When I Play

I love to read. When given the opportunity to sit with a favorite book, I will forget to eat and fail to sleep just to keep reading. Growing up, I checked out stacks of books from the library and then spent blissful days of summer vacation getting lost in them. Yet, somewhere along the way, as I have grown older and my responsibilities have increased, I find that I sometimes go weeks or even months without reading a book despite my continued love of them. I comment about lacking enough time, and part of that is accurate. Reading endlessly for twelve hours with a young child is not a realistic expectation. However, does that mean I should not make time to read at all? I once heard a saying, and I do not know where it originated, that people often overestimate what they can do in a day and underestimate what they can do in a year.

We visit the library about twice a week and check out piles of books for our young son. We spend wonderful times reading him stacks of stories. However, I rarely check out a book for myself. Only recently did I realize the message I tell myself – I am an adult, and I had my chance at learning, stories, and adventure. I think I am wrong. At what age do play and passion fail to be important? If life is simply a list of never-ending tasks, then what is the point? Yes, dinners still need to be cooked, laundry must be washed, and jobs duties must be fulfilled. But, why put my own humanity at the end of to-do lists that endlessly revolve? I find time for exercise because someone somewhere says it is important and healthy. I read articles and blogs about finding balance, but I feel I still spend a lot of time tripping and stumbling through life. I listen to experts, articles, and opinions, but I often fail to listen to the voice inside of me. I want to read. Why? What goal will I accomplish? What is the point? The point is – there is no point. This is my play, my love, my passion, me.

This week, I unintentionally tried something different. When we visited the library a few days ago, I checked out a book. I had not thought about it beforehand. I simply walked past a shelf on the way out, and the title caught my eye. I picked up the book, read the back cover, put it back, walked two steps, and turned around to take it with me while internally berating myself that the book will sit on my nightstand unopened until it is due as evidence of some other project I failed to complete. That night, I sat down in bed, picked up my phone, and started scrolling through social media. I looked away from the screen for a minute and saw the book on the nightstand next to me. I realized I had not intentionally looked for my phone and had no interest in social media at that moment. Really, how much changed since the last time I looked at my phone? I turned off my phone and picked up the book. I finished reading it last night.

Reading this book fulfilled no goal of mine, and it did not check items off my to-do list. It did not further my education, my career, or my knowledge of how to be a good, capable parent. I simply enjoyed it. I played – in my own way. I listened to the voice inside of me. I feel like I received a wonderful gift, and I smile thinking about it.

What is your play? When will you allow yourself to next enjoy it? As for me, the next book is waiting for me.

October Gifts

A few days ago, we opened the windows and left them open all day. Fall poured in bringing invigorating smells attached like gift tags to happy memories of autumns past. I felt my favorite flannel blue and green jacket I wore at age six drape against my shoulders. I saw the colored leaves we picked up on a leaf walk with my mom while pulling a red wagon. I felt my own laughter in my chest as I ran to jump in crunchy leaf piles. I tasted the hot dog from a high school football game as the breeze chilled me through my band uniform. I flirted with the boy who grew into the man I would someday marry. I pulled the paddle of my kayak through the chilly lake water smiling at my husband as he tried to splash me while we explored the colors of the trees from the lake. I joyfully rode hayrides and cow trains, picked pumpkins, and played on outdoor slides over our son’s lifetime of Octobers hoping that one day those memories might flow through his open window tied to the scents of this time of year.

Memories are strange things. We hold within us memories of good times and of bad times. We wish to remember the good memories more and think of the bad memories less. But, attempting to forget the bad memories seems to only invite them to overstay a never given welcome like the college friend who leaves a late night fast food bag in your dorm room trashcan resulting in a stale, morning odor no amount of air freshener can cover. Nothing covers the past. Nothing erases it, and sometimes the rotten stench coming from it distracts even the most focused mind from more pleasant thoughts.

The morning we opened the windows, I felt broken. Unpleasant memories flooded my mind. My body felt sluggish, and I felt discouraged that I once again remembered so vividly what I most wanted to forget. Our young son asked to go outside. I did not want to go. I wanted to go back to bed, pull the covers over my head, and start the day over tomorrow, but I knew he would only see the covers over my head as the start of a never-ending game of blanket fort building. So, we went outside, and we stayed outside – for three hours.

By the conclusion of our outdoor adventures, we had played a variation of croquet with made up rules I never grasped, flown a kite with only enough wind to keep it airborne if the person with the string ran, drawn chalk drawings on the driveway, and took turns on a swing. Somewhere between the chalk and the swing, I started smiling. I could still smell the hint of the unpleasant remnants of my past lurking around, but I could also smell the present. I grasped at the day’s beauty and unwrapped every happy memory the fall breeze brought to me while enjoying the gift of the moment I had before me. We can never change the memories from yesterday, but we can add to the good ones we are able to recall tomorrow.

