The month of September brings with it some of my favourite weather and experiences. It’s not so hot that you become uncomfortable in all the wrong places, and it’s not so cold that you can’t go out and enjoy a park or a walk or those last few scoops of ice cream before the shops around here begin closing their windows for the season. The morning and evening are both pleasantly cool, offering the perfect sweater weather, yet the afternoons are splendidly warm and sunny, and it’s T-shirts ’til dinner, when the barbecue gets its workout and the chairs being to huddle around the fire pit as the stars being to show themselves. Summer is great – I love just about everything about it, but Fall, to me, is altogether special. The colours are at their peak, the air is crisp and refreshing, the apples are ripe for picking (more on that next week), and well, it’s just lovely. Of course, September also brings with it one of the chores I both dread and look forward to in equal measure: raking.
Where we are located, there is no shortage of mature trees and, in turn, mountains upon mountains of fallen leaves. Now, on one hand: this sucks. My efforts are completely futile, thankless, and despite hours and hours of blister inducing laps around the yard, I know will never be done my work. I spend time raking when I could be doing, well, absolutely anything else. On the other hand: it’s awesome. I get to create huge mounds of inviting leaves for my kids get to jump in or stuff into their shirts, and, best of all: I get to join them. I get to be a kid again in a way that brings back memories of my home back in Milton, where I would spend countless hours with my dog playing in piles of fun, and when my friend across the street and I would shove as many leaves into our sweaters as humanly possible, so that we could stage wrestling matches against one another without fear of getting hurt. It’s a great time of year for so many reasons, but I think that I get play without judgement is one of the best, and something that, as a 42-year old man, I’m quite proud of.
I don’t know exactly when it happens, but I feel it fair to say that there reaches a point as we grow older that our sense of play begins to take a back seat to outside factors that we can’t directly control; things such as peer pressure, embarrassment, self-esteem, self-confidence, and even sheer ability. Watching my two girls play in an age of innocence is something I cherish on their behalf and want to encourage for as long as possible. With Nora having now entered a school that has, gasp!, grade 8’s! I know that she is going to be exposed to a whole world of language, expectations, fashion, influence and pressure that she hasn’t known up until now. It freaks me out, as much as I know that it’s critically important for her growth and countless other reasons. It won’t be long now before she moves away from imaginative play to more ‘serious’ things, like the latest dance moves, fashion trends and, oh help me, social media. Today – she couldn’t care less about how others feel about her outfit, her penchant for free-play, or relishing in the fact that farts are funny. Tomorrow – who knows what the influence of others are going to bring upon her?! Watching them grow older and mature is precisely why I make an effort to remind them that, no matter the age, being silly is fun, jumping in leaves never gets old, to laugh at yourself is to love yourself, and there’s no shame in loving what you love.
Last weekend we made a trip to Waterloo Park; a destination I had not explored before. It’s a pretty cool place, complete with cricket pitch, water features, multiple trails and unique play structures, the latter of which are always a draw for me to explore. In addition to the usual kid-friendly attractions, however, there was a rather intriguing art installation in the parking lot – a row of 10-15 industrial looking teeter-totters, each one outfitted with LED light strips, emitting the most inviting series of beeps and chimes. Obviously we spent our time checking it out and taking turns bouncing up and down, making our own music as we played, laughed and appreciated the randomness of it all. But it wasn’t until I took a step back from the lot to take a picture that I truly appreciated what was happening in this space. As each of teeter totters rose and fell, I took stock of the fact that most of them were occupied by adults, at least 20-years in age I’d say, but certainly pushing over 40 in many cases. Best of all? They were all laughing and having fun. No judgements. No apprehensions. These fellow explorers saw a teeter totter in a parking lot and did what should come naturally when that happens: they started to play. ‘We need more of this!’ was the only thought that came to mind in that moment.
Play is big in our house and in my heart. It is how my children learn the world around them. It is how I find inspiration, stay young, and why I still get ID’d for lottery tickets. It is my wife’s occupation, which carries with it countless benefits to so many families and individuals of all ages. It is therapeutic on many different levels and is why I have so much Lego, including in my office, where it becomes a conversation piece and immediately lightens the mood of those who come to visit me. I like swings. I love a good piñata. Building sand castles is one of the best things to do at a beach. Dressing up is generally pretty funny, as is Unicorn Toots flavoured ice cream, and who doesn’t like a good belly laugh? All of these things spark happiness, and I don’t think there should be an age limit on that, so why would I model or suggest to my kids that what they are experiencing and feeling now has an expiry date? Plus, I am pretty confident that keeping a sense of play is why Santa still fills my stocking every year, so why would I ever want to give that up?!
Sure, there are moments and times in life where play and silly aren’t appropriate, and I teach my kids that too. But generally speaking – playing is a very positive thing for all of us. It allows for discovery, release, growth, comfort, joy, innocence, purpose, laughter, connection, and a very real benefit to various health systems within the mind and body, so why keep all of that locked away? I do understand the nerves, stress, anxiety and apprehension that comes with being playful, silly and imaginative when you pass a certain age; I am someone with a rather low level of self-confidence most days, but interestingly enough, the thing that helps me seem to conquer that is accepting the fact that putting myself out there, laughing at myself, and just being me is the thing I’m actually best at, so why wouldn’t I? Besides, when I’m playing with my kids at the park, as they push me on the swing or chase me up the slides, I don’t actually think the other adults standing on the sidelines are looking on in judgement; instead, I think a tiny piece of them is actually a little bit jealous.
So, play on, my friends, play on!