Teach an adult to play, and they'll have fun for the rest of their lives?
We teach children to play, then we tell them to stop it because they're grown up now. And they do.
We stop playing. We forget how to have fun. Our fun becomes passively being entertained by something or someone else, which for the most part we experience alone. Even if we're in the same room as other people, sitting next to them, it's still usually a predominantly private pass-time. Credits roll, people get up and move on to the next thing. If we're lucky, we find some friends or family we can laugh with while we sit around and talk, because as an adult, sitting around and talking is about as much fun we are supposed to have together. Unfortunately, when we're doing nothing but talking as an activity, a fair amount of self-conscious behavior tends to run. People often only talk about what's safe and easy. Usually certain personalities tend to dominate. And all too often, a fair amount of talking occurs, but relatively little listening. People end up competing for the next turn to talk to tell their stories. There's nothing wrong with sitting around talking, but sometimes it's what we do because it's the accepted fallback, not because it's actually a good time.
But something changes when you add a fun activity to the mix. While playing a game and talking, people interact differently.
For many years I went to visit my grandparents regularly. I would fly there and stay with them for a few days, but that's all it was. I stayed at their house, along with my parents, while my grandparents did their everyday routines—meaning whatever it was they would normally do if we weren't there, except for going out to eat once or twice. The TV was always on. Conversation was mostly at the supper table, and evenings were either spent with my father in silence in front of the TV with my grandmother watching whatever she wanted to watch while she knitted or crocheted, or quietly in the kitchen where my step-mom and I sat at the kitchen table with my grandfather—all playing Solitaire.
The one big thing we would all do together while we were there was to go to the riverboat casinos. We'd all load up in the car and drive there together, and enter the casino together. But once inside, everyone would go off by themselves. Everybody played, but they played alone.
I was always happy to see my grandparents, but other than that it was, frankly, dull and boring, and there wasn't much interaction or connection between us. So we didn't really have much of a relationship.
Dissatisfied for so long, I didn't know what to do. But over time I became more determined to try to do something about it. So I thought long and hard, and the best thing I could think of was to try to do something with them that would be different, and fun.
The next time I went to visit my grandparents, I suggested to my grandfather and step-mom that instead of Solitaire we play something else. They were a little hesitant, but willing. I suggested Crazy Eights and we started playing. Within a half hour we were smiling. Laughing. And talking. We enjoyed each other's company that night and for the remainder of the trip. There was more warmth, more animation, more connection.
A year or two after that my grandfather passed away. But in the meantime we had better conversations on the phone, better visits, and found more commonality. Just one evening of doing something really fun together improved our whole relationship.
I remember that night, playing that card game, and I will remember it, long after I've forgotten all the other ones in front of the television. And I'm so thankful I suggested it before it was too late.
That's what adults playing can do.
Amber Michelle Cook's Blog
A call to all grown-ups everywhere: Play!