It amazes me how easily children do the things they love.
Play is their default setting. They don’t procrastinate about play – they prioritise it; squeezing the irritating necessities and obligations of life (such as putting shoes on and brushing teeth) around much more important pursuits, like defeating Droids and practicing mid-air karate moves on the trampoline.
In contrast, it amazes me how easily adults stop making time for the things they love.
We so often put off play until tomorrow – I’ve stopped bothering to buy the papers at the weekend because I so rarely seem to get round to reading them, and the dull task of sorting out unread papers for recycling only ends up standing in the way of other, more interesting pastimes. But cutting out the papers altogether is probably cutting off my nose to spite my face. What I ought to do is spend less time straightening the kitchen or tackling the laundry mountain, and more time lazing by the fire with the Sunday supplements.
The tantalising tower of unread books beside my bed is testament to the fact that I do intend to spend time languishing around, devouring fiction, but that the best laid plans of mice and busy mums are so often thwarted.
I aspire to be more like my kids. I am learning how to turn a blind eye to the things that will be long-forgotten in ten years’s time (like messy floors and toilets that won’t clean themselves) in order to turn my attention to the stuff that childhood memories are made of (like baking scones together and idling on the floor beside my kids, photographing them at play).
The things we love – the pastimes that most resemble play to our adult brains – can all too easily become the things that we do least. That strikes me as a travesty.
So I’m trying hard to follow my instinct for play – to listen carefully to the appetite and energy that seems to wake up, full of anticipation and enthusiasm, whenever I have even the smallest pocket of space available to be filled in any which way I choose. Instead of stuffing those moments full of laundry, stifling the playful urges and silencing the strands of creativity that bubble forth, I plan to stuff the laundry and make play my focus.
My plan is complicated by the fact that the thing I love has become the thing that pays my rent. That’s a luxury I don’t hold lightly or take for granted – to write for a living is a dream come true, but it limits my capacity to write purely for the love of it.
My playful part wants to play with words – to scribble down lines of fiction before they float away, forgotten, or explore the wisps of a fully-formed character that seems to step forth from the shadows of my mind, entirely unbidden.
But if I write, I do so because it’s work, and playing with words gets relegated to some far-off day that might not ever come, if I don’t learn to play as though it’s the most important thing I could do.
Shoes have to be put on, and teeth must be brushed, but those things should be the bookends of and punctuation of a playful life.
I owe it to my kids to learn from them, and to teach them that one should never grow too old for play.