Five years ago, before a hunting trip, Dan unloaded a pile of found junk (from the annual trash clean-up) into the backyard, promising me uninterrupted coffee and newspaper time while the kids feasted on new stuff. The unravelling badminton rackets doubled as nets dredging up treasures from deep within the compost pile. The 5-gallon buckets became personal swimming holes. The broken fishing pole with its knotted-up line was golden: Col caught trout diapers and Rose fried ’em up.
Isn’t this what the young San Francisco entrepreneurs do? Take known objects and twist, stretch, dissect, rotate and stamp their own creativity on them until it becomes the Next Big Thing?
Isn’t this also what children do, daily, with no other agenda than the pursuit of fun?
Factoids abound on the benefits of play. Entire books have been written about the subject. Play develops children’s fine and gross motor skills, communication, collaboration, imagination, problem-solving and ability to focus. Playing allows ideas to synthesize and take root.
Col has folded up approximately 364 paper airplanes in the past six months. The sound of paper creasing is the very background music of our lives. Cooking dinner now holds the risk of careening airplanes landing in an open pot of soup. Who am I to say this isn’t worthwhile? With each trial and error, his planes become faster, lighter, more enduring. While Col’s endless design and crafting binges scratch some unknowable internal itch, I see geometry, engineering, principles of flight and a child in the flow of his own creativity.
I watch Rose morph through 10 characters a day. She’s benevolent schoolteacher, bucking pony, playful puppy, salsa dancer with moves I envy and strict mom doling out harsh punishments to her misbehaving son (played by Col). It’s said that reading fiction engages the reader’s sense of empathy, allowing one to walk another’s path for a few hundred pages. I see Rose’s need to try on different characters, feeling what it might be like to be a orphaned unicorn. Yesterday on a hike, Rose wore a dog’s harness, alternating between the comfort of her friends walking her on leash through the sagebrush and the freedom of throwing off the leash, running free.
I try not to get bent out of shape when the children’s play includes gluing Legos to paper (as it did this very morning) or carting every dress-up item out of the bedroom until our living room has become a bouncy house of leotards and tulle. There’s a persnickety schoolmarm in me who wants the dollhouse furniture to stay in the dollhouse (as opposed to divvied up among 10 purses). But I also want my children to be good at playing. You could say play is a child’s work.
I know my work’s going well when there’s nothing I’d rather be doing, when my mind is so engaged it’s pinging from one word to the next without even hearing the chocolate singing to me from the cupboard. Children are in this state 10 different times a day: making magic from the very depths of their own wild mind. It’s sacred. It’s the daily special on the menu of childhood. It’s training for the gift of finding your passion as an adult.
I take comfort in the fact that, right now, my kids need little more than to be turned loose: in the yard, the park, the woods, the river, in their own house with their bedraggled collection of toys. Neurons are firing! Profound mental connections span new territory! But the kids don’t care; they’re just doing their work.
Reach Rachel Turiel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her blog, 6512 and growing, on raising children, chickens and other messy, rewarding endeavors at 6,512 feet.