What Exactly Is Playing?

Bryce and Eliot yelled and screamed and bleeped and called and sang.  They had hugged and greeted each other.  Eliot had taken Bryce by the hand and escorted him into the house.

They were telling each other something only the two of them really understood.  Eliot, a year older than the boy, is much clearer to my ears.  Even then, the mix of his energy and excitement combined into a tone too high for me to follow.  Bryce understood though.  That’s what mattered.

They started into their running, into their play.  I heard rolling wheels and clanging pans.  The boys pulled trucks.  Well, Bryce started with the fire truck.  Eliot searched for one willing among us to watch his marble contraption.  I was unpacking a few groceries for the effort we would take in the kitchen.  Maggie was commanding the kitchen, commanding me.  Dawn was talking to Maggie while Maggie interrupted her directives to me to catch up with my wife.  I heard David telling Eliot to show me the marble machine when Bryce showed no initial interest.  Bryce was on the floor, alongside something on wheels.  He vroom vroomed around the dining.

I picked up a chip dipped in David’s guacamole,  bent down into Eliot’s world, and he picked up a shiny marble between his thumb and index finger.

It was a multicolored construction with tubes and tunnels and spirals and holes where the marbles fell and rolled as they traveled downward.  Eliot showed me his work, told me that he and his daddy had put it together.  It was only a moment, enough time for Eliot to explain the thing and me to congratulate him on building something so nice.  I probably used the word nice or bright or big.  Who can remember these details?

Then us adults started our work.  We launched into multiple conversations about everything from cooking and culture to Dawn’s paper topic and mass incarceration.  We were there in the kitchen or on the deck, cutting and chopping and rinsing and mixing.  Our boys were doing what they normally do.  The sounds from their throats filled the whole house like noisy smoke surrounding a crinkling grill fire.  We caught up on the current strands which tie our lives into an enduring friendship.  And, soon, we ate.  Just like we’ve done on some Sunday each month for the last several.

We congratulated Maggie who started the monthly dinners.  Before winter, we got together on a whenever basis, whenever some one of us said we should.  Me and David had already been meeting for lunch regularly every month or so.  Maggie and Dawn handled their portion of friendship however they did.  Friends for thirteen years, and it took all that time to figure out that planning and regularity work to strengthen who were are.

And I sat there with our kids, chomping and learning how to eat with others (how long will that lesson take?), with us talking about things that matter, and I realized what we adults were doing was playing.  I’ll have to remember that when I finally get back to my journal this week.  Or when I think hard in spiritual direction about why it’s so hard for me to play.  Or when I sit on the floor with Bryce, hear him running to me with a truck or a book, and think to myself how much of a chore playing is.  I’ll have to remember the monthly dinner with the Swansons.  I’ll have to remember that it’s moments like that dinner where the only things I’m doing—cooking and listening and remembering and talking, even when the conversation turns a little sour because they all always do when they’re honest—that that’s play to me.

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