Summer Hits

Hiding, Horizon Perfekt camera

Just back from a sweet day in Manhattan, and thought I'd jump on and share some of our summer hits.

Movies. I know some families pull off the whole no-tv no-movie thing, but in our house shows and films are the great equalizer between introverts and extraverts. Especially at the end of long days of outdoor play.

Grown-up picks: Beginners, Tree of Life, Dial M for Murder

For the family: Top Hat, Wallace and Grommit: Loaf & DeathHelp!, The Secret of Kells

Books. Mad Libs have made their way back into our world recently. When we're not thinking of adjectives and adverbs, we're spending time with things like:

Anam Cara by John O'Donohue

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Food. My current summer favorite is this artichoke lemon pesto with any fresh pasta. This week we're going to make some basil pesto with basil we've been growing just outside the kitchen window. I've also had a craving lately for scones, which I love with mixed berries.

Do and See. The American Museum of Natural History is even more fun now that the girls are a little older. Thier new special exhibit, The World's Largest Dinosaurs, was the best I've ever seen. The artistry was off the hook, and the interactive components were a big hit with the girls.

Summer Dream Lab

Horizon Perfekt, Kodak Portra 400 35mm film If we could see a value spectrum for our culture, I suspect that rest, play, and kindness to ourselves would be found at the bottom of the list.  These are things that we don't value--things we think are the rights of children but the luxuries of adults.  We think that if we're not cracking the imaginary whip on ourselves that nothing will get done.  We view these things often as enemies of productivity and work.  This is why we get so weary, and why the work coming out of us gets thin.

But I'm learning all the time that these three things are like secret weapons--they are access points to energy restoration and rich, vibrant creation.  If your creative self is the hen that lays the golden eggs, these things are the hen's shelter, organic feed and water.  In my experience, everything in my life works in direct proportion to the degree to which I'm winning my rest, play and kindness to myself games.

This is why I am so excited that Mondo Beyondo is hosting a Dream Lab this summer for us to delve into the secret weapons of rest, play and kindness to ourselves--cultivating our foundation of care and setting us up for a creative explosion on the other side.  I can't wait to feed that golden-egg-laying hen until she is happy and bursting.

Come play with us in the Dream Lab this summer, come rest with us and experience the power of kindness with us.  At the end, we'll shake our heads together at how we ever lived any other way.

Click here to visit Mondo Beyondo.

Cats and mice and African drums

Yesterday in the Park, Diana Instant+My girls are watching Tom and Jerry cartoons lately, and it has me thinking about my cat-and-mouse relationship with failure.  Many of us think that the fear of failure must wear off after one or two big successes, when in fact the stakes just get higher.  Our stumbles and trips on the rug just become more public, with more people to witness each time.

I felt a lot like Jerry last week, watching Tom sleeping just outside my door.  Calculating the odds.  After all, he's got to catch me one of these days, right?  But still knowing I must go on about my life.  I must try to get to the cake in the kitchen, even if it means running right under Tom's nose and launching the chase of a lifetime.  There has been time to muse (read: doubt), to feel quiet (read: paralyzed).  To stare out the window (and drool).

Then I talk to Fatou yesterday about a project we're cooking up. "This will be hard," she says, and I feel my determination rise up.  She isn't saying we shouldn't do it.  She's just pointing out the booby traps Tom has laid all along the way.  It doesn't change the fact that we can outsmart the difficulties, and it just makes me more determined to try.

Minutes later, I get on the subway.  Three men get on the train with large African drums and small folding chairs.  We pull away from the station and they set down their chairs in a tight circle, and start to play with people standing and sitting all around.  One of them tilts his head to the side, as if he's listening to some unheard rhythm he will birth into sound.  One is intent, one is smiling, slamming out fast staccatos.  I watch them, and for those minutes I let them teach me how to be.

It doesn't look so hard. Open your chair. Sit. Listen for the unborn sound and release it through your palms.  It looks like play, to create in a circle like this.

I think of Fatou, and the way we are sitting down to play together.  It doesn't have to be hard, I see, so I sit down and begin.

Play: What Studies Show

I thought it was probably more than coincidence that this weekend I heard Krista Tippett's interview on NPR with Dr. Stuart Brown, a physician and director of the National Institute for Play, for not the first, but second time. I heard this interview when it originally aired (the program, Speaking of Faith, airs on my NPR channel when I'm making our weekend big breakfast), and this weekend they ran it again. Since I declared this summer a study in Play, I turned the volume up and listened closely.

I encourage you to click here to hear the program for yourself. You'll learn about the ways in which play helps us develop empathy, keeps us flexible in the face of life's complexities, and the consequences when children and adults are deprived of play. In a culture that tolerates play for children but disregards it for adults, these are important insights.

When I look at the messages about play that I internalized in the past, I find thoughts like these:

  • Being responsible means doing the work if there is any work to be done. (And there is ALWAYS some work that can be done, isn't there?)
  • Work comes first, play comes after, if there's any time or energy left (which there probably isn't).
  • You're allowed to play when you retire, because you earned it by working your ass off for so many decades.
  • Play is something you earn by punishing yourself first with excessive work to prove that you are responsible, able, capable, mature, a good citizen, and possessing a good work ethic. Like earning dessert by eating the vegetables you most loathe.
  • Play is an indulgence, not a necessity.
  • Someone has to be the grown-up and do the work, and if I'm the one doing the work that must make me the most grown-up person here. Grown-up = working, not playing. Doing what you don't want to do.
  • Play = irresponsibility, laziness, childishness
  • People who play make more work for everyone else.

And I could go on and on. These are dark thoughts, and just in listing them and thinking about myself and my family, I'm sensing the way these thoughts about play completely dominate our living. All of these assumtions get turned on their head when I listen to Dr. Brown's research. It suggests (and I am quoting from the show):

  • an active play life is a quality of healthy individuals
  • a playful life helps us approach and solve complex problems
  • adaptability is related to our capacity to play
  • biologically, human beings are designed to play through our life cycle
  • play deprivation can cause rigidity, loss of irony, and depression in adults

I've been working most evenings for the last couple weeks, and by last Friday I felt overwhelmed, and I couldn't think creatively about solving my problems any more. Now I see a relationship between those two things, and after a playful weekend I'm back to feeling fresh and at ease, even with the same difficult situations at my feet.

Playing is good for my health. It's also good for my children's health, and now I'm aware of the way my habits around play are sending messages to them about adulthood, responsibility and wellness. I want them to grow into healthy adults, so I'm choosing to learn this, to model play as a value and a habit that we all practice.