Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Unnecessary play, and an a-ha moment.

About a week or so ago, I attended Web 2.0 Expo. Lots to talk about there, but that's not what's important right now. What is important is something that happened after the conference one day. Something that had nothing to do with the conference, and yet it did.

On Thursday of the conference, I left early to go to a meeting at my son's school for the parents of kids in "junior preschool." The director of the school, Rachel, has these meetings about once every three months to give us a chance to vent about what little monsters our children are. Ha ha. Not really. The meetings are to talk about child development, and anything else we have on our minds. On this day, the topic was "The Necessity of the Unnecessary in Play," based on a newsletter article Rachel had sent us recently.

So Rachel, a very cool woman who has cropped white hair and great African jewelry, started out the meeting, as per usual, by showing about eight of us "junior preschool" parents video of our kids. And there, right off the bat, was my son, building a Lego tower. We all watched as my son's tower kept breaking apart, pieces flying off out of camera range. He continued to rebuild it, unperturbed, while I waited for him to scream in frustration, which is what he would do if either of his parents were in earshot.

But no, he just kept working on it, even though it broke again and again. I couldn't believe it. "He's so focused," said one of the other parents.

Then Rachel pointed pointed out that my son wasn't building a tower. He was just building. Just building, for the sake of building.

You could have knocked me over with a feather. I had just come from a conference that was all about social networking, and blogging, and Twittering--all for a purpose, whether that purpose was to get recognition, or sell something, or make a fortune, or whatever.
And I had been drinking the Kool-Aid. But now I thought, When was the last time I did something just for the sake of doing it? When was the last time I wrote something just to be writing, and not to meet a deadline, or sell books, or get people to link to what I had to say?

When was the last time I watched a movie without thinking about the review I was going to write? Went for a walk without calculating how many calories I was burning? Helped someone without hoping to be thanked? Or, most poignantly for anyone dealing with infertility, when was the last time I made love without trying to get pregnant? When everything you do has a goal, your whole life is living in the future, and you don't ever get to play, and you very rarely have much fun.

"Children aren't busy," I once heard someone say. Yes. And I'm jealous. I want more Legos, and fewer deliverables, in my life. I want more fun.


Anonymous said...

Is this just a 'parent' thing? I'm way too old for basic Lego, I've moved on to Mindstorm or whatever it is, and I do stuff just for the hell of it all the time. The thing is, I don't have kids, and I fear that if I did, life would become one long school run. Do your parent readers associate their loss of play with the arrival of a human vehicle thru which to experience play vicariously?! Discuss :)

Nathan D said...

@editor -- having kids is not a fully "rational" act -- it's not something that in the abstract would seem all that appealing. But, then when you get past the abstract and to the specific -- to the pure joy of watching something like a toddler learn to put Lego together -- it's not something you'd ever give up. But, yes, if you feel like a kid would be an inconvenient interruption to your play time you probably aren't ready for kids yet ;)

George said...

Play time for adults is a mindset thing you need to overcome. You need to break the cycle of thinking everything is important. If you look at it seriously, you'll find there's only a few things that are important and the rest can be shuffled around. Kids are a wonderful way of learning to play for adults. Many of the things we wont do, kids will and if we follow them there much fun to be had.

Here's a tip to changing the way you view your life: Start by altering your route to work. Another thing that's great is to have conversations with strangers - you can learn alot and also be inspired.

Spocko said...

That was a great post. Thank you.