The other day, my kids were playing with a big cardboard box. Within the span of 45 minutes, it had transformed into a car, a submarine, a cave, an airplane, a mountain, then back to a car.
I am enthralled by the simple act of play. In a society that is increasingly dependent on television, computer, smartphone, video games, and electronic toys to entertain, I am inspired by my kids and their ability to delight in their own imagination.
It humbles me. Seriously.
How much of the world around me do I miss each day? How much joy do I pass by in my hurried pace?
As a parent, I constantly feel the urge to guide my kids in their play. Do this. Do that. No, that’s not what that’s for.
But it is me that needs to learn how to play again. To put down my phone. To stop thinking about the next errand or goal. To pause and live a moment. To recognize the immense value of the little things… the warmth of sun on my cheek, the scent of fresh dirt and mulch as I kneel by my veggie garden, the exhilarating splash of rainboots stomping through a puddle. I forget that delight and pleasure does not have to come prepackaged or scheduled.
As a pediatrician, I value the importance of play. I understand the role it plays in behavior, development, and yes, even future success. But as a parent, moreover as an adult, I forget the importance of unguided unstructured play on a daily basis, for my kids as well as for myself. Play gets shoved aside. It seems unproductive in a fast-paced society that values multi-tasking and expects immediate results.
So I am thankful to my kids for the reminder to slow down. They remind me in the form of contagious giggles, the look of wonder in their eyes, and their spontaneous stories about how they were under water in a submarine catching sharks and octopus.
I want to protect the precious time my kids spend in free play. Although play comes naturally, it is too often interrupted or squelched by my own agenda, however well-intentioned I may be. In the years to come, school and other activities will add increasing pressure to choose structure over creative freedom. Although there is value in structure, my kids remind me that some of the best moments in life are spontaneous and unexpected.