Walking in Other Shoes

Years ago, my husband and I took vows in front of family and friends to attempt to create one life from two. In those solemn moments, we vowed to love each other “when our love is easy and when it is an effort”. With a great deal of effort, laughter, and tears, we have created a combined life that works for us, but we will always be two separate individuals. A couple of weeks ago, we argued. I felt angry enough to hear the voice in the back of my head suggesting I should step away before I said something I regretted, and this time, unlike many other times, I listened to it and gave my anger time to dissipate. My point and my opinion did not change, but once the fiery anger cleared I realized I still sat across from the man I loved more than any other person on this planet. No matter how intimately we know each other, we can never truly know what one step in each other’s shoes feels like. Sometimes, part of loving each other is faith built on years of developing trust – believing that though we may not understand the other’s perspective, that perspective must still be important because it is important to the one we love. So, we try to listen and to understand. Sometimes, we fail and spend time feeling like adversaries, but we try again. We try until we find ground on which we both feel comfortable walking.

I have difficulty watching or reading the news. The challenges facing our world seem so large, and I feel powerless to effect any positive change. I don’t know good answers to hard questions, and I doubt any one person does. If finding common ground with an adored spouse, who I trust with my life, sometimes seems difficult, how much more challenging is it to try to find common ground with strangers in a news story. We question motives. We draw imaginary lines and bash the people we have never spoken to on the other side of those lines on social media. We look for others who support our opinion believing that the more people we can group together with similar opinions, the more we can proclaim our opinion as the most correct one. I am not a history scholar, but from what little I know, division does not heal but leaves pain in its path.

Few people will ever be in the position to make decisions on major national or global issues. However, we all have choices with how we treat and understand those in the communities around us. If I want to attend a religious service, do I ever choose to attend one that I know little about or that professes beliefs different from my own? Do I call a friend to go eat dinner at her favorite restaurant which I doubt serves food I normally enjoy? Do I take time to really listen to my young son when something that I deem as trivial, like whether his sandwich is cut in half, seems so important to him? Do I truly seek to understand my spouse’s perspective when our opinions differ?

May we all look down at the shoes of those around us, try to find common ground, and attempt to walk as friends and neighbors with those around us.

This is one of my favorite songs covered by One Voice Children’s Choir called “J’Imagine”.

One Voice Children’s Choir “J’Imagine”

The Slow Eating of Grapes

My husband has been working on living more intentionally and being more mindful in everyday moments. He has made a lot of progress, but as with learning any new skill, challenges inevitably arise.

One day we sat down for lunch with our young son who often mirrors his dad’s beautiful, boundless energy and excitement for each new day – except when eating. Most of the time our son does not seem to find meals an interruption to his plans. Rather, meals are the next opportunity for the next adventure – maybe a picnic, a silly faced sandwich, or just a chance to eat his favorite food. If no preplanned adventure awaits, he creates an imaginary world, and his adventure begins. He is the captain of his mind and often calls out to us, the adults, to join him on the sea of his own making. Sometimes, we secretly groan because lengthy lunch adventures delay one plan or another. Yet, with or without us he sails to the edge of his plate creating new animals one bite at a time out of his peanut butter sandwich. Maybe the sandwich animals will slide down his apple slices or swim in a sea of peas taking a break to giggle at his milk mustache.

However, this day seemed more of a scientific exploration than an adventure. The focus of his studies were seven grapes which took him approximately twenty-three minutes to eat. Between bites, he told stories – stories about things he had done and others about the adventures of an imaginary friend. My husband, who finished his meal in record time, initially engaged in the conversation and listened to the stories. Then, as the minutes passed, his resolve dwindled. His foot started tapping, and he reached for things on the table to occupy his hands. About fifteen minutes into this, he offered to get a laptop to check on finances, a normally hated chore. He thought he might need to get his phone – wasn’t there a date we needed to check on the calendar.

He might have made it to the end of the meal had our son not then bit a grape in half to examine the grape seeds. I do not normally think of mindfulness practice as a risk factor for heart attack or stroke, but I saw my husband’s jaw clench and the veins in his neck begin to pop out. Our son, oblivious to his dad’s struggle, continued to ask questions about grape seeds. I took one look at my husband and laughed. Then, so did he. In fact, we laughed until our eyes watered and tears streamed down my husband’s face.

While the peace and calm we envision resulting from mindfulness never appeared that day, we found great joy in taking ourselves a little less seriously. Now, when eating grapes, I occasionally bite one in half and smile.

Leaves and Lists

As I mentally added items to my morning to-do list, I unintentionally glanced toward the open window. The cool September morning air lingered by the screen unhurried and unmoving in the breezeless stillness whispering to itself, “Fall is coming. Fall is coming.” My mental to-do list seemed to slide out of my ear, down my side, and onto the floor while my own delight refocused my attention. The dewy green grass, while less vibrant in color than when clothed in new spring attire prior to the fading that comes with the daily morning washings and chronic over drying of summer, still looked like thick, shag carpet. Crispy brown leaves from a nearby tree lay on top like a box of dumped out Legos waiting sorting and adventure. Laying there like that the leaves risked annihilation by a lawn mower much like their indoor counterparts risked the vacuum cleaner.

