Back Away from the Vacuum: Go Out and Find Your Playful Side
In Defense of Fun
I know men who play golf, men who play tennis, men who play their kids' computer games, and men who play poker. I know one man who plays Hacky Sack and another man who can bounce a quarter on his foot as though it were a Hacky Sack. And even the men I know who don't play those kinds of games, responsible married men with a job and kids and a mortgage to pay, still seem inherently playful. Nashville once got an uncharacteristically heavy snowfall, and a friend of mine was changing the baby, still half asleep, when her husband tiptoed up, wrapped his arms around her and whispered into her ear, "Let's have a playdate!"
She thought he wanted sex. What he really wanted was to go sledding.
It's not exactly astonishing that sledding had never crossed my friend's mind. "Men make play a priority," says Barbara Brannen, author of The Gift of Play: Why Adult Women Stop Playing and How to Start Again. "They may clean out the garage on the weekend, but they'll play golf first. Women, if they play at all, tend to do it after everything else is done."
The problem for frazzled multitasking women -- who are not only working at jobs, as men do, but are also serving a second shift at home and often a third shift with their elderly parents -- is that there's hardly ever a time when everything's done. "The level of responsibility most women carry often makes them put play on the back burner," says Stuart Brown, MD, author of Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. And once that happens, it's a lot harder to let go and have fun even when the time and circumstances are right. It doesn't help that every toddler in the world seems hell-bent on self-destruction, which makes parenthood, especially at first, a perpetual exercise in risk assessment. Maybe all those years of asking "is it safe?" have turned you into someone who doesn't remember how to ask "is it fun?"
Plus, be honest: As you've gotten older, haven't you started to tsk-tsk any sign of silliness in others? Sure, there are still some free spirits among us who hop up on a curb and pretend to walk a tightrope. But too often -- admit it -- this kind of carefree behavior makes you raise your eyebrows. "Too many women believe that once they're grown up they have to put away childish things," says Kathleen Hall, founder and CEO of the Stress Institute, in Atlanta. This probably explains what happened last summer when my friend Louise, 46, spent a full hour riding waves on her nephew's boogie board. "The other women on the beach said things like, 'Wow, you certainly looked like you were having fun out there!'" Louise says, "but it was obvious they were thinking, 'You weirdo.'"