When I was in my early 30’s, I decided I was finally ready to go back to college and “get my degree”. At that time, that was my primary end goal—it was unfinished business in my life and I intended to tie up that loose end once and for all. I was wide open to possibilities for a major then, and I fluctuated weekly between a nursing degree, because it was practical and I’d always be able to find a job, to psychology with the objective being to become a therapist, to business, because I’d always fancied myself as having some natural talent where business management was concerned.
So, with nontraditional student jitters and my one month old baby strapped to my chest, I bravely strode into the Admissions office of my local community college in California where I was living at the time, and registered for just one night class to get my feet wet—The Psychology of Human Relations. A couple of weeks later, the night of my very first class had arrived! I fidgeted all day and worried about just about everything…Would I blow it again like I had when I attempted college right after high school? Was I trying to do too much with a newborn baby at home? Was I just too old? Had I missed my chance to do this? And so on…
Still somewhat exhausted from ongoing c-section recovery and being up nights with the baby, I nervously walked into class with the textbook I had purchased the day before, and found a seat. I was one of the first students to arrive (I’m always over eager and early) and was surprised when the class quickly filled, probably to the capacity set by the Fire Marshall. When the professor arrived and began to speak, I understood why…
The first thing Professor X said was, “Hi Class, thanks for coming tonight! You all have your textbooks? Good! Take them out, then put them back in your backpacks or under your desks…you won’t be needing them for the rest of the quarter.” A few of us looked at one another in disbelief…others hadn’t even brought or bought their texts because they knew this would happen and that’s why they signed up for this class, in this section, with this teacher. Slackers!
The professor “lectured” for awhile, first going around the room and having everyone introduce themselves, after which we had what amounted to a large, somewhat uncomfortable group therapy session. It became more comfortable as the semester went on, because we got used to “sharing” and “mirroring” and other such hocus pocus psycho-therapeutic tools employed by our professor at Twilight Zone Night School. Anyway, as he was wrapping up that first night’s class, he gave us our assignment for next week—We were to each go out and buy ourselves three toys, and play with them for one hour a day, all week. Then we were to bring them back next week for even more sharing of our feelings about playing with our toys.
I went home and told my husband what had happened, and after he finished rolling his eyes at the sad state of academia in the state of California these days, he told me just to go with the flow and get my easy A—so I did. And, being overeager as I tend to be, I strapped the baby to my chest the very next morning and went to WalMart to fulfill step one of my assignment. I decided on a Cinderella coloring book, a brand new box of 64 Crayolas, some bubbles to blow, and a keychain with an interactive plastic toy on the end. Did I feel silly buying this stuff? YES! Luckily, my baby afforded the cashier the plausible assumption that I probably had an older child and home and was buying this stuff for him or her. Did I feel even sillier complying with Professor X’s orders to actually PLAY with my toys? OH YEAH! But, as I played, an hour each day as instructed….a funny thing happened—I began to feel free…less stressed…more creative, and more open to the possibilities of the life that lay before me. And best of all, I gradually let go of all the anxieties and fears I had about being a thirtysomething, potentially academically over the hill woman going back to school. Instead of “What if I can’t do it?”, I started to think, “Wow…what if I CAN?!”
Was Professor X a little crazy? Yeah, maybe…crazy like a fox! In that first class, which turned out to be highly nontraditional, just like me, I learned that in order to tackle the hard stuff…the complicated stuff in life, adults need play. We need it for a mental break, for stress relief, for creativity and sustainable productivity. Later on, as I took more night classes, the hard stuff came academically…I crammed for exams and stayed up till the wee hours writing papers. The hard stuff came in life too…I had yet another baby, we moved several times, and we struggled in all the ways young families struggle in modern America. I kept going to school…going and going and going until I reached my goal of at least a bachelor’s degree. Then, I set higher academic goals for myself, met some, and am still working on others.
And you know what else I did? I PLAYED…yes, with toys. Except this time I did it on purpose and with purpose—and you should too! Play is beneficial and purposeful for adults, just as it is for children. It can make you more productive at work, because it helps you learn to think outside the box. It can improve your home life because it magically reduces stress. And if you’re like me, and were just naturally wound a little too tight from the moment the doc slapped your butt to say welcome to the world, it can help you lighten up and take life and yourself a little less seriously.
A Few Play Suggestions (you’re only limited by your imagination…and maybe your wallet):
- Coloring Books/Crayons
- Clackers (those really big annoying ones)
- A Frisbee ( human partner or dog required)
- A new Build-A-Bear all your own (with an outfit), and yes you have to kiss the heart and make a wish before they stuff your bear
- Matchbox Cars