Learning Hospitality Through Play

This morning, the Friday of the first week of school, Elle and I visited yet another park. Nearly every day this week, we’ve explored our favorite playgrounds, trying to fill the void left by Bea’s absence at school.

Normally, I bring a book along so I can read while Elle climbs and digs and scampers around. Today, our park excursion was unexpected––halfway through a practice bike ride to her preschool, we changed course and headed to the neighborhood park instead.

Finally, Elle had my full and undivided attention. I helped her climb a tree and we then commenced in a long and often incomprehensible game about camping and sleeping that only a four-year-old could imagine and sustain for twenty minutes.

I recently read a comment by a mom whose children are in their late teens and early twenties. She was reminiscing about the little years, wishing she could go back for just one day, put aside her own desires, and simply play with her children. Nostalgia keeps us going, doesn’t it? After five eternal minutes of playing, I know I’ll look back on these days with nostalgia but I hope I have a dash of realism mixed in. Yes, I want to pay attention and be present. I totally understand the developmental importance of imaginative play and made up games. And yet, I also recognize how mind-numbing they can be.

In her new book Invited, my friend Leslie Verner quotes Henri Nouwen. In his book Reaching Out, Nouwen talks about how we as parents are hosting our children. They are our closest guests. They are not ours to control but ours to host and extend the practice of hospitality.

That idea was what kept me playing today. Not for nostalgia or because I particularly loved the game but because in so many ways, I’m learning the art of hospitality from Elle. She invited me into her world and the least I could do was join in and participate, even if just for twenty minutes.

Where have you experienced unexpected hospitality? And, do you love or loathe imaginative games with kids?

Linked with Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “hospitality.”

Also, check out Leslie’s new book, Invited: The Power of Hospitality in an Age of Loneliness. Not only did I get to read one of the first drafts, I’ve had the honor of sharing conversations and playdates with Leslie as she wrote this book. It released on Tuesday and is an wonderful, encouraging look at what we can learn from other cultures about hospitality––and it doesn’t have anything to do with a beautiful table or a clean home!

When The Original Plan is the Best Plan

We spent the month of June doing some house renovations. As the girls grow and play differently, our playroom also changed. Housed in the formal dining room, the playroom sat at the center of our home for over three years. I could read on the couch and watch the girls play or make dinner and peak in on them from the kitchen. It was an ideal spot for creativity and imagination.

It was also always a mess and a source of stress as I tried to find a space of peace in our home. Play, by nature, isn’t tidy or organized but it felt like an overwhelming task to keep it presentable. We knew that one day we wanted to finish a large and mostly unused storage room in the basement but that was in the future. Until a friend asked, Why not just make the unfinished space into the playroom?

IMG_9066I won’t go into all the details, but that’s just what we did. We cut a hole in the basement wall, opening the space to the finished part. My dad painted a bright and welcoming mural on the concrete wall. We covered the floor in mats and moved all the toys downstairs. It’s still an overflowing mess but it’s out of sight and feels more contained. IMG_9655

We changed the playroom into a library/study. I love that the center of our home is filled with books. We kept the legos and blocks upstairs and it’s still clearly a home with kids – an entire bookshelf is devoted to their books. But it’s also much more reflective of the grownups who live here, too.

I had a vision for the paint color for this new study for more than nine months. This was a hope and vision and I kept that color swatch taped to the wall to remind me that one day, the playroom would be reclaimed.

IMG_9703We went to Lowe’s and I told the woman behind the paint counter exactly what I wanted: One gallon of light yellow and one gallon of that same yellow, mixed 50% lighter. She looked at the swatch and said, That’s too complicated. You’d better choose a darker color. What about this? She pulled a swatch from right above mine and suggested using the lightest color on that as our contrast. Quickly convinced that my vision wouldn’t work, I agreed, we went home, and painted a light orange under the chair rail and my envisioned yellow above it.

Immediately, I knew this wasn’t what I had imagined. It looked like an orange and yellow wall rather than a yellow and slightly lighter yellow wall. I thought maybe I just needed to live with this new color scheme and I’d fall in love. I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about it; I had my parents come and we held artwork against the new color. I knew I couldn’t live with it.

So, we went back, bought the paint I originally wanted. (This time, I talked with a woman who said, Yep! We can do this!) Frank spent another day painting and immediately, I loved the color. I saw my vision appear on the wall and knew I would love spending time in this room.

As I rearranged furniture, hung pictures, and finally settled into a chair to read a book in this space, I knew I had made the right choice in repainting.

