Playful

Playful
Robert Bergman '93

The children’s section of the Missouri Botanical Garden has a little out-of-the-way spot with Adirondack chairs and a small pond that’s only reachable by a tiny bridge. My kids use this tranquil spot for home base when they play hide-and-seek tag. The area is relatively secluded and rarely visited, so I can sit there and just relax while my kids run around unfettered by a parental presence. 

We almost didn’t come into the children’s area.

I thought my kids wouldn’t want to since they are getting older and have maybe grown out of it. My youngest insisted that he wanted to play here while my oldest rolled her eyes; however, as soon as she was given the opportunity to play, she jumped at it and chased her younger brother around in a spirited game of hide-and-seek tag. I stayed at home base to referee and to write. 

Despite her eye roll, when given a chance to play, my 11-year-old decided to abandon “maturity” and be ego-free to play.  Her willingness to be a kid made me smile with joy. She could have griped and groaned, but she decided to be silly and uninhibited, which I find so hard to do.

Adulting is difficult, and we often forget the joy of abandoning our uptightness to be free for a few moments and wholly enjoy who we are and who we were. 

Remember when you made a piece of art, and it was the most ridiculous thing ever created, and your folks made a big deal out of your creativity because they saw the joy you brought to your product rather than the product itself? We still crave this attention. We come home from work or school and want to share our ups and downs but especially the objects that we created. We want our significant others to share in our joy of creation, but we need them to be present.  We need them to listen, and in return, we do the same for them. The other night, my wife showed me a form she created for work.  I have very little idea what the form is for, but she wanted to show me her accomplishment, and I wanted to see it. I wanted to share in her joy of creation.

We spend a lot of money trying to get to that place again as an adult. We spend thousands of dollars on golf clubs, model railroads, Lego sets, and video games to feel that joy of just playing and building without judgment -- the joy of childhood.

Then we want to share this experience with others. My brother-in-law keeps trying to convince me to play golf.  I am not a huge fan of the game because of a previous back injury.  I explained my reservation to him, but he wouldn’t listen and took me into our front yard and had me swing a driver over and over again until I knew my back wouldn’t give out on me.  He stood there and encouraged me.  I realized he didn’t want me to play golf. Really, he wanted to share his joy of golf with me and possibly have one more thing in common with me as well.

I didn’t want to pay the $10 for the children’s section of the botanical garden because, frankly, I can be cheap. But I realized as my son asked if we could go there, all he was really asking was to play with his sister -- without judgment, without care, without rules.

He wanted to be a kid exploring his world without guidance or restriction.  He wanted to just play. 

Children’s voices filled this area with “you guys!!” and “Dad, dad, dad!” but those sounds didn’t bother me; the true crime podcast that blared next to me through my neighbor’s ear pods eventually intruded on the tranquility of my secluded area and reminded me that the world can be a dangerous and frightening place. 

But for a few brief moments I remembered what it was like to be free, to be hopeful, to be safe, and to be playful.

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