My first memory of any kind of play was when I was about three years old. I was out in the backyard and I remember my dad had a ball. It was new and fun and we tossed it around. I don't remember it as being play, just that my dad had a ball and it was something new for me.
My next memories are of moving right next door to my grandparents. I mean RIGHT next door. Our houses were about fifty feet apart. In the country. Next to a creek. It was a beautiful place to explore and play. But it was mostly by myself. My little brother wasn't born yet so I mostly played alone. I had long hours to explore the creek, the vegetable gardens, the flower beds. I do remember my grandpa letting me walk with him to the mailbox every day. We picked up nails and odds and ends along the way. It felt like play and made me feel important. He took me with him when he rode the bus to pay bills downtown. He took me with him when he did yardwork for other people. Just spending time with a child and making them feel valued can be a form of play.
I have another memory of a birthday party when I was maybe eight—I don’t remember really "playing" but I do remember my classmate friends being invited, getting presents, and feeling as if I fit right in and I belonged. I felt valued and had fun.
That was probably the last memory I have of any kind of good play with kids.
When I was in fifth grade, we moved away from everything I had ever known.
I was thrust into a new school, and even though it was only eleven miles away, it might as well have been a thousand. Things were different, people were different, and I felt lost and alone. My parents didn't even think about it, I guess. That I might have feelings, be anxious, or want to talk about things. Back in the day, most parents didn't talk to their kids about things like that. The idea was, be seen and not heard.
This was right around puberty time, and I lost all of my confidence and courage. I was bullied on the school bus. My grades faltered. I also had problems in my family with alcoholism, and always had feelings of upheaval and uncertainty running around in my head.
I didn’t invite friends over, because I never knew what we might come home to.
There was no real play in my life at this point.
Fast forward to another move when I was maybe twelve—this one clear across the vast plains of Texas to another state, New Mexico. My father got a job there. I had never heard of New Mexico and when Albuquerque came into view in the middle of the night, I thought it was beautiful. The darkness of the mountains and the twinkling of the city lights was pretty breathtaking and new, even for a twelve year old.
But when I woke up in the morning, all I could see was brown. Everywhere. Brown grass, brown trees, brown buildings. I hated it. We lived in a rented house and I "played" with the kids next door. The oldest boy wrote me love letters when I didn't even know what flirting or love was.
And then I started middle school.
Oh mercy. I remember that what accounted for play was actually adolescent flirting. Silliness and nonsense. We were worried about our new bodies and our ability to navigate this new school, this new identity that was thrust upon us. The identity of being a semi-adult. One who was supposed to giggle at boys, act dumb, and act like we knew what certain words meant, when really, we had no idea. I remember the slumber parties - feeling out of place, not knowing some of the sexual sayings and words the other girls talked about. It felt like the parties were supposed to be fun, but they weren't.
I remember having a birthday party and invited some of the cool kids because I wanted to be liked. The party ended up way out of control, and my dad broke his toe chasing one of those "cool" kids down the block. When you become a teenager, your old style of play is no more, and play becomes more grown up and serious.
My mom and dad both worked and I came home to an empty house every day. Which was a recipe for disaster. Then, a tumor was discovered in my knee, I had surgery, and spent the next five months at home, recuperating. Boys descended upon my house. They had races down the hall in my wheelchair. They ate up all the food. They flirted with me and I truly was extremely naive and thought they liked me. I guess this was a form of play. In their mind anyway. My parents would often go out, and they would tell my little brother not to let any boys in. He would charge each one of my boy "friends" $1 each and have them slip the dollar under the door and never open it. He was mischievous that way.
Then—someone did like me. Or so I thought. A boy.
He was young and learning everything too, just like I was. He came from a broken home and had his own issues. But I thought he was perfect. Until that night that he slid his hand up the back of my shirt. I felt weird, but I went along, because I thought I was in love and this is what young lovers do - a form of play. Then he said those fateful words, "If you love me, you will have sex with me." I wanted to be liked so I complied. Silly me.
My parents were not often home, so we had plenty of opportunities to be alone. Of course, when I got pregnant at sixteen, everything changed. No more play. Only seriousness and sadness. I hid the pregnancy for six months, trying to go about my business but terrified that someone would find out. My parents did find out (when they took me to the doctor) and were forgiving and supportive, for which I'm still thankful.
