The Spirit of Play

The birthday girl Margaret (on left), and her friend Lynne

When my son Tom was three, he wanted a toy gun more than anything. He asked us, it seemed, almost everyday for one, but we did not want to encourage “violent” behaviour so did not give in to his pleading. We bought him a plastic yard set; rake, shovel and hoe instead. I looked out the window one day, and saw him with the  plastic rake, held shoulder-high, being “aimed” at his friend. They were “playing guns” with the rake and shovel. We finally broke down and bought him a toy gun and he loved it.

I never played with guns as a child and never had any interest in them. I made some attempts at introducing toys, into my sons lives, that were not traditionally played with by boys. I once bought them a doll house (something that I had always wanted as a little girl). Matt dismembered some all the dolls, beheaded others, and made it into a little haunted house…not exactly what I had in mind.

My friend (and neighbor) Margaret, celebrated her 50th birthday on Saturday with food, a bon fire, and Laser Tag. I hadn’t played anything like this before, but thought I’d try one game, just to experience it. Teams were chosen and we all got a gun and started playing at around 5:30. At 8:00, it was getting too dark to play. I had on a lightweight T-shirt and shorts and didn’t notice that it was getting chilly, didn’t feel particularly hungry. I felt like I was ten years old again….it was odd and wonderful.

I like the thought that there is something in this wild, unknowable universe called “The Spirit of Play” and that it shows up to rejuvenate and refresh our spirits, minds and bodies, wherever beings (human and animal) gather for the purpose of fun, non-harm, and celebration. I think that I would like to become more familiar with this fun little spirit in the second half of life!

32 thoughts on “The Spirit of Play

  1. AMEN!

    I laughed out loud a couple of times reading this post, Mary. My parents never gave us kids ‘violent’ toys either but we played Cowboy and Indian or war incisively as children. And loved every minute of it. I am here to say that I am not a violent person and I am gathering that neither is Tom.

    I do envy watching the kids in the neighborhood going at it well into the dusk hours without a care in the world. Once again, we can learn so much from the gentle creatures around us.

    Great post!!

    • Thank you Susan! (you are right, my sons have grown up to be lovely non-violent men…that still also love to play!)

  2. Thanks for this thought, Mary. I have always felt like I had to “work” at being playful. What an oxymoron!! My first thought at the mention of laser tag is no no no. Then hearing your experience I think that maybe it would be fun. I just got a playful photo in the mail, at least I think it was meant to be playful. And my first reaction was discomfort. Sometimes I have to process things that are meant to be playful. I would much rather just relax into the intent of play! I guess it has to do with letting go of something, although I’m not quite sure what. Apparently this is a theme for me today. Wishing some Fun for us all!!

  3. Sounds like your friend had a delightful birthday Mary! What better way to celebrate another year than a day of play! I love bon fires, I hope you roasted marshmallows.
    Where do you live Susan? None of the children I know play outdoors anymore. They are glued to computer games where computer creatures are blown up, beheaded or splattered all over the screen. This seems much more violent to me than cowboys and indians of days gone by.
    Today is my birthday, I must think of something fun to do! :‹)

    • Happy Birthday JoAnne! Sending you good thoughts for a delightfully fun day! Love, Mary

    • Happy Birthday, JoAnne! I live in Canton, Ohio on a lovely street near great neighbors who greatly encourage their kids to play outside amap but that’s not to say they don’t get their fair share of TV in either. Hope you had fun today.

  4. My oldest son, denied a toy gun, bit his bread into the shape of a gun and played with it. By the time the third child came along, another boy, we gave up when his nanny gave him a toy gun that had belonged to her husband. Neither of the boys, now grown, have much interest in guns. Such is life.

  5. I guess our definition of play changes and evolves as we get older…can’t think of the last time I played with pure abandonment…like a kid again. But a friend has recently suggested having a pajama party for a group of us girls…eat, sip some wine, stay up and talk, eat more, laugh, share, walk together at sunrise…a different version of girl’s night out. I have stayed rather silent about it as I was not sure if it would be “fun” or something I really wanted to do. Do I really want them to see me with bed hair? What if I have to get up in the middle of the night and use the bathroom? Do I want them to see me in my flannel pj’s?OMG what if I snore!? Can I take my own pillow?! All these adult reasons why I probably wouldn’t go. I loved sleepovers growing up and never worried about any of these things…but I am 60 now and would be the oldest one in the group and I have all these limits on my thinking. But after reading your post Mary, I just might do it! Gotta change my attitude about it…even if I don’t get one wink of sleep!

