Friday, June 19, 2009

The return of Alex the Great: A sense of play should last a lifetime

A sense of play should last a lifetime

By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — He’s back! Or almost ... and for a little while, at least.
Grandson Alexander the Great is going to spend a big chunk of the summer with me prior to a family move from the Pacific Northwest to Phoenix.
And just in time. I’ve been musing a lot lately about the need for a sense of play to help us get through tough times.
Soulmate Dr. Roger and I discussed it during a recent vacation, when we frolicked through several elevations, three kinds of margaritas and some Type A side bets. I won one by making it through almost five days without checking my e-mail ... I think his best effort was three days. But he picked up some extra points by patiently and amusingly explaining the rules of ice hockey during the playoffs to sports-dyslexic moi.
We both learned some playful pointers by watching the mallards at Inn of the Mountain Gods. I’ve always believed that ducks are proof that God has a great sense of humor, which is crucial to creative play.
In fact, I believe that a fair sense of playfulness — and a sense of fair play — are as All-American as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, vital to all we cherish and hold dear.
And if you find your will to play has ebbed with the years, or never fully developed in childhood, there’s no remedy like spending time with a kid or a grandkids.
I remembered a Michigan State professor who informed students in a child psych class that play is a child’s work, which kind of daunted the whole concept for me.
But as I watched my son Ryan and later young Alex and his small amigos in various playgrounds around the country, I finally got the professor’s point. Play is the way a child learns best, about himself, others and the world.
If you watch a crayon-clutching, tongue-thrusting kid in the act of full-tilt creativity, it’s clear that he or she is engaged in some serious business. But I think a lot of that business takes place in the magical right brain realm that transcends time, space and stress.
It’s a place we try to return to as grownups, through whatever forms our playful impulses may take us: art, gardening, dancing, nature adventures, extreme sports, a night out with the girls or the boys, a vacation or fun getaway with a loved one.
True play is a strange, wonderful and mystical combination of intense concentration and utter casual abandon.
For some fortunate souls, play can even extend to dreamtime. I have happy memories of hearing my son, then a toddler, giggling in his sleep.
“I was dreaming of swimming with whales who laugh,” explained young Ry, who grew up to compose for, and play and sing with, some very amusing musical groups.
The best playtimes may be a kind of work, but it’s fun and fulfilling work, the kind those of us lucky enough to have jobs we love can experience with a sense of play and adventure all our lives.
Grandson Alex was born with a creative sense of play he’s shared with me, from blocks and babyhood fountain splashing through his early childhood and on into sophisticated cyberspace quests.
He was a Las Cruces resident from ages 3 through 10 and happily agreed to a series of goofy adventures that ranged from swing dancing with me on the Downtown Mall, to sampling strange hors d’oeuvres at art openings, engaging in avant-garde art projects and a variety of extreme fiesta activities.
He was never too cool to hang out with his Gram, or let me share tales of our escapades in print. In fact, he would often introduce himself like a politician running for a position as potentate of play: “I’m Alexander the Great. You may know me from such Las Cruces Style columns as ...”
The lad who first shook Cinco de Mayo maracas with me when he was a tiny babe in a stroller turns 13 this August. He’s a baritone now, and taller than me.
I expect it's time for more playtime with his peers these days. But I also hope our playmate-soulmate bonds are forever and we’ll remain boon companions in good-time cahoots.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

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