I love to play! Always have and hopefully, always will. Somewhere along my boy to adult years I acquired the nickname, Peter Pan. I liked it and took it as a compliment. Too many of my friends were too much in a rush to “grow up” and, whatever that meant, to me it clearly lacked the notion of play and fun and energetic satisfaction.
In my latter years, someone told me I was child-like. Again, without hesitation, I embraced the intent. Being playful is a part of who I am. It’s the time when I feel I’m most alive and vibrant. Immersed in play, I feel free and light and without care or worry. It is as if I’m in a meditative state of being. I’m so focused on whatever I’m playing, I think of little else. I exist for the state of playing whatever the game may be.
Young children and pets inspire my playfulness and somehow, they sense that in me. In my mid forties one of the 8 year-old boys in the neighborhood rang my doorbell and asked if I wanted to ride bikes! As principal of the best ever elementary school, I would be sure to check (several times) if the sleigh riding was safe for the kids by trying out the sleds on the playground hill. Once my “kid-at –heart high school principal colleague also joined me! (Go Susan!) Several weeks ago as I walked back from my grandson’s bus stop with a mom and her preschool age daughter, the child whispered into her mother’s ear and asked if she could invite me to their house for a play-date. It’s the same with dogs. They seem to know I’m up for animated roughhousing and, somehow their owners (my sister in particular) are certain I am to blame for getting the dogs to a state of noncompliance. (Of course they’re(she’s) right but I think her dog actually started it!)
I enjoy all sorts of play. I love many sports and still would rather play them than watch them on TV. I like many box/card games. I still play hide and seek with my grandson and his friends. Earlier this winter, after a sizable snowfall, I went over to his house to join the kids, ages 10 -15, in a snowball fight. Of course last winter I was still rushing down my hill on my sled trying to beat anyone who would agree to race with me.
Recently, I realized that my men’s poker group which met every other Thursday night for some 11 years, was really a gathering of grown up kids finding an excuse to tell jokes, act silly, and otherwise shirk off the cloak of responsible adultness for a couple of magical hours. We laughed more than we frowned and found renewed energy in our play even though for most, it was the end of a long workday.
Since being playful comes naturally, I never really thought about the value it brings to my life. And while some of my friends and family are tolerant but not especially fond of my childlike ways, I can’t help but wonder if they were to view play as a means of balancing the challenges of the day rather than the irresponsible actions of an adult, if they might consider embracing what they once felt as children.
Tonight I’ll raise my glass (perhaps a chocolate ice cream soda) in a toast to a sense of play, whatever age we may be!
Fun and Games
People say that growing up in the 50’s was a completely different experience than our current times. Perhaps that’s accurate. But I will say many of the stressors were similar: struggling to break into the middle class, gang violence (remember zip guns?) cold war tensions and fear of nuclear war. Despite this, my parents placed a high priority on family interaction, as well as personal freedom if I could be shown to keep my word.
And games – lots of games.
Both my parents worked at least one job all the time. When my dad got home, my brother, he and I would play catch, wiffle ball, badminton, Pluto Patters (the original frisbee) and – you name it. While my parents were at work, I was responsible for my little brother, so we would play stoopball, flip baseball cards, and make up games using baseball cards and bottlecaps. Bottlecaps were a big thing, because once a year our local park sponsored an annual bottlecap carnival, where bottlecaps were the currency to play arcade games or enter foot races or other contests. Luckily, my aunt owned a candy store in Queens and saved all the caps that fell into the cavity of the opener embedded in the Coca Cola ice chest. We separated the bottlecaps based on the color of the foil inside the cap: silver foil were usually beer bottles, while white plastic and plain cork were sodas like Ni-Hi, Hires Root Beer, and Orange Crush. Battalions of caps would be assembled to recreate the Revolutionary war: the white caps were Americans, but silver caps were Hessian troops. We’d bang them together on the carpet – those that flipped over were designated KIA.
Evenings could find our family playing card games and board games: Chess, Risk, Game of Life, Monopoly, and Clue were favorites. We learned to play Gin Rummy, War, Blackjack, Canasta, Hearts, Spades, Poker, Cribbage – and even Bridge.
In our spare time, Rich and I would head down to the local park for pick-up games of baseball or, stickball against the handball wall. In fact, I have spent most of my life with a ball and stick in some level of sport.
All of these ‘play’ activities developed a good sense of dealing with others, building trust and coalitions, as well as honing strategy and tactics. Seems like play is a bit of rehearsal of life skills with some humor, improvisation, and joint discovery thrown in. However, somewhere along the age spectrum, play morphs into industry as we begin to value counting coup more than the fun itself.
Simply put, industry can bring satisfaction, but play brings delight. So, I admire Hen’s ability to stay emotionally supple and value opportunities for play… Roll on, Pan! And although George bemoans his ability to have fun, I remember a guy who looked just like George who loved to dance during our college mixers. Hmmm, I also remember George look-alike at a particular marshmallow eating contest – and I remember George being the center of many social gatherings. Even today, his sense of wordplay is nonpareil (Ha! Look that one up, buddy!). Play is where you find it.
Fun Through the Ages
I met Wally and Henry in the spring of ’66 when we all rushed the same fraternity. We became friends then and have remained friends throughout all of these years. Henry and I were roommates for a while in Capen Hall. I first remember meeting Henry coming out of the dorm which had a railing around the doorway and instead of walking out through the opening he would do this thing where he would hop over the waist tall railing and depart. I always envied that and secretly tried to do it frequently when no one was looking to no success. I even think I may have been the one who gave him the moniker of Peter Pan. He refused to grow up if growing up meant it would be against his dignity to climb a tree……I admired that childish energy. Growing up we all played. I’d get home from school, change clothes and join the group already playing in the street. We would run and yell and scream CAR CAR C-A-R when a car had the nerve to drive through our games. We all knew that when the streetlights came on that was our signal to rush home.
As adulthood approached, and maturity (which is highly overrated) crept in I became an elementary schoolteacher which allowed me to play all day while hopefully the kids were learning. I had license to regress and relate to them the way I used to with the kids on my block. To get their attention I would write on the blackboard backwards, or upside down and they would start to giggle and quiet down. When teaching the three kinds of adverbs, manner, time and place, we would do the adverb congoline- Manner, Time and Place….UUUHHH as we danced bunny hop style around the classroom. It was fun, playful and made an impression on the classes. Grammar didn’t have to be deadly. Being a classroom teacher allowed me to have fun, I could read great children’s lit to the classes in different voices and with different accents and it was fun. We did fun things but always with a learning purpose in mind. And the fun continued til retirement (after 35 years) loomed. But then I owned an Inn in Vermont and all my teaching stories would entertain our guests at breakfast and even though it was a different kind of fun it was still fun.
That went on for another 14 years or so and then real retirement happened and things were still fun. I loved sharing lunch or an afternoon drink with former students and colleagues but then Covid struck and I pretty much forgot how to have fun. Isolation for me isn’t fun and today I still haven’t gotten my fun quotient back to where it should be. I envy Henry and Wally cause they still know how to have fun. Both seem to have the admirable quality of having fun while alone and by themselves. I can’t do that for some reason. and I realized that my entire life for something to be fun I had to share it with others. I also came to the realization that right now, and probably always I got fun out of using my words to make people laugh- snarkasm and pun- ishment became enjoyable when shared with other sharp tongued individuals. Puns are only as good as the loudest groan accomplished after it is spoken!
Two years of inertia has taken its toll on my energy and stamina and it seems like too much effort is needed to get off the sofa. But I am working at it and am looking forward to having fun again. I promise, before my ride on this roller coaster is over, I will have fun again!