The Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies in history, set out to ask what makes a good life? A 75-year-old study on adult development gave more proof to what we already know: the quality of our relationships are the most important overall factor to our happiness and longevity.
But that isn’t what this article is about. That’s just to say that ever since I reorganized my schedule to prioritize uninterrupted and unfettered playtime with my eight-year-old son, I’ve been clearer, lighter and happier. Whether you have kids or not, tighten your Adidas and get to a playground or dog park!
This is a story about what I found on the playground.
At our community parks we find both new kids each week and high-five the regs. Among them are the small and the slightly smaller, the speedy and the learning how to run, the shy and the bold. My son must have been born to help the bashful ones out. He is a Leo, known as a dominant, spontaneous, creative and extroverted character, and he’s best known for being self-confident and frankly hilarious.
So between my openness - heck yes you can play with us! and his boldness - hey, you wanna play tag? we recruit larger-than-life moments among strangers. Single children quickly become part of a large family for the hour. Siblings get along, adults sitting down now feel relieved that their youth are actively engaged, and what was two persons becomes three then five and we grow.
There are always different sizes, abilities, and speeds of players in our games of chase. Some join in that hardly know the difference between chaser and being chased, they just love the action. Counting down from ten, chasing, laughing, screeching, sweating, this is also a game of self-discovery of abilities and strategies.
What I begin to notice next subtly blows my mind …
After a young person tries and tries to catch someone their speed or faster without any luck, they scan the playground for a simple catch, for a four or five-year-old perhaps. At the pressure point of continuously being “unsuccessful” and feeling alone as the one who is “it”, they catch the easy prey. As I sit atop of a slide ready to escape, I continue to watch this pattern of hard work followed by their use of an easy back door when exhausted.
This opens my heart more compassionately to the strategies adults may go to for escape when disoriented or stuck. These kids are indirectly telling me that it’s not mal-intent, but rather instinctual and from our reptilian brain that we all want ease and power. It’s like I hear them saying "it matters a lot to me to feel included and relaxed and safe when needed."
I leave with a smile on my face and a small and sweaty palm grasped in my hand. I make conversation with my son about what he noticed, enjoyed, and was challenged by.