Child’s Play

IMG_0985When did you last let yourself play? Not sport or games or politics. I mean play like children: inventing, creating, making or surprising… without imposing all the rules that adults seem to need to set, turning life into routine and mere existence.

As a full time mother to two girls, 5 and 3, my friend Sophie rarely has time to herself: thinking, being, resting or just empty time. It’s how she wants it but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. As a writer my days are the exact opposite: crammed with all the space and solitude I want, often carved out by pushing people away. For me, it’s the real people bits I sometimes crave.

So when Sophie and Matt asked me to spend a couple of days with them and the girls at their shared holiday shack in Swanwick, I didn’t hesitate. The only thing planned: a walk in Freycinet National Park without the girls. Matt was able to put his remote-work aside for a morning, just especially.

We decided against Mt Amos because it seemed like an obvious track. Sophie had once worked in the park as a discovery ranger and suggested the lesser-known Mt Parsons climb you take from Sleepy Bay. Several couples were lapping up the day in the bay, but there seemed to be no one venturing further up the rocks, climbing steadily over granite boulders marked by rock cairns and white flowering ti tree. We made our way making unplanned stops, to stand or sit and chat, as you should, on a hike with no agenda. Had conversations that spring from sharing a walk with a friend who likes to notice things more than you.

Our conversation somehow softened the drama along the way: the surprising caves and crevices, broad caverns and high gullies that we passed through seem even more astonishing now I recall them. But the ginger footsteps we planted firmly to look down over the cliff’s edge were very real. It reminded me of the Amalfi Coast, except if we’d been there we would have been sipping cocktails next to a swimming pool it’s that populated.

We had climbed high enough to see all of Coles Bay township when Sophie pointed out a rare mountain dragon (the only species of the dragon family living in Tasmania) darting under a rock. I loved how she could master distance and detail too.

It didn’t matter that we didn’t make it to the final 360-degree viewing peak. We needed to get back before the girls’ afternoon nap. From our vantage point we looked out over a vast landscape and decided this was our wilderness moment for today, only two hours from the dining table: to be on The Hazards on a clear day, sharing a sense of stillness unchanged since these granite peaks were formed. We savoured the same breeze on our skin that carried sea eagles above.

While Sophie and I had collected time together, when we returned to Swanwick her two girls had been playing and made a Welcome Home for their mother and her friend. They’d turned last night’s champagne corks into bees with neon-coloured pipe cleaners for wings. Skipping around the long dining table with their cork-bees held above their heads, each imagined them into flight with a gently hummed “bzzz, bzzz, bzzz”. It was the sweetest thing.

When the world goes violent you would want the bzzz of all its children to be heard above the drones and bombs and planes. Not having children I can’t fathom why adults would want to spoil a little person’s: cuddles in bed in the morning; taking you by the hand on a walk to pick flowers; climbing on to your lap to hear a story being read from a book; grabbing you by the neck when you swim in a river; sitting on your crossed leg asking to be bounced…

Imagine a world where the urge to protect child’s play is more powerful than the urge to go to war.

It is a TV screen-free home in line with the teachings of the Tarremah Steiner School near Kingston that both girls attend. For the first seven years of life, children brought up the Waldorf/Steiner way are allowed free creative expression (“when you look at a child, there’s your curriculum” explains one teacher). The focus is on creative play, stories and interaction with nature within a nurturing beautiful environment.

It is the height of irony that while many schools follow the lore of the Ipad, allocating screens to every child, the children of Silicon Valley executives are being sent to schools where there are no computers or electronic devices. A 2011 New York Times story reported that engineers and executives from companies like Apple, Google and Yahoo were sending their children to a Waldorf elementary school in California where children are discouraged from watching TV or logging on at home.

Even the late Steve Jobs, in an interview with technology reporter Nick Bilton on the launch of the Ipad2, admitted his three children had not been used as guinea pigs for his Ipad and were even limited in how much technology they used at home. Instead, they were allowed to play.

When the referee says ‘let’s play’, let’s remember how we played like children. Try to recall what you loved as a child: running free, singing without worrying, dancing without thinking, painting without a care, asking questions without fear.

We may think we know it all but when we play we are forever learning.

First published in Saturday Mercury, Tasweekend 28 March, 2015

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