“African boys and girls
Set down your Nintendo joysticks right now
Unplug the television
And make way for an old vision
Which will now be a new vision…”
–Arrested Development, “Children Play With Earth“
We went outside today.
Earlier this week, after a wonderful day, full of friends and excitement, a family that has been friends with my family for nigh on 4 years now, gifted us their water table–one of those play stations made to Rube Goldberg a trickle of water to splashing fun and amazement for the under eight year old set. Both the kids were over the top excited by the prospect of going out to the back patio of our rented bungalow and playing in the water: pouring, splashing and dancing like staff-burdened nymphs of lore and mythology.
The kids went outside, and pounced on the water table. While they were appropriately distracted, I put out a couple of chairs, a small table, and the pop-up awning. We had lunch (or rather, I trotted between back porch and kitchen while the kids had lunch), and later, I sat and tried to read a well loved novel while they played.
They played outside.
They played outside in the dirt, in the water, and on the Mons Pubis patch of green that we call our back lawn. They played outside, dug into the Earth, and filled the little table with dirt, and leaf; blossom, and rock; until the little blue table turned brown with silt, and dust, and lord knows what else; it filled with giggles and dust, and they built a hut, a city, a town of brown liquid, and steeples of mud.
They giggled. They shrieked. They laughed. They smiled. They ate, and (to my parental horror? Joy?) supped on the mud. They played with Earth and Water and bathed in sunshine, and wind, and danced on concrete and stone for Mother Nature’s delight.
There is a wonderous permanence in how children play–all children–any children. Go to a park, or playground, or field, or amusement park or backyard and watch (but don’t be creepy). There is violence, and joy, and raw humanity in their play: It embraces, and echoes nature–even if they seek to control it–the forces are ones we see in all the animals of God’s creation–rough, and tumble, and oral, and dirty, and fast, and visceral, and loud, unabashed, tentative and playful, personal; honest and raw.
The children build their kingdoms of dust, level them (sometimes at odds) rebuild them, better, or walk away, or forced away; or even better, they bring in others to include them on the game, expanding, embellishing, learning and creating…
My sons are asleep now, dreaming of what landscape, I can’t say. The younger one twitches from time to time, his face impassive, an occasional soft laugh escaping his slumbering lips; the eldest one tossing and turning, calling out wordlessly, until he wakes, and sleep-drunk, stumbles to the bathroom.
“Daddy? Daddy…can you get me some water?” He asks walking to me, not fully awake, nor fully asleep.
“Sure, baby,” I answer, leaving my writing. “Go crawl back into bed.”
I go get his cup, fill it halfway, make my way through the mine field of toys and hand it to him. “Here, kiddo.”
“Thanks, Dad.” He says, almost to someone else, as he takes the cup and gulps deep; his eyes never fully reaching wakefulness.
He hands me the cup with one hand, and grabbing my arm with the other, pulls me close, plants a kiss on my cheek and asks, “Can you stay here for a while and watch me, Dad?”
“Sure, for a little bit, son,” I whisper, trying not to rouse the other one from his slumber. I softly pat the older kid’s back, and he grabs my elbow in a vice grip: “I love you Daddy, don’t leave.”
I stand there, next to his bunk bed, patting his back until his grip lightens, releases and slides to his side like so much muddy water off a sun baked piece of plastic toy on an otherwise ordinary summer day.