By Carrie Kerr
When my daughter was named Student of the Month recently, an interviewer for the school newspaper asked her, “Who inspires you?” She said, “My parents inspire me because they take care of us, work hard, and have fun with us. It’s inspiring to know that it’s possible to work hard and still have time for fun.”
As her mother, I have a long list of things I believe I need to teach her before she turns 18. What a relief to learn that I could cross off “Adults need to make time to play” from that list!
I grew up in a very intense house. My parents were high-achieving professionals who worked very hard. As a kid and young adult, I was critical of their choices, but the older I get, the more I appreciate their focus. I now marvel at how there was always a homemade hot meal that we ate together for dinner, even if it happened at 8 p.m. I appreciate that from March until mid-April, my mom reserved the dining room table for tax papers. I’m simply amazed that my dad woke up at 4:00 every morning to go to work and returned with the same consistency every evening at 5:00. What’s more, he didn’t come home, kick off his shoes, pour himself a drink, and boss everyone around. He came home, put on his running shoes, and headed back out the door. That was the example, and that was the expectation.
We witnessed hard work and a strong focus all week long. But the weekends were “play city,” and kids were invited. We tagged along with my mom and dad and watched them complete one triathlon or cross-country ski race after another. In the summer, we went sailing and learned how to dive at the pool. We went for bike rides on the path, crashed community bonfires in the forest preserve, and went to drive-in movies. Yes, the school and work weeks were intense, but the weekends and summers were intensely fun.
It took a while to notice the impact that this model of “play” had on my life. As a child and an adult, I always kept up some type of maintenance fitness program or found time to swim in the lake, but I was never a hard-core athlete. During my first phase of motherhood, I rarely took more than an hour or two to myself for any leisure. I was mostly busy being pregnant or nursing, which in itself seemed like a ten-year-long marathon.
But slowly, and without my conscious intention, the example from my parents — the seeds of my childhood play — began to take root and bloom. Now that my children are a bit older, it’s a lot easier for me to take some time to myself for a bike ride, find a river to kayak on, or even train for a few races. Some of my recreational time is just for me, but much of it is for the whole family. To me, this is play.
How we spend our time will indeed have an effect on how our children spend their time, even if that effect takes a while to make itself known. So go ahead…make a date with your spouse. Sign up for a gardening class. Train for a race. Go fishing. Treat yourself to a membership at the art museum. Read a novel or go to a movie. Your recreation — your play — will make you happy, bring you balance, and set a wonderful example for your children.