for release June 21, 2002
by Melodie Davis
Teach Us to Play
Response to a column I wrote, "What are you doing for fun?" was fairly revealing about our current society and lifestyle. Many readers wrote to say it "struck a chord" with them. To me that means that aside from a few people who maybe need to work harder, many people of my generation need to relearn how to play.
I had to laugh one day at an error message that came up on my computer: "Your system is low on virtual memory." I'm not sure what virtual memory is exactly but I sure know when my human memory isn't working. Maybe one sign that we are working too hard and trying to do too much is when we find ourselves forgetting little or important things, and then berate ourselves, how could I ever forget that? Lack of concentration and memory is one indicator of overloaded circuits.
One woman wrote in response to the column, "I [thought] just this morning about how much I am NOT having fun. It is not easy to totally relax. There is so much to do, too much at stake. I am a full-time worker with two kids, ages three years and six months, and also a part-time student in a graduate degree [program]. It is not easy to have fun. ... I am going to ask God to teach me to play and have fun..."
This is not just a problem in North America. From Budapest: "Though I live in a small country in Europe, I think the problem of middle-age women with a profession, family, and any other duties can be very similar. Your column gave a small light in our busy lives."
Then from the heartland of North America, Ohio, a woman writes, "I am an Amish widowed mother of seven children. My husband died October 9, 2001. So my days sometimes seem all uphill. But sometimes it goes better. My children are ages 16, 14, 12, 10, 7, 4 and almost 2." (And you thought you were busy!)
Meanwhile, a mother from Winnipeg shared how when her children were small, she went to her doctor. She had been feeling run down and stressed out. Her doctor (as I shared about my doctor in the previous column) asked her about herself and how she was doing, what her life was like. "I've always remembered what an unusual and sensitive doctor he must have been."
I was reading recently how when the president or prime minister goes to the hospital or visits the doctor, it is news. Even when they go for just a physical, we want to know about any problem that may be hidden or overt. However, this article pointed out, the annual physicals for heads of state usually do not touch on their emotional or mental health.
While we can't do much about that, we need to take stock of our own emotional health, evaluate what's working or isn't, and then make appropriate changes if necessary.
Another woman wrote, "This was just what I needed to hear. I work 40 hours a week (with my job currently transitioning into a new, more responsible position), have a large sales business on the side, and am a single mom that commutes 1-1 1/2 hours each way to work." She had just decided to give up her side business even though she really enjoyed it, because, "Both my full-time position and my family were suffering. It's time for me to play."
Finally, a reader from Singapore shares her experience and offers all of us a way to get our lives back in balance. "I want to thank you for the message on having fun. For the past month I have been tied down by work and demands by my boss. He is stressed and he passed it to me and I got all worked up. I thank God for a recent incident that shook me up, to go back to the basics: spending quiet time with God and my four-year- old daughter. Though I have tons of work waiting for me, I think I better place God and my family as top priority."
The poet James Russell Lowell wrote, "What is so rare as a day in June? Then, if ever, come perfect days." Why not take a "rare" (or even a rainy one, if you must) June day and declare for yourself a mini-vacation, right at home. Sunday afternoon is a good time if you have no time other days. Just sit and watch the dog, or butterflies, or birds, or flowers. I would suggest not even reading or watching TV for at least a part of your mini-vacation. Force yourself to do nothing, and be still with your thoughts.
If you have small (or even older) children, take time to do nothing but play with them. Hang out with your teenagers: if they can't stand silence, lounge in their room if they'll let you and listen to their music, or watch them play a computer game. Give or receive a backrub from them or your spouse. These are all little ways to wind down and relearn the restorative power of play.
If you missed it first time around, here again is the free booklet I offered on this topic, Easing the Burden of Stress. Write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 795 words; end material = 105 words
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