Sometimes, we do need to live with something unexpected and it turns out better. This happened with the paint color in our bedroom and I love the unexpected color so much more than the one I had thought I wanted. Sometimes, in life things go unexpectedly and, in hindsight, those switches in plans are so much better and richer.

But sometimes, we need to fight for our original vision. Sometimes, when we’ve thought and planned for months, that path is confirmed and set. And it’s ok to go back and readjust to make sure we’re on that right path.

As a planner, I need to learn to hold plans loosely, to let the journey take me to unexpected places, and to remember that I am not in control of every single detail of my life.

I also need to remember to trust my own instinct and to remember that I am an intentional person. That I rarely make quick or spontaneous decisions and so, when things don’t go as planned, I need to pause to really evaluate if it is a good new direction or if I need to recalibrate.

I love our new spaces. Right now, the girls are busy in their playroom while I write. The other day, I read while Bea spent an hour building a castle in the study. Our house feels more calm and intentional. And I learned that I can trust my well-planned vision.

How do you balance holding your plans loosely and trusting your instinct? Has there been a time when you’ve needed to recalibrate back to the original path?

Planning Unstructured Time

We had last Friday off of school, the weather was springlike, and Bea had big plans for not doing anything. Her plan for the day went something like this: We weren’t going to get in the car at all, we would play outside as much as possible, we would have a picnic lunch at the park nearby.

IMG_8476I had some cleaning to do so did that while the girls explored our unused backyard. Then we packed sandwiches and snacks, got out bikes and strollers, and headed to the park. We played and ate and made new friends and came home rejuvenated.

It was such a reminder of the importance of unstructured time. Even though Bea had a plan for our day, it included a lot of loose play. When I went to call a friend while the girls were swinging, Bea exclaimed, No! This is just mom, Bea, and Elle time! Just the three girls! No one else!!

She needed focused time and I was glad I could give that to her. There’s a lot about decision fatigue lately. Solutions include wearing a uniform, eating the same thing for breakfast every day, and eliminating all unnecessary choices.

I think it’s funny that we need research to tell us this when all we need to do is look at our kids. Bea knew that, after weeks of structure at school, she needed to rest by having a day of unstructured play. Of course, if every day were filled with unstructured play, the days would be too long and boredom (the unproductive kind) would set in. A little structure is a good thing.

But I can learn so much from my kids about rest and play. When my to-do list seems overwhelming; when life seems overstructured; when I have decision fatigue, maybe I just need to get outside without an agenda, play, and have a picnic.

How do you pause to rejuvenate in the midst of structure? What are ways you find spontaneity?

Linked with Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “tired.”

Parallel Play

While at the park the other day, Bea tried playing with a couple of older girls. At first, they seemed to be having fun digging in the sand and chatting. It worked for a bit, but the older girls had an imaginative game going and Bea just wanted to dig. The girls ended up relocating under a different slide and Bea found a new activity, happily climbing alone.

Content to play alone
Content to play alone

With other two-year-olds, this rule works well: We like being together but are cool doing our own thing. Bea and her small friends will play for hours, sometimes with the same toys, but most often in the same proximity while doing different things. Occasionally, we’ll have an It’s mine! argument, but for the most part, the toddlers are happy on their own.

Mixing developmental levels works for a while, but it seems the older ones get bored and want to play their own games. (Unless they’re much older and then the role of babysitter comes into play.)

Observing the older girls at the park interact was interesting, too. After a while, someone’s feelings got hurt. The others follow, they talk it out, one may say she needs a bit of alone time, and then they continue playing – until the cycle repeats itself.

Watching, I wondered how I could get the attitude of parallel play back in my life. As much as I am grateful for my thoughtful, intentional interactions – both in my community and as I absorb information – I sometimes wish adults could practice the skill of being together without actively interacting.

How can I be content doing my own thing, knowing I’m enjoying myself, without worrying about what others are doing? It reminded me that there will always be a group of people who seem to be having more fun, more meaningful conversations, more adventures than me. In reality, I am happy, connected, and discovering small adventures daily. Why compare?

How can we be content being in proximity, but letting our peers do their own thing. Can we simply be in the moment, without worrying about following the script, being too intentional, or deepening a relationship all the time?

There’s something beautifully simple about digging in the sand next to a new friend, getting up to go down the slide without worrying if they come too, sharing a snack, and repeating the process.

Do you find yourself content in your daily experiences? How can we bring the idea of playing alongside but without comparisons into our interactions?