It's Too Easy to Forget to Have Fun
The other morning I came across one of those posts on Facebook that is supposed to show you the better side of humanity. Lots of feel-good stories about people doing great things for others. Amongst all the pictures there was one that stayed with me. The image was taken out of an upper apartment window and was of three garbage collectors who had decided to take a break. They parked their truck next to a playground and were flying high on a set of swings.
I can't remember the last time I played on a set of swings. I am a childless woman in her early 50s going through menopause. There are bills to pay, a property to manage and so many things to worry about. We are currently in the middle of the third wave of the pandemic with a moving end date and while we have made progress getting the vaccine out, the process is slow.
My husband and I have been incredibly lucky to ride out the pandemic isolated in the country. Other than the trials of shopping for food and supplies, and the horrible internet, being here has been a blessing. We can leave the house, go for walks with our dog and talk to neighbours across the street without ever needing a mask.
And yet there has been little time or desire for play. My mind and body still feel weighted by the last year and the aches and pains that come from getting older.
We fill our days because we have to, with practical, important things that keep the household running. We have effectively mastered mastery. Spring projects have taken up our days and alcohol has eased us into the monotony of evenings.
It took a single image of garbage collectors playing hooky for me to realize I had forgotten how to play and have fun.
Throughout the pandemic, the experts have said it's important to take time to experience nature as it will ease stress and anxiety. It is true, absolutely. I love seeing the Robins return to the garden, spending their days digging for worms and foraging for nest material. And the first crocuses that peak out of the icy soil are always a wonder. Watching the world wake up from a long winter is always an incredible experience.
But while I feel joy at these sights and often take the time to enjoy our garden, there is still something missing.
I believe two things are going on here. First, and most obvious, are the psychological effects of the pandemic. Even though we have the benefit and privilege of living outside of the city and working from home, the strangeness and worry over a world in crisis have taken their toll. It's hard to think of play when so many are suffering. It's weird to have fun when the future is so uncertain.
Secondly, we have fallen into the myth of adulthood; that we must be responsible and serious, all the time. Because even before the pandemic, we seldom took time to play.
Don't get me wrong, living in the country and developing our acre of land into something beautiful has been a fascinating experience. We have both learned so much about landscaping and how nature works. We take enormous satisfaction looking out over the land knowing that our hands brought about the transformation from an empty field to a thriving garden. And we have shared lots of laughs over the struggles and challenges.
But the land can consume us. There is ALWAYS something to do. During the winter months, I spend hours planning the next season, thinking about what to plant and what new systems will make things more efficient. Then when spring hits, the pull to be outside making it all happen is incredibly strong. And, as the pandemic has forced us to stay at home, we have added even more tasks to the 70 plus projects on our list.
The desire for play or fun is long forgotten in the day to day grind of work.
Until that moment when everything seems off. When the work is no longer enjoyable and I am envious of people randomly swinging in a park.
In an article about adults and play on the NPR website, Dr Stuart Brown is quoted
"What you begin to see when there's major play deprivation in an otherwise competent adult is that they're not much fun to be around," he says. "You begin to see that the perseverance and joy in work is lessened and that life is much more laborious."
As the head of the National Institute for Play, Dr Brown knows what he is talking about.
It's sad to say that I had to really think about what I consider to be fun. It's been so long that I could hardly remember when I last had fun, for fun's sake.
I remember as a kid playing in the water for hours with my cousins, with all of us trying to stand up on some floatation device at the same time only to fall into the water, over and over again. Hours of entertainment.
I remember dancing. I used to take classes before the injuries kicked in. I love to dance.
I remember playing Klondike (a board game about the gold rush) with some adult friends where we spontaneously decided to act out a character from that time while playing the game. I laughed so hard my belly ached.
According to Dr Brown, the act of play is more important than the outcome. And as adults, we are trained to only spend time on tasks that produce something. Nothing is accomplished when you play a card game or dance around your living room. It is amazing how my husband and I have come to define our days by what we have achieved, by the next thing we can scratch off the list, and not necessarily by if we enjoyed the day.
I love this quote from Jo Eberhardt, a mother of two, writing for Quora about adults and fun.
The only one stopping you from having fun is you. Or, more specifically, your belief about what “being an adult” means. There’s no one way you “should” be an adult. You can be the adult you want to be. And if that means jumping coloured tiles, or eating ice cream for breakfast, or watching morning cartoons, or singing in public, then do it. You can be carefree and child-like while still being responsible and adult.
Choosing to live in the country, as well as the challenge of doing it sustainably, has taken over how I define myself. This lifestyle has been about educating myself and making smart choices and I don't regret it for an instant. But there has to be a balance between mastery and pleasure for one has no meaning without the other.
And perhaps, because the world is in crisis, now is the perfect time to bring back the fun and play into my life. Maybe it will involve puzzles or more time playing cards with friends and family. I know there is a swing in our future. We have already picked out the tree.
And for sure, there will be dancing. In the garden.