I made an alarming and dreadful discovery recently: I don’t know how to play.

I’ve been trying to think about the games I used to play as a child, and I simply don’t remember any. What I do remember is running drills with my younger sister and brother, timing them to see how quickly they could be safely nestled in the bomb shelter with their creature comforts. Or when we no longer lived on the border and the war was over, I’d do timed drills with them to see how quickly they could get into their pre-approved hiding places at the top of the cupboard, just in case someone came into the house with the intent to do harm – we didn’t even have TV then, so who knows where my imagination came from!

I also remember playing school, standing with a chalkboard teaching the little ones maths – an irony when you know how my relationship with that god-forsaken subject soured in high school!
I’m sure there must be more, but I honestly don’t remember ‘play’ in my childhood memories, although I know that it was there.

When I watch my sister or my husband play with Ameli, it makes me feel a little bit sad. My sister can spend hours talking nonsense with her, doing little things, throwing Ameli around – playfully, of course – and making her squeal with laughter. My husband can do the same, just sitting on the floor with her. In fact, anyone that makes her peal with laughter breaks my heart a little bit, because – although she does laugh with me – it’s not nearly as much as with others. With other people she has fun.

And this is what made me realise that I don’t know how to play. When I see a story book, I read the words – my sister reads the pictures and makes up the story. When I take Ameli to play, it’s to a park, a zoo, a play area where there are things to do. When Martin does it, they play with his legs, with her toes, rolling around on the ground with the things around them

I remembered reading something a while ago, in the Guardian, where a study was quoted as saying that one in five parents say they have forgotten how to play with their children, with a third admitting that taking part in games and activities with their family is boring.

It startles me to realise that I’m one of those one in fives. But I don’t know if I’ve forgotten, rather, I don’t know if I ever knew. (I shall have to ask my mother!)

I know for me the first step is during play time, putting down the Blackberry and really focusing in on things at her ‘height’ and her level. Seeing the world through her eyes, and letting the squeal, the open mouthed smile and the sheer delight in the little things become more valuable to me than the stolen moments checking my emails or catching up on Twitter.

The thing is this: I find it so hard to switch my brain off from work that I have to do, a post that I have to write, laundry that must be hung up or something that needs to be done. When my mind is preoccupied with other things, I find the switch to ‘mummy’ so hard – which is strange, since I am first and foremost, in terms of ‘job’, anyway, mummy.

On the other hand, life is so busy, as a working woman, a project manager, and with a social life to boot, that multitasking becomes an essential life skill. And I wonder whether that is why it get so hard, sometimes to ‘just’ do this?  But it is something I wish to do and want to get better at if only so I can enjoy the beautiful time I have with my daughter, and help form her memories.

I’ve let Ameli lead the way in every aspect of my parenting, so perhaps I can let her lead the way in play too, and with a little luck and perseverance, perhaps she can teach me how to play with her.

What about you? How do you ‘play’ without toys, games and so on?

This little video is just a reminder of why it’s so important to me, and what it’s all about:

[youtube hxW57yJOxpI nolink]


How Do I Learn To Play?

  1. To some extent I don’t know how to play either. I can think of two reasons in particular.
    1). My imagination has gone to the way side years ago. In general when I became a teen, making up stories (and making up a pretend world within play, e.g. Barbie dolls) was very difficult.
    2). Now as a adult I embarrass easily, my inhibitions are really low and I’m constantly thinking, if other adults are in the room, “What are they thinking of me?”

    I’ve learned a lot from my little one so far. She is full of imagination and I just follow her lead.

  2. I wonder if the ‘oldest child’ ever gets to play much,
    but there was the blow up pool, the tricycle, the dogs, the ‘educational’ toys, the sand pit and all the ‘friends’ at the hospital crèche. Then I suppose it depends on ones idea of playing. Mine was to take the car way up a mountain, away from the 40 degree heat and make pan cakes in the mist on the side of the road and pretend its winter….. walk through the veld with an armed escort and see who spots the cheetah first…. you did.To make you peer down the hose pipe to look see when the water spouts out……..I enjoyed that game!!!!!!!

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