At the thought of vacuum cleaner, my mental to-do list jumped from the floor. Shouldn’t the leaves be mowed or raked – somehow tidied? Isn’t that what I am supposed to do as an adult? Adults don’t have time to play, and, if my to do list is any indication, my son might fit in a few minutes of play between our errands – if he eats breakfast focused without a hundred tales of imaginary friends, and if he gets dressed quickly without giggling while trying to use his pants as a hat and his socks as gloves. Yes, then he might have time to play.

What about me? When do I play? Do I play? I think “relax” finds its way to my goals from time to time. First, I must finish the to-do list that my brain tried to dump, but I think I read something about the health benefits of play in a newsfeed once. I will add play to my list. I do need to work on that goal I set of learning to play the piano. I should exercise which is play if I turn on the TV.  Maybe tonight if I am not too tired… Maybe next week… I should probably take care of the leaves first.

Or – maybe I can take just one item off that list today because surely one of those items can wait. Maybe my son and I can go outside together. Instead of pulling up a chair and encouraging him to “go play”, as if “play” is contagious and must occur far away from my adulthood, maybe my adulthood can step nearer to his childhood and together we can discover joy in the stomping of crunchy leaves.

Tadpoles and Technology

When I was old enough to aspire to become a teenager but still young enough to have no idea why, I delightedly spent a late spring watching tadpoles turn into frogs in a serendipitous puddle on the top of an above ground pool cover. This past spring, my husband, son, and I wandered in a nearby garden. I glanced down at a tiny pond as we walked past and saw – tadpoles! My husband caught one, and we all hesitantly touched it. Following that evening, we returned to the pond about every five days to check on the tadpoles’ progress, which, to my sometimes fast-paced world, felt painfully slow. But, they grew…first into just much larger tadpoles, then into swimming creatures with legs, and eventually into half-hopping, half-swimming tiny frogs with long tails.

The pond observation provided another parenting moment (of many) when I questioned my educational level. The first came when I had no idea what sound the animal made on page two of an infant animal book. At this particular moment I was quite certain my ten-year old self, who had never heard of the internet, could have better explained the metamorphosis of a tadpole into a frog to my son. Or, maybe I am just learning the difference between knowledge and wisdom, the latter of which I believe comes with realizing how much I don’t know, notice, or truly take time to see. I can describe in detail the home screen on my cell phone, but I am not sure I can tell you what color shirt my husband wore yesterday. I do not know the colors of this evening’s sunset or when it actually occurred. I cannot tell you the phase of the moon.

I looked at many things today and in the moment all those screens, emails, and newsfeeds seemed important. I feel embarrassed to consider how many times I look down every day to see if someone has texted me – each time thinking I can pause reality like a DVR. Life will just wait until I can give it my attention…in a few minutes…a few hours…a few days… I will find moments to spare until I am interrupted again by the siren call of technology in my pocket.

I deceive myself. Time and life do not pause, fast-forward, or rewind. Without the aid or technological interference of any device a tadpole turns into a frog whether I notice or not. Though failing to notice a tadpole probably will not greatly alter the course of my life, I have to wonder – what else do I miss? What do I not really see? Can I hear my son’s laughter in my head? Can I describe the exact shade of blue of my husband’s eyes? When I get to tomorrow, will I look back on today relishing beautiful moments that must surely have existed, or will I be too distracted still holding down my imagined pause button to even realize what I might have missed?

Welcome

My mom once compared me to Jimmy Buffet’s lyrics, “Yes I am a pirate, 200 years too late”.  My college guidance counselor refused to clear me to enroll without a career counseling assessment after I told him I wanted to be a Muppeteer for Jim Henson and design prosthetic legs while also enrolling in a ballroom dancing course.  My New Year’s Resolution this year is to learn how to juggle.  I am a wanderer and a dabbler.  I love learning, and I fear failure though it is an occupational hazard of wandering.  In melancholy moments of self-doubt, I desperately search for purpose and meaning.  I wonder what I’m supposed to do with my life, my career, my family, my passions, and my grocery list which insists on me writing it once a week in spite of whatever existential crisis I find myself in at that particular moment.

Yet, I find little purpose and meaning amidst all the “doing” of life and striving to accomplish the next step, task, goal, or to-do list though those things may be important.  Meaning whispers to my soul in little moments of being…watching a sunset, checking to see if tadpoles have sprouted legs, holding my husband’s hand, or laughing with my son.  These moments do not ask for my resume to determine my worth.  Rather, they invite me, as I am, to join a moment for no other reason than I exist at the doorway of time.

Welcome to my blog.  Feel free to wander.  I hope my words will inspire you in your own journey in pursuit of what breathes life into your soul.  You are welcome even if you don’t know where you are going.  I often don’t.