Sunday, 6 May 2012

Playing Without a Plan

By all definitions, my mom was a ‘single mom’ – my dad decided our family wasn’t his thing, so he got the lawnmower and my mom got my brother and I. A good deal, if I do say so myself – although perhaps our lawn may have suffered somewhat in the short term. But to us, she was never a ‘single mom’ – she was just Mom. Our mom. And I don’t remember the absence of my dad ever being an issue.

Even with no financial or physical support, my mom still managed to find a way to keep my brother and I involved in a ton of organized sports and activities – hockey, ringette, baseball, music lessons, summer camp… we definitely had our share of programs and events and I don’t remember missing out on anything.

But what I remember most about growing up isn’t the scheduled activities or organized events. One of the greatest gifts my mom gave to my brother and I is the ability to simply ‘play’. Playing without purpose. Playing without a 'plan'. We would spend hours playing on the front lawn – with neighbourhood friends or by ourselves – running, cartwheeling, watching the clouds, picking dandelion bouquets, riding our bikes, running through sprinklers, burying ourselves in leaves… and just generally being kids.

That's me rockin' the chubby cheeks & the red & blue swimsuit sensation!

Somehow Mom was always able to strike the perfect balance between giving us the freedom to see where our imaginations could take us, and still be there to be an integral part of our play. I’m sure sitting through yet another tennis-racket-strumming / pot-lid-drumming concert or watching us roll down the big green hill for the 187th consecutive time were not exactly at the top of her “to do” list, but she was always there. I’m sure she had better things to do than check out yet another ill-constructed fort or create another candlelight marshmallow toasting evening, but she was always there.

Admittedly, it was a very different time then. Yes, we grew up not only able to create our own fun but were actually encouraged to do so. Our days often consisted of a whole lot of nothing – and we loved it. We even had the freedom to actually get bored and figure out our own ways to entertain ourselves. We rarely had structured playdates but were always welcome to have friends over to play. I had years of swimming lessons – but remember being able to spend hours upon hours showing off our best ‘cannonballs’ into our pool and getting Mom to count who could hold their breath longest under water. I had countless piano lessons but it’s the hours of impromptu duets with my friends that I remember most. And who was our captive audience? Yep – thanks, Mom.

Over the years I remember people telling me how bad they felt that I wasn’t able to take part in certain programs, or attend certain events, or travel to certain places. But looking back, I don’t remember feeling badly about any of that. I remember sun-filled days, laughing hard and playing hard. I remember cartwheel competitions on the front lawn, bike riding until the streetlights came on, and coming back home dirty, tired and blissfully happy.

But most of all, I remember being encouraged to “just play” – without worrying about how well I was doing it compared to other kids, whether or not it fell into any sort of pre-determined curriculum, or whether or not it had any bearing at all on the adult I would one day become. We played because it was fun – and as kids, isn’t that the point? So thanks, Mom, for being the best kid-concert goer, cartwheel counter, fort builder and playmate a kid could ever have. We didn’t have a single mom – we had the single best mom!

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” George Bernard Shaw
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