness” to their list of job skills? Who else can aspire to be more like a child in their professional career? I am so lucky for the job I have and for the amazing families I get to meet along the way.