“It is a happy talent to know how to play.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
The grandchildren’s Christmas wish lists have been arriving in my email inbox as quickly as I can ask the parents what their kids want; but in reading those lists, in checking the requests for L.O.L. dolls and Transformers and Our Generation clothes, I‘ve come to one hard conclusion, and it’s a disconcerting one at that:
I’ve forgotten the joy of play. What’s more, I can’t remember the last time I lost myself, really lost myself, in a non-work activity that had no other purpose than to entertain. I’ve become the kind of boring I swore I would never allow myself to be.
In my defense, I don’t think I’m the only one in this mess. Adulthood has a way of sucking the playfulness out of us. We get too involved with our work. With our kids and grandkids. With paying bills, cleaning kitchens and scrubbing bathrooms, with an endless catalog of responsibilities. Before we know it, we’ve forgotten the feel of digging for a lost truck in the sandbox, of dressing Barbie in her finery, of erecting the tallest tower out of blocks.
Yet play, that ability to engage fully in an activity whose sole purpose is pleasure and amusement, is more important than we think — or allow it to be. We know, of course, that children learn about the world through free play. It’s why parents around the country have battled (and won) to guarantee recess in schools.
But most adults don’t get recess on the job. I write “most” because some progressive tech companies do recognize the power of play. Google, for instance, has play stations with ping-pong and foosball tables on its main campus in Silicon Valley. The company that tries to tell you what you want before you’ve even typed in your full search term believes having fun is good for team-building and cooperation.
The average working stiff, though, doesn’t have access to such fancy work perks. We’re lucky if we get medical benefits and a 401(k). Besides, a corporate push for play, no matter how benevolent, might defeat the purpose of letting our hair down. The beauty of fun is that it’s relatively aimless.
A few days ago, Lego announced a new construction toy named Lego Forma. It’s half Lego blocks and half coloring book, and aimed at de-stressing adults. I suppose the Danish company recognizes that there is a big market for an activity that removes us from the strain of daily life, for anything really that allows us to love the experience without worrying about the outcome. It’s probably also trying to capitalize on the 2016 trend that saw sales of adult coloring books shoot through the roof.
Though I’m a grown-up who smiles at the sight and scent of crayons, I’ve never bought an adult coloring book, instead choosing to color along with my grandchildren in books bought at the dollar store. I don’t know if I’d invest in Lego Forma, either. Nevertheless, I’m determined to get my play on. It’s time to unwind and de-stress, to recover the little girl buried under the hard shell of maturity. To unearth the child within, if you know what I mean.
So, on a recent road trip I bought a set of jacks, a game I once excelled at. I’m also checking the tires on my bike. There’s nothing like pedaling hard against the wind, bell ringing shrilly, trees blurring past, and hair billowing out behind me like a flag of surrender against the sky.