Confessions on Play

When I was in high school, I took a subject called Early Childhood Studies. Part of the assessment involved working at a school based playgroup.

I hated it.

The reason for my loathing came from the fact that I got stuck refilling paint, scrounging more paper, dicing fruit. While I took care of the work, everyone else was outside playing with the kids. To make it so much more hurtful, instead of forcing the others to participate in the less fun parts of running a playgroup, my teacher just marked me down for not interacting as much as everyone else.

At first, I cried. I worked my butt off, and I was in trouble? After an hour or so of self pity, though, my anger took over, and I made a decision. I decided to play. Let someone else take care of the boring stuff: it wasn't my responsibility. So for one day, I played. I laughed with the kids, I enjoyed myself. Kids were laughing, happy, gravitating towards me to show them how to use the monkey bars and showing me their sand castles. I loved every second.

The paints began to run low. I told the student who came to tell me this where the bigger containers were, and how to refill them. As a bonus, I told them where the paper was kept. I played. I had fun.

One of the kids put a sparkly silver hat on my head, and I told them I'd wear it with pride.

My teacher took me aside, towards the end of playgroup. It wasn't running as smoothly as it usually did. It looked bad to the parents, apparently, because my teacher was upset. She lectured me, but one of the things that stays with me even a decade later? She told me I was scaring the kids.

No, really.

One thing I know about young kids? They're not great liars. If they're scared, they don't laugh and ask you to help them reach the monkey bars. If you scare them, they go and hide behind their parents- they don't come and ask you to paint with them. They avoid, not approach.

For everyone, the day was a struggle. I think part of the issue was that I'd been looking after kids since I was eight. I already had experience with keeping kids amused. I already knew when to start prepping fruit for morning tea, or to look out for the paints running low. No one else in the class seemed to have that same life experience, and I didn't think to let them know that there were hints and tricks. I should have let everyone know in advance that I was no longer prepared to be alone in taking care of the boring stuff.

Instead of asking me to share those hints and tips with the others, my teacher wanted me to 'put the playgroup first', accept a lower grade, and stick to the shadows. Thinking myself a failure, I did what she asked of me. Once more, I played the grown up, when all I ever wanted to be was a kid.

Play was already an issue for me. Before I was 13, I was looking after young kids. In a lot of ways, my childhood ended when I was 8. I had to be a grown up, had to be mature and responsible for young lives, had to carry an awareness of the bad parts of life long before I should have.

Play, for me, is a foreign concept.

I don't want it to be. I want to be free and fun, i want to not be so grown up all the time. I just don't know how to get there. I feel there's a gap between where I am and creative freedom. Not an impossible distance to jump, but an uncomfortable one. I find myself running to the edge, ready to jump, and then I stop. I freeze. I panic.

Maybe my teacher was right: maybe I'm better as the boring behind the scenes type? What if I am scary? What if play and creativity make me somehow bad? I can list dozens of examples of the people around me treating my creativity and playfulness as something hurtful. It made others feel that they're were somehow lesser; less creative, less fun to be around, less everything. It was unhelpful; playing doesn't feed kids, or clean the house. You can't make a living out of it. It's a hobby, nothing more. There were so many ways in which I became tangled up in other people's issues.

I think that's why I freeze. Since I was too young to stop them, people have tied their beliefs and issues to me like lead balloons. They are so heavy I worry I can't make it across that divide, that I'll fall into the nothingness between where I am and where I want to be.

It's time to start freeing myself, one piece at a time. Today I think I'll start with the idea that creativity is a hobby, not a lifestyle. I'll give myself time to work up to the idea that play is scary.

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2 comments:

collectingyourself said...

Phoenix, it is my theory that your play was scary to THE TEACHER. Her loss! What a proclamation of courage you are making. I am honored to get to stand witness to it. You deserve to live as creatively as you please...whether that be as a hobby or a lifestyle. I have to tell you though, that it is a bit addictive. :) Thanks for sharing your journey with the Creatives at Art of Collecting Yourself! You have inspired me.

phoenix said...

Thank you so much for your kind words!

I wonder how many children grow up hearing that they can't be creative, that they have to be grown up and sensible. I wonder how much more beautiful the world would be if we embraced playful creativity rather than telling people to be sensible.

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