Play was forgotten. Fun was no more. I left school (feeling completely ostracized), attended a little school downtown called New Futures (a new project that allowed pregnant teenagers to continue schooling), which had just opened. I was one of the very first attendees.
I admit, I felt welcome there. People were nice, loving, and there were twenty other girls just like me. I got straight As. I learned how to fry an egg, use coping skills, and decided to give up my baby for adoption. No play here, too much sadness. I was only sixteen but felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. There were thirteen year old girls there, just babies having babies.
After I had my baby, I experienced a weird sense of fogginess. I don't remember a lot. I went back to school, felt like everyone in the world was watching me and played too much. I ditched a lot of classes, hung out with people who smoked weed, and spent quite a bit of time doing things that might be considered play to teenagers but not to grown up adults who knew right from wrong.
Then I met my future husband. He had just come back from Vietnam and we fell instantly in love! He was a little older and more experienced. He didn't play as much as my younger friends and I was happy about that. We got married young and just celebrated 45 years of being together. He still plays more than I do.
We played a lot during our early years. The years BK (Before Kids). We traveled and did fun things - concerts, parties, trips to the mountains, etc.
After six years together, I found out I was pregnant. Wow! Another chance when I thought I might not have more chances. I thanked the heavens above. I felt so much guilt for giving up my first child that I knew I had to get it right. I stopped the play. I had no time for selfishness because I was about to be a MOTHER. I forgot about taking care of myself and concentrated on taking care of my beautiful baby girl. Four years later, another beautiful baby girl came along. I played with them, but there were so many things to think about: work, bills, taking care of my husband, building a house, etc.
About this time, when I was 42, my firstborn child found me. I can't tell you the love, fear, and trepidation I felt when I got a letter saying he wanted to meet me. My husband had always known about him, my daughters had not. I had searched for him when he was sixteen and was told (by the court liason) that it was not a good idea. When I finally met him, I felt like my life was really complete. But that was the textbook "Honeymoon Phase." We thought life would be perfect for us. But, we didn't have a history together. We didn't know each other's silliness and quirks. We had no idea how to do anything normal. We missed the opportunity to bond as mother and infant. We never had the art of play. And I will always be sorry for that.
Raising my daughters and living life, I didn't exercise as much, I put on weight, stopped getting my hair cut and doing my nails. None of it mattered because I had my babies. I was going to be the best mother I could be. And I loved being with my girls.
We bought five and a half acres up in the mountains and built a beautiful house. My girls had so much time to laugh and play. We decided to homeschool and they spent days learning about anything and everything, exploring, hanging out with other homeschooling kids, taking field trips, and playing. Lots of playing. Of course, me, not so much. I was cleaning, gardening, putting up wood, building fires, doing a million things that needed to be done.
Now, they are in their 20s and 30s, both married and my youngest daughter has two beautiful daughters of her own. And that mama knows how to PLAY. And Grammy ( that's me) is learning the joy of play again with my grandchildren. We can spend hours working puzzles, reading books, playing blocks, and just hanging out together. Sometimes you don't have to do anything to play. Just sit around and talk. Play is fun!
And I am going to therapy to learn how to take care of myself and "play" again, doing things that I like to do: plein air painting, taking day trips, going places with my husband, and just enjoying life with friends and family. The Gift of Play cannot be overemphasized.
I am hoping that when my granddaughters hit puberty, they keep their courage and confidence, don't let people take advantage of them, and they will be strong enough to stand up to life and show the world who is boss. And I hope they don't forget how to play.
I spent over thirty years NOT playing and it's so good to be back in that world again.
My advice to young mothers - don't be so serious. Life with children is over so fast. Enjoy your kids. They grow up so fast right before your eyes. Embrace everything. Don't have so many rules. Don't have a schedule set in stone. Don't always make them go to bed at 8pm. Let them have a doughnut once in a while without making them feel guilty. Don't plan set nap times every day. Ease up. Spend quality time with them.
I remember the words I always used to think in my head when certain things happened and people talked to me like I had no brain. And this is it: DON'T EVER FORGET WHAT IT'S LIKE TO BE A KID. EVER. And when I had my kids, I never forgot that.
And remember, we can't change the past, but we can make changes so it has less power over us.
We can direct our future.
What is Simply Sisterhood?
A campaign to end