Slipping My Restraints
Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree Below.
The idea of “play” has always been very difficult for me, at least since I was beyond my little-girl status…maybe, what? seven? eight? By the time I was a teenager, I was being told those were the best years of my life (you know, with raging hormones, mean girls, immature boys, zits and oily skin, a double-A cup, and huge heapings of guilt regarding how to pay for college and would I get enough scholarships). By my teen years, the idea of “play” was something sinfully indulgent when the rest of my family was having to work so hard. It was a word said with such disdain.
No, actually, I think the first time I heard the concept of no time for play was from my mother’s mother. She was dying of cancer, carrying a little vomit pan in one hand and a heavy basket of wet laundry in the other to hang on the clothes line outside, and I asked if she would play with me. I asked this often. She never ever said that she was too sick to play, but she always said that she had too much to do.
I was six years old at the time. She died when I was seven. Meanwhile, I was told to go play. That’s something you tell kids, but not teens, and certainly not adults. “Go play.”
So I went out alone in Nature and turned a truck-bed of various colored river rocks into physical representations of the stories going on my head, even then, and marched hordes of little stones in circles across the back yard, led by colorful or unusual rock heroines, like female Moseses crossing the Red Sea to save their people from death and disaster. Maybe that’s why I still get so much joy from playing with the rocks I have in my house….
Some of the adults in my mother’s family were grateful that I could entertain myself without their supervision because my independence gave them the time to deal with my grandmother’s impending death. Others— busybodies who never lifted a finger to help my mother when she was a caregiver—made snide comments about how lucky I was that I could be outside playing when Grandma was dying and they shamed me for…I’m not sure what for. I was seven. I was a little girl. But somehow I was supposed to be ashamed of play because to them, it meant I wasn’t worried about Grandma’s sickness or anxious about what would happen or hurting in my heart. And they wanted me to be! They wanted me out of the way, but they didn’t want me to have a good time or get away from the heaviness of the situation, even for a few minutes. They wanted me to be unhappy because themselves were unhappy people and anyone who wasn’t at their level of depression—or at my mother’s level of grief—had to be brought down to it as quickly as possible, even if they were only seven and couldn’t pronounce “glucose” and “chemo” properly and hated the antiseptics in the hospitals.
And so my play was a solitary thing, mostly with characters and stories I created in my head.
My idea of play still tends to be a solitary thing, or with just a few people. Sometimes playing is simply listening to a live band or musicians jam in my home. Sometimes it’s quiet and comfortable conversation or excited and stimulating discussion. Sometimes it’s just trying on different roles and seeing what fits.
But one thing I’m working hard at: not being ashamed to play.