My son’s Christmas wish list sure is different than it was a few years ago.
I get it, I get it. He’s older now, and doesn’t have any use for dinkies, or Transformers, or robotic dinosaurs, or even sleds. Most of the asks for teenagers are electronic in nature, and roughly one million dollars per item. This year he expressed mild to moderate interest in a few video games, new basketball sneakers, and a guitar. That’s nothing in comparison to just a few short years ago when Christmas morning in our living room looked like a Lightning McQueen factory had exploded.
The thought of him wanting a guitar is fantastic, in my books. My older son taught himself how to play, and I’m hoping this one does the same. And yes, he plays a lot of sports, so he’s not stuck to the Playstation 24/7. But it’s become clear to me, based on the interests of kids young and old, that people, as they get older, forget how to play.
Am I wrong? I hope so. We spent so much time playing when we were kids that maybe this generation is just suffering by comparison. But when I was a young child, even as old as 13, we would play with things, all sorts of things. We would play store (I was always the cashier), school (I was always the teacher), explorers (I was always the leader). We would arrange a bunch of supplies and toys and spend hours creating things and pretending.
As we get older, we forget about that stuff. When is the last time you lost yourself, really lost yourself, in a non-work activity that had no other purpose than to entertain? When is the last time you read a book just for the sake of reading it? When is the last time you walked in the grass in your bare feet? When is the last time you did a cartwheel? It’s like when we grow up we forget how much fun it can be to just relax and have fun.
In my defense, I don’t think I’m the only one. Adulthood has a way of sucking the playfulness out of us. We get too involved with our work, with our kids, with paying bills, cleaning kitchens and scrubbing bathrooms, with an endless catalog of responsibilities. Before we know it, we’ve forgotten the feel of digging for a lost truck in the sandbox, of dressing Barbie in fancy gowns, of erecting a tower out of blocks that’s taller than you.
Yet play, that ability to be fully engaged in an activity whose sole purpose is pleasure and amusement, is more important than we think – definitely more than we allow it to be. We know, of course, that children learn about the world through free play. It’s why parents around North America have battled (and won) to guarantee recess in schools.
But most adults don’t get recess on the job. I write “most” because some progressive tech companies do recognize the power of play. Google, for instance, has play stations with ping-pong and foosball tables on its main campus in Silicon Valley. The company believes having fun is good for team-building and cooperation.
The average working stiff, though, doesn’t have access to such fancy work perks. We’re more concerned with benefits and pensions than lunchtime ping pong. Besides, a corporate push for playtime, no matter how benevolent, might defeat the purpose of letting our hair down if it’s mandated and scheduled.
A few days ago, Lego announced a new construction toy named Lego Forma. It’s half Lego blocks and half coloring book, and aimed at de-stressing adults, trying to capitalize on the 2016 trend that saw sales of adult colouring books shoot through the roof. I suppose the company recognizes that there is a big market for an activity that removes us from the strain of daily life, for anything really that allows us to love an experience without worrying about the outcome.
Though I’m a grown-up who smiles at the sight and scent of crayons, I’ve never bought an adult colouring book, instead choosing to bide my time until a far-away decade when I have grandkids with whom to colour.
Nevertheless, I’m determined to chill out a bit, to unwind and de-stress. I think it’s good practice for everyone to periodically recover the little girl buried under the hard shell of maturity.