Playing - spontaneous, totally-in-the-moment playing - is a balm I often overlook. It dawned on me last Thursday at the bowling alley, a fine place for inspiration. Benen's homeschool league was done with its two games and the kids were cutting loose in the arcade when my friend and her husband dropped two quarters in the air hockey machine and headed off against each other: not a game of extreme skill, but it was fun just watching them: her absolute focus and fierceness, his strategy, and even more compelling, their two daughters, adrift in the arcade, doing their own thing, enjoying the gift of parents who play arcade games together. It was this short game of air hockey that reminded me: this is how you stay married. This is why you get married. So you always have someone to play air hockey with. So you always have someone to play with, in those tiny moments between raising babies and cooking dinner and earning a living.
I think of my favorite couples. They're the ones who know how to play, together. The ones who share an obtuse passion for high-altitude hiking, or paddle-boarding, or marathon games of Uno or Scrabble, or use words like "Shazam!" in their conversations with each other.
I think of my sweetest moments with Jeff: yes, there have been two long, wild labors where we marveled at our babies at the end and would never see each other in the same light, there has been the intensity of a wedding, the day in and day out of coming home to each other, of easing one anothers' fears and worries, but what about the time he taught me how to make myself dizzy by spinning around with my head on a baseball bat and I propelled myself into the hedge of our new home? How about the Depends that showed up in the grocery cart at the check-out stand, or the 1-800 phone sex operator I dialed after pissily demanding the phone number for a business associate? Jeff's capacity to play with me, in the end, seduced me, and it seduces me to do this day. His fearlessness in seeking my hand in play is a love letter, an invitation to trust and be fully myself, and it's hard to say no to such an offer.
I thought about this, as I watched my friend and her husband play air hockey. That fifty cents was an absolute investment, no doubt about it, in the bank of marriage, and the bank of personal happiness, and the bank of enjoying life. Like me, these people have responsibilities. They have groceries to buy and dinner to cook and kids to read to. But they recognized the value of embracing the fun in life at that moment, and it's a lesson worth remembering for me. I love routine, and I love time to myself, but I love, perhaps more endearingly, being asked to play.
Yes, we need lots of rest. We need to keep tidy homes and cook nourishing food, and eat it, and connect to each other with stories and laughter, and work through the pains and unpleasantness of our lives, and get the kids to bed, and pay bills. We need to move our own bodies and we need to ease and flex our minds. Our lists are big.
And we need to play, to connect through play, not just with children and our dog, but with other adults, and by ourselves. Have you seen me in my front yard at 9 in the morning with my jump rope? I got moves. The kids can vouch for it. Have you seen me bust out the robot dance moves? Unlikely, I try to keep that under wraps. But I've seen it. I know the value of cracking myself up.
Play equalizes us, feeds us joy from an endless spoon, and reminds us of our purpose. Feed yourself, feed your love, feed each other, playfully. Take five minutes, drop the list, and kill it in air hockey. You will never, never be sorry that you stopped to play.
What will you play today?