  6. Perhaps you should go to that slumber party Kathye. Years back I asked my husband if I could have a slumber party. Just three or four girls came and we had a ball. Played charaids all night (we laughed so hard we kept my poor husband awake clear on the other side of the house) and made popcorn. We all laughed at how awful we looked in the morning but it was fun. Of course I was a few years younger and many of the concerns I have today about such things didn’t exist then. Your friends most likely have the same concers. Go for it!

    • Thanks JoAnne for your encouragement and for the smile I have after reading your post! I’m going to tell her to count me in!

  7. I have a picture of me at Christmas when I was five, wearing my Annie Oakley cowgirl hat, vest, fringed skirt and six shooters, topped off with a fake white ermine stole and pink plastic high heels. Thanks, Santa! Best. Christmas. Ever. Yet somehow I did not grow up to be a cowgirl or Shirley Temple. Go figure.

    Happy Birthday, Joanne! Go shoot at something for me. (Just kidding.)

  8. Happy Birthday to JoAnne!
    I too have a son who I did not give a toy gun to. He took a big, long carrot out of the fridge and used it as a toy gun. Eventually, I got him a toy gun, holster, and cowboy hat which he loved. I just now remembered and went to look at an old photo I have framed in my living room. It was taken in Tennessee years ago at one of those “OLD TIME” Photo Places. My son is dressed up in western gear and holding a long shotgun.
    As a 33 year old man, he has no interest in guns; is not a hunter; is anti-war; but he loves to eat carrots!
    Smile and have a happy day all you white-feather-friends. Mary Rita.

  9. We made the same attempt to NOT give our son Brian toy guns… sticks, pieces of wood and everything else he could find became his weapons… my husband finally bought him some toy guns. He has grown into a warm, loving young man with no guns in his life. I did however recently witness him and our son-in-law have an exciting nerf gun shoot out with his 10 year old uncle…some things never change!!

    Mary, I’m so excited for you that you are reliving your childhood…LOL…it’s good to be playful and crazy some of the time. I recently played in the ocean, riding the waves on a boogy board, and it felt wonderful!!!!!

    love, Marian

  10. Happy Birthday Joanne! Last week we were encouraged to be wild, this week to play! What nice assignments you give us, lovely Mary! Have a wild playful day, all!

  11. I could hardly believe my eyes while reading this, Mary! One Christmas, when I was 8 and my brother was 4 years old, my mother got us exactly what we asked for: I got a Fort Apache set, replete with cowboys, Indians and guns; my brother got a Betsy Wetsy doll and miniature bake oven (with the light bulb). I thought my very traditional father would have a stroke with the gender-bending choices—especially given the times of mid-1950’s!! But it’s the only gifts I remember with certainty.
    Happily, I did not turn out to be an expansionist land baron but my brother did become a great and inventive cook! Whose to say where the creative unfolding begins?
    Have a very happy birthday, JoAnne. Go out and pain the town red, shoot up a couple of saloons and we’ll be there to bail you out of jail.Yee Haw!!

    • Oh Cheryl, you bring back such a memory – my three siblings and I all played musical instruments, but when my younger sister asked to play the drums, my Dad said (again, the mid-fifties!) that girls didn’t play the drums. She said that really made her decide not to play any instrument at all, opting to sing in the school chorus instead. Too bad he didn’t let her march to the beat of her own drum. What stuck with her was not so much not playing the drums as being denied the chance just for being a girl. Isn’t that cool that your brother’s inner chef was doing prep work so early on! I remember the little bake oven with the bulb too! Mary, that photo of your father has just gotten me going down memory lane all weekend.

    • Oh Lord, Cheryl, you just made my childhood memory bank open up and spit out a birthday memory from way back! I was 9 and loved in a brownstone house in Brooklyn, NY. Our stairs had a straight banister that ended in a newel post. Since I WAS the Lone Ranger, my mom got me a cowboy gun in a western holster for my birthday. If I “saddled up” at the newel post and draped my “reins” around it, I could look into the living room and see the TV. I had many an exceptional jaunt when the Lone Ranger show was on, as I could ride with him and Tonto, going after all those law-breakin’ varmints that got all liquored up and set out to do evil! I saved the day countless times with those guys and I would give up a few things to go back and have one more ride. Wait….I think I just did.

