What if we were never told to stop playing? What kind of society would come from always knowing you could go outside after work, or whatever, and jump onto some playground equipment?
A pretty awesome society, that’s what.
We have it in our minds that playgrounds are for kids. The older populous beyond the age of 12 should bid farewell to the place they used to be allowed to run wild, climb, swing, and crawl, and hand it over to the next pack of kids. That such thinking is only in our minds because bitter adults missing their own childhood put that idea there. “Stop playing and get to work.” Because every good adult needs to simply work work work work work.
This idea is wrong. I’ve known it was wrong since I was falling off the playground equipment at Dennis the Menace Park in Monteray, CA. From a small age (7), I swore never to forget why I loved to play, or the feeling of swinging on jungle gyms, because I never, ever, wanted to be ‘corporate gray.’ (Yes, as an adult, I have responsibilities that I take care of, too.) Sure, I have happy, sad, and scary memories of playgrounds. They are a micro-regional space tucked inside a park, or a yard in and of itself, so every emotion in the world exists in a playground.
You cannot remove the ‘Play’ if you want to have a successful society.
Now, I know adults do fun things, too, (rock climbing, swimming, jogging, volleyball, singing in the shower,) but I beg you to put aside your programming for a moment.
Close your eyes, and create a vivid picture in your mind, keeping yourself open to the idea of ‘what if…’
You’ve been in the office answering phones for a few hours, taken lunch sitting lazily on a swing as you eat your sandwich, then go back in when you’re half hour or hour is up. The rocking motion of the swing, and the outside fresh air made you smile — if only on the inside. When you walk back inside, you’re refreshed a little and ready to take on the challenges of the remaining hours in the work day. You’ll do your best.
The clock hits 5pm (or 6, or whenever you’re released), and you pick up your purse or brief case, or backpack, and leave. You have things to do — like pick up the dry cleaning, and find something for dinner. Those are just things you have to do and don’t elicit much of an emotional response. However, right now, you’re going to meet some friends after work. Only instead of going straight to a bar or coffee house or restaurant, you head to the playground.
This playground has been here for your entire life. You’ve always known you could come here to let loose, relax, run around for no reason, and get every drop of frustration at the day out of your system. It’s OK for you to be here, because it’s always been OK. You’ve always been allowed to play, progressing from the toddler yard, to the normal playground, to the slightly bigger one to accommodate your longer arms and legs as you grew older. There are even tall teenagers here who don’t quite fit into all of the smaller playground equipment, but that’s fine, because you were one of them, too. Everyone you know, and everyone you’ve met plays on this and other playgrounds, because it would be stupid to stop.
You were told by a psychiatrist while climbing on the nets the other day that people abolished the ‘no play’ rule long ago, because they realized that an adult human still needed this form of release. It makes sense psychologically, but you don’t really see the full intensity behind the lesson simply due to the fact that you never had to experience looking at a playground, longing to play, but being forced to turn away because of your age. You feel sorry for the poor fools of the past who thought playgrounds were ‘just for kids.’ You only see it as ‘play,’ and know you feel much better afterward. You don’t really miss it when you go home for the day, or run those erands, because it’ll be there tomorrow, as it has been for your entire life. Plus, it’s free. The city or grants build the playground. No one minds, because everyone –from building officials, to the architects, to the builders themselves–get to play on it. You’re just always taught to pick up after yourself if you bring food.
You arrive at the park. It looks exactly like the ones you’re used to from childhood, only made to a little larger scale — not by much, since heights of different people vary. Towering heights welcome you to climb them with bars and poles and nets of various directions and connections. Wooden bridges that wobble, and slides that burn your butt on the way down are familiar and there to be used. Swings, jungle gyms, and features of imaginative design wait for you. You love it. This has always been your favorite place. Some of your best memories are here.
You park your car, or bicycle, or motorcycle, and jog in to the park, passing other adults leaving their jobs to do the exact same thing you are doing. You grab onto a jungle gym bar and pull yourself up to sit on top of the world, because that’s always been your favorite spot. You wait with your feet dangling through the bars as someone spins on a tire swing across the way, and spot your friends. They wave to you and run over to join you on the bars. You drop down to hang by your hands, and “walk” across to the other side to the equipment, and up to the third tier of a ‘house.’ Jenny tells you she got a raise as you two go down the spiral slide and race each other to be the first back to the top. Tami and Eric sit on top of a geodesic dome and kiss. That’s where they fell in love. They made dinner reservations to celebrate their 1 year anniversary, and invite you to come after Play. You smile and tell them as you hang upside down by your knees that you met that perfect someone on the playground yesterday, and are hoping he (or she) will come back today.
This is your day just like every other. You love being here, and couldn’t imagine life any other way.
Now, go outside and play. 🙂