Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Blue Goo Stew

Aidan pulled me away from my newspaper, a big grin on his face. "Daddy, come see! We're making Blue Goo Stew!"

Next to the couch in the living room Aidan and Malcolm had corralled all the dining room chairs into a circular clump. "So, so, so, here's how you play. You run around in the circle, until someone ... TAGS you. And then . . . we tie the jumprope around you, and we throw you into the Blue GOO!" And he collapsed into giggling. "BLUE GOO!" echoed Malcolm enthusiastically.

"Here, we'll show you," said Aidan, suddenly business-like. And he and Malcolm danced around on top of the chairs in a mock chase until Aidan tags Malcolm. Aidan tied the red jumprope around Malcolm's middle, and Mal, like the youngest bungee jumper alive, hurled himself onto a pile of pillows on the couch.

"Ok, I'll play," I said.
"And YOU," said Aidan, "You sit right . . . right . . . HERE," indicating a tiny kid chair next to the sofa, "And you . . . mix up Malcolm . . . into the Blue Goo! And that's how you make . . . Blue Goo Stew! And then, and then, and then, and then . . . you EAT! the BLUE GOO STEW!" And he dissolved into laughter again.

So we played Blue Goo Stew, with Aidan and Malcolm alternately hurling themselves into the pillows, and me stirring the pillows around with a long buckwheat pillow, and me scooping up a child in a ticklish embrace and pretending to eat them, chanting "Stew MEAT! Stew MEAT!"

We had a lot of fun.

* * *

So where did THAT come from? I have no idea. But that's exactly why I loved it so much. It was the result of unstructured play. They started with a bit of spontaneous young-boy wordplay and gross-out humor, and expanded it bit by spontaneous bit, putting rules together like so many tinker toys. They were peacefully, enthusiastically collaborating (which is challenging for a six-year-old and a three-year-old), all without any input from me at all.

I can't begin to describe how important unstructured play is. When you see it happening, you realize that this is it, this is what kids that age are supposed to be doing. They are clearly firing on all cylinders; physical, mental, emotional, and social aspects are fully engaged, and they are enjoying it more than anything else they could be doing.

I recently heard a lead-in on a story on NPR about how unstructured play was gradually being displaced by TV, video games, and structured activities like music lessons, dance lessons, and sports. Having witnessed the beauty and wonder of my own kids in unstructured play, I can fully conceive of the loss. I have explicitly given over part of my Schedule to unstructured play time with the kids, because I want to be a part of that world.

It also influenced me to declutter my own schedule. How much room do I have in my own life for unstructured play? How much creativity, enthusiasm, and development is lost because I'm so busy all the time? The comparison doesn't completely hold up; adults are not children, and their need for re-creation is not the same. But I have noticed that, when I structure time away from work, to be with my family or work around the house or write, that I am noticing more. I am doing things better; fixing things spontaneously; making tiny improvements. Little things, mind you; making a bed that otherwise would not have been made, or tightening the screws on a doorknob. Because I have given myself over to the moment, because I have lavished time on these things, they are becoming more alive for me.

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