Those of us of a certain age, before the days of games consoles, traffic and modern parental worry, will remember long hot summers where we were booted out the front door after breakfast and didn’t return home until the street lights came on. Those glorious days of childhood, full of knock-a-door run and making prank calls from the phone box and trespassing in the grounds of whatever local business had a caretaker who’d chase you away with a clip round the ear and a promise of worse if you returned. What wonderful memories. That feeling that it was you and your friends against the world, that rush of adrenaline as you ran from whatever mischief you’d caused, and the laughter, the howls of laughter until tears ran down your cheeks or your fizzy drink spurted out of your nose. What joy. What wonderful, mischievous joy.
George Bernard Shaw said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” What happens to those grubby faced, grinning children without a care in the world? Work, stress, bills and lots of other terminally boring stuff. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Anyone who knows me knows I can lose days on end playing with Lego, just like I did when I was seven. My love of Lego was rekindled as an adult a few years after my divorce. As a single parent who didn’t have many opportunities to go out, it was my way of making time for myself, switching off from the stresses of the day to lose myself in a lego instruction book, and watching the build come to life. It was a great way to decompress at the end of the day, music on, cup of tea and a big box of Lego, bliss. As time went on I re-discovered that seven year old who used to build magnificent multi-coloured masterpieces, now making my own creations allows me moments of harmless mischief in the form of cheeky builds like my underground toilet, complete with a little man standing at a urinal holding a Lego sausage.
Adulthood is stressful and it’s proven that adults who embrace their inner child and spend time playing are more resilient and cope better with stress. We all know that play is good for children, it helps them to learn problem solving skills, it fosters creativity and imagination, it provides exercise, it helps their personalities to develop and it gives them much needed ‘downtime.’ Playing has the same positive effects on adults and, on top of that, it keeps us young, keeps our brains and bodies active and may even help us to live longer.
Nowadays it’s not just the Lego, when the weather is fine there’s a good chance you’ll see me on the prom in Morecambe, wobbling around on roller skates: Let me tell you, it’s much easier when you are ten years old than when you’re in your mid-forties, but still, despite the aching the next day it’s a lot of fun, and a much more exciting way of getting exercise than pounding on a treadmill.
I’m sure I look pretty ridiculous as I tentatively skate down the prom, in fact, on my first two outings I tried to go to quieter places, but as they weren’t as nicely tarmac’d as the prom I ended up on my bum! I learned in the end that I’d just have to bite the bullet and decide not to give a hoot what people think, worrying about looking stupid is a boring grown up pastime anyway: children don’t worry about looking silly, or weird, or being told they’re childish. If they get an urge to stand on their head, or to try to eat a jam doughnut without licking their lips they just do it. It’s time we all spent a bit of time embracing our inner child.
Of course Lego and roller-skating might not be your thing, but there’s bound to be some act of mischief or sillness you can embrace, whether it’s simply spinning on your office chair when nobody’s looking, avoiding all the cracks as you walk down the pavement or taking up a hobby you used to have as a child. In my book 30 Steps to Finding Yourself (which you can preorder here) I include a recommended activity at each step. These activities are ways we can try to find ourselves through play, be it playing out in the park or getting all the glue and glitter out and making a great big creative mess. What playful mischief do you like to get up to?