The Right to Play

Social media is abuzz right now with phrases like slowing down, simplifying, and getting back to the basics. Heck, even the homes with the most “likes” are trending towards natural fabrics and neutral hues. Many of my all-time favorite Instagram accounts portray a slow and sacred lifestyle, a lifestyle that I crave. I crave a life lived celebrating beauty everywhere I go, a life where I create beauty with my own two hands. I crave nature and an intimate connection to it. I crave genuine relationships with my kids, and memories that last. (I do not crave several hues of white throughout my home, but that’s another post).

But have you noticed how easy it is to be “adult” in our pursuit of these very worthy things; how easy it is to make all the right choices externally, and miss the actual living of life entirely?

My point is this: you can simplify your wardrobe, throw out all of your unnecessary belongings, and only wear cotton dresses, and still be the kind of person who can’t make eye contact with her kids for an extended period of time. You can simultaneously snap a photo of your family backpacking through a state park, and spend the whole trip sifting through your phone instead of looking and truly seeing what’s around you. You can build a glass palace of curated squares on social media, and hide your misery behind it. Ask me how I know…

I am – if I’m honest – a mom who avoids playing like it’s the plague. I try to be a “yes” mom. My kids will probably even tell you that I’m a fun mom. But I know just how hard I have to wrestle internally to cross the line between navigating motherhood like it’s all-business and mothering like I’m truly alive.

It takes an absurd amount of energy to muster ten solid minutes of getting down on my kid’s level, in barefaced form, ready for gut-busting laughter should the opportunity present itself. You too?

What I want to know is, why?

Is it a personal thing or a generational thing? Have adults been so brainwashed into believing that play is a waste of time – or how about, that wasting time is a waste of time – that they are missing the gold right beneath their feet. Every single time without exception that I genuinely let myself join them in their honest pursuit of enjoying a thing, it’s like a buoying up that I didn’t know I needed. I was sinking and I couldn’t tell.

And yet, I fight it. In some measure, at least for me, this is a sticky stuck-on bit of my past that just will not let go of my ankles. When my daughter asked my husband why I had a difficult time playing, he said, “because it was raised out of her, Buddy. She needs you to teach her how to do it again.”

And last night when we got in from our walk/bike-ride down the street sitting around a very late dinner of salad and soup with unwashed hands and sweaty summer faces, my oldest said, “isn’t it sad that today will never happen again?”

What must it be like to live so hard that you’ll miss today when it’s over?

I intend to find out. Even if it takes me another 32 years to do it.

I’ve already got the best tutor around. All I need to do is pay attention.

For Love or Money

My oldest daughter has an affinity for artistic expression that borders on obsession. Once Sadie gets alone with her art, we lose her for the rest of the day. If you walk in on her mid-creation she’s got this spaced out, half-crazed look in her eye, that makes you eager to close the door again. What’s happening in there is holy. One day while I was asking Jesus about whether or not to start her in full-day kindergarten, I heard an almost audible Voice: “When would she have time to make art?” Good point, Lord.

Sadie’s work is important to her. If you want evidence just look at the sheer volume of time and materials she invests in the process. Her desk is overflowing with well-loved tools, teeny tiny colored pencils, leftover watercolor marks, and pencil shavings. She sits surrounded by mountains of crumpled white papers, half-finished portraits and landscapes that weren’t exactly what she imagined they’d be.

Because of Sadie, and because I’ve become a full-fledged Charlotte Mason groupie, we start our lessons each day with watercolor palettes and art-journals. Charlotte Mason, being the incredibly legit lady that she was, coined a term known as “Mother Culture.” It’s basically the idea that as we’re raising our children to value beauty, goodness, and truth, we mamas need to actually value the same things. We need to do for ourselves what we do for our kids, and pursue creative growth and exploration independently from our children. In other words, Mama gets her own set of watercolor paints and brushes.

Like any self-respecting adult novice, I smile at the thought while my insides panic.

The whole watercolor thing was (and still is) 100% intimidating to me. If I’m honest, I don’t even want to try it because I don’t know how to do it yet. How ridiculous is that?

Most of us were brought up by a system of education that teaches us to “learn” for the grade, to perform for applause, to create if it tangibly adds to our success. Creating beauty for it’s own sake or recognizing goodness in hidden places or finding something worthwhile within ourselves that we didn’t know existed may have been valued (secondarily), but they were not going to get us anywhere in life- not really. And guys, I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW I WAS SCARED TO DO NEW THINGS. No way in heck do I want to try something new that I might fail at (which is basically any new thing) because I might fail at it. *Homeschooling your kids is better than therapy

Sadie does not make art because she’s good at it. She makes it because she loves to. And when I watch her use a paintbrush like it’s an extension of her hand, I can’t help but feel jealous for that kind of mastery. What would it look like to give myself fully and completely to the things that light me up inside? Not because I’m being paid to do it, but for the sheer joy of the process? Is that even allowed?!

Today, while I was working on a blog post Sadie came out of her room and handed me something she’d just finished – an autumn landscape with puffy clouds and leaves turning autumn gold. When I didn’t immediately respond to her, she got a little huffy and started to walk away. So I called her back, and explained that Mommy was doing something she loved to do, and it’s easy to get caught up in it. I told her that I’m writing and it’s sort of like how she gets lost in her own world when she’s creating art. I was just trying to apologized, but she stopped and smiled with her whole face. “Mom, I love that you’re writing because you love it. That just feels right. It makes me so happy!”

Mamas, our kids need us to enjoy our lives because they’ve got a one way ticket to adult-land, and frankly we scare them. They’re going to be forced to trade all of the beautiful freedom and laughter and joy of childhood for this? When they look at us, do they see women who are stepping more and more into the fullness of their design, or do they see an over-glamorized hurricane of stress and busy-ness. Do we want our daughters to be satisfied with being “mombies,” who can’t slow down long enough to enjoy their cup of coffee, who can’t make eye-contact with one another in the super market or stop scrolling long enough to have a quiet conversation with themselves. Shouldn’t that scare them? If we love them, shouldn’t that scare us?

Since pushing publish on this writing space, my mind has been swimming and my skin has been crawling, and now I know why. Because doing something I love for no good reason is not even close to the norm. I feel like I need a practical “why” to this project, if only to silence the guilt booming in my chest when I choose to sit and write instead of folding another load of laundry. But guilt is a bully, and sometimes a bully needs to hear you get loud.

It’s true that this project has no time table, and no destination. I can’t quantify it’s value in dollars or cents. What I’m after are brushstrokes that are uninhibited by insecurity. I want mountains of words behind me, around me, thrown out embarrassing words that didn’t make the cut. And ten years from now I want my daughters to know that I gave myself completely to the things that bring me joy- because joy is worth chasing.