I believe there is a reason why my ten-year-old son’s favorite subject is recess
– and lunch. I believe we all need time to play. In particular, adults become increasingly worried about finances, jobs. We wonder whether our child will become the next great genetic scientist. We are concerned as to their college prospects, their self-esteem and their clothing.
As a former single parent, I had these worries more often than not. And yet my son intrigued me because his self-esteem remained intact no matter the decisions I made regarding to his participation in baseball – let him play competitive or recreational, do homework – before dinner or after dinner. And in particular their social lives – let him skate or not skate.
Recently, his school’s PTA offered fifth graders the opportunity for an after school skating party at the local roller skating rink – Castle Skateland. I grew up roller skating on the weekends with friends. My ten year old birthday party was held at the roller rink because our basement flooded out. Skating is lights, music, and sometimes friends, but mostly, it’s you and your skates.
I’ve skated at Castle Skateland. I have seen elements there any parent might find disturbing. But my son was insistent on going. “But who of your friends will be there?” I quizzed him. “I don’t know. Brian said he may go if his mom lets him.” This was our conversation as we were walking out the door for me to drop him off. I was unsettled as to how he would manage – mainly without me.
I am no longer there to coordinate friends, nag about chores and mostly shelter him from some of the nastiness that life can sometimes deliver. Lastly, he can’t skate. Well, technically, he shuffles along the side of the rink, holding on to the rails and ledges where he can. He bobs his head to the music, because he at least loves music, and scoots around the rink, one time for every three revolutions of his friends.
Upon our arrival at Castle Skateland, he eased out of the backseat and hesitated for a moment, wondering if he should kiss me. Instead, he grabbed my arm and held it for just a split second and then he was gone. As I saw the scene unfurl in my mind, he walked up the plank over the moat of grass and pavement and opened up the large imposing double doors with their fake cast iron hinges and handles.
I departed for a meeting struggling with the fact that I would not be accessible for him, if he needed me. He had my husband’s cell number and a few extra quarters, which I never saw again. Davis, I had told him, “If you feel like your just done, call home and someone will come get you.” “Ok, Mom, but I’ll be fine.”
I called my husband to let him know that Davis MIGHT call. And I pleaded for him to keep his cell phone nearby – which as a doctor he always does. I wanted to be absolutely certain that if Davis was not having fun, he could get home instantly.
The evening passed without incident and as I drove home, I had absentmindedly forgotten about Davis and his skating. My mind was still on my meeting as I walked in the door at home. Davis was preoccupied with my I-pod, bobbing his head to the All-American Rejects or Pirates of Carribbean theme. “Mom, they played my song at Castle Skateland,” he said loudly over the music. “And I skated to it the whole time.”
I nodded my head, as if I understood, but I really didn’t. Nor did my husband as we exchanged curious glances. It wasn’t until later, as Davis and I sat watching a college football game did I ask again about skating.
“So, who did you skate with?” I asked. Davis rattled off a few names I knew and one that I didn’t. “How’d you do with your skating,” I inquired, knowing this to be a loaded question. “I did fine. I skated slow the whole time, but I didn’t care. I had fun.”
In the past, Davis has circulated flyers in the neighborhood to elicit sign-ups for the BFL – Backyard Football League. He and his Charlie Brown Peanuts gang run from house, rounding up players until they can get a game. After a few weeks, they even planned for a Super Bowl. And while he avidly follows Troy Smith and Ohio State, and Bengals and Carson Palmer, he would much rather play football than watch.
I was Davis’s first playmate. And for many years, I did double duty as playmate and parent. I taught him how to play. I taught him to walk away and remember its just a game. I taught him these things because I believed that he would learn more in the backyard than in front of the television. That he would learn how to manage relationships and conflict. That someday, he would know how to have fun in a life that wouldn’t always be so.
Recently, in my newly blended family, we skipped mass one Sunday and instead practiced what I have called outdoor church. It is nothing more than spending time outside in the neighborhood, at a park or sometimes, hitting plastic golf balls in the backyard. But the point is that we are together. There are no distractions and no space between us but sky and earth, creek and leaves. We took our kids, ages 10-15, to the park at the end of our street. The park has a play set, one of those universal three sided, one tube plus monkey bars set. We talked about God and heaven and our daughter Kaitylyn wondered aloud – “what if there is no heaven. What if we’ve been wrong all this time and there is no heaven.” Our kids were asking questions aloud, which doesn’t happen in church except asking to go the bathroom or get a drink.
Following a period of silence, I suddenly, I ran at my husband and yelled, Tag you’re it. And so began a twenty-minute game of tag. It was not a battle of wills. It was not a test of strength. It was a test of who could laugh the hardest and still run, who could lose a shoe(in 30 degree weather) and still be it.
I believe that we all must make time to play. We must turn away from our idols in the news or on the screen, and even on occasion walk away from our notions of God and heaven, and learn how to negotiate through our lives from the perspective of the playground.