Playful Life Tips I Learned from My Kids
“Oh my gosh,” My eight-going-on-eighteen year old says to our therapist friend as he cautiously stacks cups into a small building, “You are, like, wayyyyy overthinking this.” V stops and stares at the carefully stacked pile, then over to the wide-eyed little girl beside him, as she regards him with quite obvious disdain. “You’re taking it far too seriously. It doesn’t matter if the cups fall down, you know…they’re just cups“. She was right.
It’s funny how we, as adults, tend to think we are the mature ones, we are the guides and leaders of “The Next Generation”, but in reality, I’m kind of inclined to think it’s the other way around. Look at the way kids play and you’ll see just what I mean: it is all, quite simply, fun and games. Nobody’s planning, nobody’s judging.
Carolina*, my precocious cup-stacker, has given me more unintentional life advice in her eight (very chaotic and absolutely hilarious) years on this earth, as have my other children, and I’m consistently in awe of the simultaneous simplicity and yet deeply intuitive nature of their observations. There are so many to share, not the least of which I’ve seen first hand, such as, “There is always an occassion to dress up”, or “Don’t eat yellow snow”. Allow me to express, below, some of my favourite lessons from my little ones, and what has guided Play! Joyful Fitness to become what it is:
Don’t Over-Think It
Sounds so simple, hey? And maybe, from the perspective of a relatively worry-free Grade 3 kid, it is, but for us? Overthinking is my hobby! I am, quite simply, an Expert Level Overthinker…just ask my therapist, who gave me the medal (Just kidding, that goes against something like ethical guidelines blah blah) but truly, I do excel at this. And it isn’t just in the simplest day-to-day tasks but is even more prevalent in the workforce, the pandemic, and the epic global s**t show the past few years have been.
It’s in these moments that I find myself in the throes of an self-imposed Over Analyzing Fiasco – OAF is such a cute little acronym for it, no? – that I have to channel that wide-eyed little girl in me and say, “Really, mum, just do it.” And you know something? It usually turns out to be the best decision of all. My father always precluded poor decisions, of which I surely made many in my youth, and bad news with, “On the grand scale of earthly disasters…” and I’m inclined to do the same. Just go for it: take the trip, say yes (or no) without over analyzing, trust your gut and do it.
Absolutely Anything Can Be a Game
I once had a job working as an Office Manager for a group of very serious doctors, none of which seemed to posess a particularly, um, vibrant sense of humour and it became my main objective to find a way – any way! – to turn my long, laugh-free days into a game in any way I could. It was in a meeting with said-straight-laced-MDs that I proposed a tickle fight, only to be promptly sent back out, presumably to think about what I’d done. Here was yet another opportunity to embrace the ideals of my first-born, who would sit for dreamy hours on end in her own little magical world, creating her own imaginative games, characters and roles. I would embrace this philosophy full-on.
Soon after Tickle Gate, I decided to move on to greener pastures in finding a better workplace to suit my needs, and devoted myself to making it so playful as I could. Funny thing, really almost anything can – and arguably should – be made into a game, and why not? The sometimes stressful days could be shaken off by sharing tea time with colleagues, something the entire office would partake in, and later on, teaching fun fitness classes to other exhausted, over-worked employees. Gamifying my days became something akin to an obsession, as I sought to take time out to get up and dance, doodle and daydream a little in five-minute coffee breaks, or even get my colleagues together for a group “silly story” sharing time. The beauty of it is that it works best without any planning at all…remember step one: Don’t overthink it!
Move in Mysterious Ways
You may have a clue as to what I’m getting at: Children, in particular toddlers, do not tend to move at a linear, slow or normal pace. Toddlers are a little like ninjas: they are capable of hiding and sneaking up on you, flipping off furniture and very nearly killing others or themselves with their death-defying stunts. Toddlers are the masters of, “Hold My Drink”.
My youngest, a bright-eyed, fluffy headed three year old, is a prime example of the Ninja Toddlerhood, and may well be the CEO and Founder of the Association. If I ask him to walk from one end of the living room to another, he will find literally any piece of furniture and climb it, flip over it, jump on it or tightrope across it. Three hours later, when we are reunited from ten feet away, I wonder if I missed out a little. We, as adults, tend to look to practices such as Yoga, Zumba or other classes to get us to explore our bodies more, but what about if we just, I don’t know, climbed the couches? Really! What if we took the time each day to cross the room differently, to twirl in our office chairs and make a race, or to skip to work a little? In the eyes of a toddler, it sure would make a lot of sense, and the rest of the world? Well, they’re just missing out 🙂
Eat When You’re Hungry, Sleep When You’re Tired
I don’t know how they do it, but my kids seem to say, “Muuuuuuummmyyyy, I’m hunnnngrryyyy” the moment I sit down and look comfortable. Is this a thing? It feels like it’s a thing. But here’s what’s up: Kids don’t understand the notion of intermittent fasting, Keto – don’t even get me started on that one – or diet culture, and guess what? They tend to be a lot better at going with their gut (quite literally) than we Overanalysing Adults. Quite simply, children are pure instinct and intuition: Hungry? Eat! Tired? Sleep! Restless? Move! They don’t rely on the rules we set for ourselves as adults, because those often go squarely against what they instinctively know is what they need. Simple!
And so, Dear Reader, Let Them (You) Eat Cake! Or not, if they (you) haven’t finished their (your) greens, but then have at it. Yes, healthy eating is important, and of course it might not be altogether accessible to simply make a nap time in the midst of that big meeting, but overall consider if you’re listening to your own gut, and go with it whenever and however you can. The benefits of doing so won’t only benefit you from a physical perspective, but improve every aspect of your life, for sure.
“You’re My Friend Now”
Carolina, the precocious one of my clan, has never been known for her tact. That said, one of the many things I’ve always admired about her is her ability to not only meet people, but to sort of coerce people into being her friend. It’s not a nuanced thing with that kid, it is a full on statement, a definitive plan, and absolutely non-negitioable; “We are friends now. That’s it. We’re friends. Good luck.” She locks eyes with the child she’s set her sights on, and the kid sort of nods slowly, agreeing, following her around the playground, likely out of fear, maybe intrigue.
As adults, and especially as adults in a global pandemic, making friends is not always easy. We join groups, we go to bars – oh wait, that’s not called making friends…- we partake in like-minded activities, but at what point do we graduate from smiling and nodding to exchanging numbers to actually hanging out unmasked sharing wine and crying at The Office re-runs? It isn’t easy, navigating new friendships in this day and age, and less so when we don’t have a shared place to engage in play.
My therapist often starts sentences with, “I wonder…”, a nice gentle way of suggesting something without really seeming to actively suggest it. And here I am, my super-therapied-self, looking to her and to my children and passing it along to you: I wonder…what would happen if we just took a page from Carolina’s book? “What’s your favourite colour?” She’ll ask. “Pink,” The girl replies. “That’s my favourite colour, too. We’re friends now. Let’s go.”, she says. And that’s it. Off they trot into the sunset, holding hands (or maintaining six feet of distance as of this post). I plan to try the same thing, perhaps in the grocery store. “OMG do you love cauliflower?” I’ll squeal in delight to the confused looking equally-exhausted mum next to me, putting the veggie into her cart and backing away slowly, “Ummm…yes?” She’ll reply. “OMG ME TOO! WE ARE FRIENDS NOW.” I mean, why not? On the grand scale of earthly disasters…