Meet Me on the Playground

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The human spirit—that is, the attitude, emotions and moods—is meant to sparkle and gleam. Our light shines brightest when allowed to be the vivacious creatures God created us to be.

Problem is, many of us have allowed that inner light to be muted or snuffed out. Whether it be a result of negative influences from our parents, acquaintances, friends, mounting bills or the pressures of life, millions of us have stood silently by while our passions and enthusiasms have languidly suffocated.

Over time, the hunger for laughter and excitement is neglected, leaving the aforementioned spirit in a state of malnutrition. Like me, you might have watched yourself gradually pull away from others, preferring the company of art or music over that of fellow human beings.

I’d like you to stop, however, and take a look at the picture above. It’s my grandson, Joshua, and he’s six years old. We encourage his creativity and enthusiasm, as you’ll see in the coming pictures. We want him to RAGE with passion, love and happiness.

JOshy tree boy

For too long we have expected our kids to be miniature adults. In “Peter Pan” it’s said fairies are so small, they only have room for one emotion at a time. I would like to assert that author James Barrie got this idea from observing children. I TOTALLY get that they can sometimes be infuriating, and push your buttons, but guess what? If we keep telling them to “be quiet,” “sit down,” “shut up,” “don’t act up” and on and on, eventually they will. For good. You’ll lose ’em.

This is coming from a 52-year-old man who has allowed the bigger part of my joy to be drowned, suffocated, by depression, pain and fear, so I know what I’m talking about. When I was younger, people would begin to RAGE with laughter and creativity around me, and I just wanted them to sit down and shut the freak UP.

Yeah, that sounds cold, and it was in my youth. Thankfully, being a dad and later a grandpa (aka “Poppy”) changed me. This is evidenced by activities such as last night’s, when me, Joshy and his little sister, Jenna (almost a year and a half) had a 10-minute tickle fight. Simple laughter, didn’t cost me anything and brought a lot of joy.

Captain America

So how’s your creativity levels compared to when you were Joshy’s age? Has your inspiration slowly been snuffed out by the pressures of life? Maybe your dad or teacher or aunt told you to “sit down and shut up” so often when you were growing up that you finally did, and never really recovered.

If so, I’m really sorry.

I would encourage you to push past all the agony of growing up, of watching your light slowly being put out. Maybe you should take a minute to compare the OLD you to the NEW you. Make a list. For example, mine would look something like this:

QUALITIES OF MY CHILDHOOD:

  1. Play
  2. Laughter
  3. Adventure
  4. Love
  5. Creativity
  6. Being loud
  7. Rock music

QUALITIES OF MY ADULTHOOD:

  1. Work
  2. Quiet/peace
  3. Predictability
  4. Love
  5. Bills
  6. Fatigue
  7. Rock music (thankfully, some things never change)

So how do we resurrect that excitable, unpredictable, animated and high-spirited inner child? I’m no psychologist, but I’ve scribbled down a few ideas.

Batman

For me, it started with moving past the “adult me,” and learning to just PLAY. For some reason this has been much easier with my grandchildren than my children. I told my daughter, Jessica, that I THINK the reason is, as a parent, you’re more concerned with training up a child to be a good person. Parents are charged with coaching children, teaching them what to do and what NOT to do.

Grandparents get more of the “fun stuff.” I can concern myself less with discipline and more with PLAY. For example, I try to not be on my phone when I take Joshy and Jenna outside to play. TRY, mind you, although sometimes I stumble on this, since phones are so dang addicting. I take a picture of them, and then instead of posting it on Facebook later, I feel I MUST do it now. I’m not preaching for you to “put down the phone,” I’m just saying, as for me, I try and give them my full attention. I’m normally reminded to “drop it” when Joshy says, “Poppy, watch me!”

“Oh crap,” I respond sheepishly. “Sorry.” And in typical, childhood fashion, I’m always forgiven.

Hulk

Another vitally important step in reclaiming the joy and excitement of my inner child is creativity. I’ve heard some say, “I don’t have a creative bone in my body,” but I beg to differ.

Just because you “can’t carry a tune in a bucket” doesn’t mean you’re not creative. Maybe you’re not a writer, singer or artist, but everybody can do something (as they said in Breakfast Club). Most everyone can find some form of creative expression, whether it be arts and crafts, making a KILLER apple crisp (my mom) or meatloaf (my daughter), or simply leaving encouraging notes to people.

I bring up the latter because a co-worker has spent the last few years leaving uplifting notes for others around my office. These notes are brief and usually include a picture of the recipient, downloaded from the internet. The letters would say something like, “Thanks for your bright spirit and encouragement! Your leadership is such a blessing,” or “Your laugh and your smile are so precious, and greatly valued!”

They sign the notes, “The Anonymous Encourager.”

Maybe that’s “all” they felt they could do, but several people on my floor pinned those notes to their wall, and look at them frequently. They mean so much, and only took a couple minutes. This is not only an outlet of creative expression but also proves to bless others greatly.

Trey and Joshy fat fighting

Another aspect of finding my way back to the kid who is hiding deep within me is to surround myself with others who are fully in touch with childhood. The pic above is Joshy with my son, Trey, stuffing their shirts with pillows and play-fighting. Just having fun. I’d say that’s a better way to spend an evening than arguing politics on social media.

Firemen

We need friends who will encourage LIGHT and LAUGHTER, not DARKNESS and DEPRESSION. Gravitate toward those who make you feel good about yourself and life in general.

A final idea about how I’m trying to rediscover joy is this: I had to find out what I really LOVE and do it.

Sounds simple, right? Well, it’s not.

JOshy gang banger

But I’m trying. I love music—mainly hard rock and heavy metal—and enjoy going to concerts. My son also enjoys this, so we try and see at least a couple good shows a year. Yes, this is difficult and sometimes expensive, especially when we have to travel to see the concert, but I never feel more alive than when I see one of my favorite bands in person.

Maybe you love going to the movies, so find others who also enjoy this. Is money a factor? Find the cheap shows. In my hometown, the Springfield 11 theater costs anywhere from $9-$13 per ticket, with the exception of the movies played on weekend mornings before noon. Those shows are less than $5 each, which is much more affordable.

If this is seriously not doable, and for some it’s not, set aside a “movie night” at your place, or someone else’s.

The point is, GET OUT and do something you love doing. Too long have we plodded through our days with no hope or joy whatsoever.

Spidey Real with Trey

In the movie “Hook,” the wife of the adult Peter Pan tells him:

“Your children love you. They want to play with you. How long do you think that lasts? We have a few special years with our children…when they’re the ones that want US around. Then you’ll be running after THEM for a bit of attention. It’s so fast, Peter. It’s a few years, then it’s over. And you are not being careful.

“And you are missing it.

While it’s EXTREMELY challenging, I think we owe it to ourselves to try and get back to that little kid who just wants to PLAY. Pets, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, music, art, cooking, creativity and many other things are ways by which God can help bring joy back to our lives.

So WAKE UP. Life passes us by too quickly.

Joshy and Trey Steampunk

Play.

Laugh.

Love.

Thrive.

Before it’s too late.

I’ll see you on the playground.

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