play, for real!

I’m so familiar with the idea that play is the work of childhood. But what about adults? How come no one ever asks us to play? Have you felt that twisting ache inside your heart as you arrange play dates for your child, the ache that say, ‘I want a play date, too.”

Oh, I want a play date, too.

Perhaps Jenni heard my plea and answered with a recent Badass Mama's circle about play. And not play as a task, another to-do to add to a list. Jenni strove to take striving out of our playing.

Can Jenni hear my psyche thanking her for the theme? Because she invited us outside to chalk her sidewalks. And she said if we’re in the habit of belittling our drawings, perhaps we could make a bad drawing on purpose. I was so glad she wanted me to shut my inner critic down. I’m not so kind to myself when it comes to drawing. My husband’s artwork decorates our walls. My teen is an artist and my tween spends time drawing every day, too.  I’m the stick figure drawer at home, although of course I’m the only one that cares about this fact. Jenni’s idea reminded me to “stay on my own mat” while we drew. I decided not to compare my chalk drawings to the drawings created by the other Badass Mamas.

We walked into the pre-dusk sunlight and the chilly spring air. Jenni tore open the chalk and offered it to us. She asked us to use up all 3 fresh new containers of chalk. Really? No one’s checking my scribbles for skills and I can use up all your art supplies?

After drawing for maybe 6 minutes, I asked out loud, “How come no one ever asks us to do this?”

Maybe my kids asked me to join in when they were little. But no mamas or papas are asking me to chalk up their sidewalks. No one’s arranging play dates for me. Play dates with no rules except to let go, play dates that don’t involve my children or someone else’s children.

I dove in deep and drew what came easy and natural. I even wrote words, even though I thought this might be against the rules. Um, hello Nancy, I told myself, there are no rules tonight. I took in the fallen flower petals that decorated the sidewalks, too. I let my jean-clad knees soak up dusty chalk. I looked up and spied the half moon rising.
We drew and drew until there was no chalk left. It crumbled and flaked and filled up the cement with dusty colors, pinks and whites and light blues and minty greens. Someone added fallen camellia flower petals to one of her drawings. Afterwards, we admired our work. We took pictures of ourselves, trying to place our artwork into the picture frame.
Ahhhhhhh. Yes. Play with no practical purpose. We went back inside and discussed the part that play has in our lives right now. Play with no intended outcome. Sure, I play my way into writing tasks on many of my work days, but the writing is for work. Even the writing that is for my personal creative projects involves that element of work because I want some of my poetry and my memoir to be published someday.

What about free motion for the sake of having fun? Enjoyment. Pleasure. To let my body love what it loves in that very moment. Like that line from the Mary Oliver “Wild Geese” poem: “You only have to let the soft animal of your body / love what it loves.”
I relished hearing how the other Badass Mama’s play, and how they would like to add more play into their lives. I talked about how I keep dreaming of painting for fun: broad swatches of orange paint on my dining room table that’s covered in art paper. How a few weeks ago I made myself go to the Seattle Art Museum by myself, how resistant I was to go have fun by myself. But how that 45 minutes of taking in gorgeous artwork and brilliant colors fed me for days.

While play itself isn’t a task to be completed, adding it in may require scheduling. Jenni asked us to take out our calendars and choose a time for a play date with ourselves, what author Julia Cameron calls an “Artist’s Date.” Ahh, I used to schedule these dates before I had children. These are 2-hour dates with yourself (no friends or family invited) to do something that feeds your soul in some way. Seeing art, meandering through a yarn shop, eating solo at a restaurant, hiking, anything that isn’t outcome based that engages you. 

Jenni assigned us the task of completing one 2-hour solo play date during the next two weeks. I must admit this soft animal body of mine stretched into contentment as I contemplated creating the room for two hours of playful time into my busy life. 

Maybe the next time I’m bummed that no one is asking me on a play date, I’ll remember to create one for myself. It’s so easy to envy my kids their play dates. My friends are too busy to schedule one in; I’m too busy when they do call me for a get together. But going on a play date by myself? Ah, yes, I can make my own plans and arrangements, doing the work of adulthood to serve my own childlike need to play.