      Hey Cheryl, thanks for the memories.

      P.S. Like most of you all, I also let my son have a toy gun. He grew into a kind, non-violent man whose daughters adore him. Must have done something right!

    • First of all Happy Birthday JoAnne! Have a rootin’ tootin’ day, in keeping with the old west theme here today. My mother has a picture of me at about age 4 in cowboy hat and six shooters looking happy as a clam! I couldn’t point a gun today with any expertise at all. I also remember the reluctance to buy my son a toy weapon, but he was just as resourceful as the other children here and created his own guns and weapons from his imagination and ingenuity. Gotta love that, necessity being the mother of invention and all!
      Secondly, cheryl b., you probably figured this out yourself, but after you mentioned it the other day, I was curious about posting a picture with your responses and learned by playing (there’s that word!) around that if you set up an account with Gravatar (free) you can upload an image that will appear by your name. Kinda fun! Thanks Mary for this fun post today.

      • Thanks Terri for the pic info. I had not re-examined the aspect of fun when venturing into the internet unknown; usually that ends with an error message, followed by a tutorial from my dear tech savvy husband, bless his heart.
        What a hoot of a day down memory lane. Why is it these stories have the clarity of a hawks eye and I can’t remember what I had for breakfast yesterday?? SKY KING!!!!! My Friend Flicka!! Wow.

    • Being your age Cheryl and also having a brother four years younger, as well as a sister 16 months younger, I remember the Fort Apache set, Easy Bake Oven, Betsy Wetsy, Tiny Tears, and for me it was Chatty Cathy…and I was (still am) chatty too! And Suzanne mentioned the Lone Ranger which made me think of Sky King, Fury, and My Friend Flicka…and Sally Starr (Suzanne she was a Philadelphia TV personality, cowgirl…do you remember her?!). Thanks all for a wonderful trip back to my childhood! Ahhhh….wonderful days…

      • I do remember ALL these things, Kathye. I only knew of Sally Starr from the times I visited my aunt, who lived in the Philly suburbs, but know her, I did. In fact, her presence, along with Dale Evans (Roy Rogers’ wife) made it ok to be a cowgirl with a gun. After all, this was the very early ’50’s and girls/women were still expected to fit the mold! Glad I never did!

  12. While we’re strolling down memory lane, does anyone remember watching the Mickey Mouse Club right after 5 p.m. supper? The Hardy Boys (Joe and Frank!) and scary old Mr. Applegate and the water tower (where ARE all those gold dubloons and pieces of eight, pieces of eight, pieces of eight?) and glamorous Annette Funicello. . Little Karen and Cubby – ‘now it’s time to say goodbye to all the family. . M-I-C (see you real soon) K-E-Y (why? because we like you!) M-O-U-S-E! my first real crush as a girl of maybe ten was on Michael Landon in Bonanza, dreamy boy, beautiful eyes. And later, how I loved watching Little House on the Prairie when by then he was Pa, and I was a “ma” to my own two little boys who’d cuddle up on my lap, watching it all together. Thanks for bringing back so many happy memories, one and all!

    • That sounds like fun Donna! (both having a grandson and rolling down a hill with him!)

  13. Gosh, talk about a walk down memory lane! Thanks everyone for all the birthday wishes and fond memories. I must confess, I wasn’t too wild today (perhaps tomorrow). It rained all day but it was a lovely day and I enjoyed every minute! My girllfriend of over 60 years called and we chatted for an hour, I got some lovely red roses and many wonderful natal day wishes. I love this site and I love you all!

  14. Laser tag and a bonfire sound like such a fun way to celebrate a birthday, Happy Birthday to JoAnne! We used to watch the Early Show and when Tarzan was on would eat TV Dinners in the living room.

  15. I remember watchiing Tarzan, in the living room, while having dinner on those folding TV trays…that was such a treat. We weren’t normally allowed in the living room…that’s probably a whole other blog topic!!!

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