25 January 2011


There was an interesting article in the New York Times recently about a movement to restore the concept of "play" to the lives of today's children. Apparently, we were on to something with that wooden castle as a Christmas gift, in order to spark the Doozer's imagination.

While the article focused mostly on children older than our own, it's never too early to get some insights into the road ahead. The reason that "play" is endangered, so to speak, is that kids are increasingly wired. Understandable, considering that our generation of parents is so wired. And in fact, the Doozer, even at his tender age, is completely familiar with televisions and computers and phones. But then again, this is the world he's inheriting. This is our world and how we connect with it, so this is the life he will know.

It dawns on me that playing also awakens my inner control freak. Playing is messy and chaotic, unstructured and . . . anarchic? Now, dear reader, before you point out the obvious and tell me that I was once a child and surely I played (having grown up in a world without smartphones and Wiis and DVDs, in a far less wired time), let me offer an example of how I played as a child.

Growing up, I was a big fan of Star Wars (still am, mostly) and over the years amassed a sizable collection of toys related to the original trilogy (which I still have, much to my wife's chagrin). Cases of action figures and playsets and spaceships. And what would I do with these toys? I would arrange them, artfully, meticulously, into static recreations of sequences from the films. (If I was more artistic, I probably would have built dioramas and grown up to be the next Wes Anderson.) And then? Well, that was pretty much it. I looked at them, I guess. Maybe I'd create some dialogue between the figures, but that was sort of the extent of my playing with them.

And when a friend I had at that time would be over and he'd try to actually play with those toys—what a concept—I would inform him that those characters did not appear in that scene of the film. (I don't remember this, mind you, but my mother never tires of reminding me that I have been weirdly idiosyncratic my entire life.) Needless to say, we are no longer friends. I'm not certain why.

My son does not share these inclinations. He is a smasher and grabber, a destructor and not a builder. He loves to build towers of blocks just to knock them down again. The Doozer does not care that knights and pirates did not co-exist in the same historical era, or that Iron Man, in all likelihood, would not hang out with Santa Claus. Clowns do not typically work on a farm, cars do not drive themselves, and bears are not, as a rule, employed at post offices.

Yes, yes, he is only two and all of this is completely reasonable. I get that. I also get that in many ways, I am simply not built for fatherhood.

The Doozer is a player, a doer. We are quite different. And I do recognize if he was more like me, I'd have far less to write about here.

It was brought to my attention recently that I will miss these days down the road. No doubt that's true. So I will gladly attempt to set aside my largely interior approach to life and do more to embrace an exterior one. I will gladly participate as a hippie van storms a medieval castle, as a shark pilots a pirate ship, as a chicken drives a tractor, and as a deer bunks down in a tent.

These days won't last. And so I know I must attempt to be totally present for every laughter-infused moment of hide-and-seek. I will count to six (no, not five, not ten) and embark on this hunt as if I haven't played this game a thousand times. I will experience it as the Doozer does, as a wondrous new invention. As the Doozer uncovers another hiding spot, roots out my wife or I, as he throws himself into this enterprise with boundless energy and complete abandonment, I will match him every step of the way, smile for smile, giggle for giggle.

I will play.

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