“What is it you’re doing?” Sophia asked.

“I’m playing,” Grandmother said.

 From The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

While reading a novel, do you ever stumble upon a shard of dialogue that completely blows your mind? That’s what happened to me as I read the conversation above; it was like tripping over a rock partially buried in the sand. Whoa! What’s this? The grandma is the one playing?

The thing is, in our mad dash up Mount Maturity we often neglect to bring along our inner child. If it has been a while since you’ve felt that special joy of getting lost in exploring, messing around or just being ridiculously silly, well, perhaps you’ve forgotten how to play. The good news is that we can be adults and playsters extraordinaire at the same time. In fact, play just might be a critical component in developing and maintaining our personal happiness.

Through a series of entirely random lessons, my grandson, r , who recently turned two, is patiently trying to show me the ropes of play that I’ve forgotten, and the amazing thing is I just might be starting to remember.

Lesson 1: Playing With Water and Naming the World

“Gooma come,” r says, taking my hand and leading me out to the backyard one morning.

“Where are we going, r?” I ask.

“Pway water,” he tells me, heading for the hose.


For the next hour, as r names every noun, verb and adjective in our fenced-in world, we fill and empty his blue bucket, and also the watering can that’s twice as wide as r; we water the wilted hostas, the Russian sage, the grass; we wash our feet, our hands, two balls and a hula hoop; we take drinks, top-off the bird bath, accidentally squirt each other and a squirrel in the face, and completely lose track of time until we’re close to convulsing from giggles and the cold. In short, we play.

Lesson 2: Picking Up Stuff and Spin Dancing

Later, after lunch and a wee nap, we head to Cornwall Park for a meander, and I decide to watch my tiny play-guru carefully, to make some mental notes so I won’t forget what he’s teaching me.

Right off the bat, I notice how r stops in the middle of the trail, picks up a large rock, announces “Rock!” and carries it in his hands as we slug along.  He looks at it closely, rubs it against his mouth (he used to try to eat the world but now a mini mouth rub will suffice), smells it, does a bit of a spin-dance singing “Rock, rock, heaby, rock!” and then tosses it in into the bush when he sees a long stick.


Lesson 3: A Stick and a Shadow

r, I observe, does not mourn the loss of his rock. When he’s done with it he’s done. To r, each new object offers exciting play possibilities. After all, the world is his playground. He finds the stick under its huge cedar mother. It is three or four times r’s height, a fact that does not deter him from dragging it out onto the trail. With effort, r scrapes the stick back and forth through the trail’s gravel in a wide arc. He hoists it up into the air over his head like a massive wand and does a spin-dance, or maybe a spin-wobble, nearly scraping me in the process.

“Gentle, r,” I advise, leaping out of the way. “That stick has a sharp end, dude.”

“Dude. Sharp end, hurt,” r acknowledges, and at the same time he sees his shadow on the ground. He stops, still as a squirrel on a fence, and slips into a deep shadow-meditation. r’s eyes glaze over like he has just discovered the Great Mystery. Time ceases. Is he even breathing?  I’m not.

“Shadow, r,” I name it for him, trying to break the spell. But he says nothing back until a moment or two later when a sleek runner and her golden lab zip past. r drops his stick, shouts, “PUPPPY DOOOOG!” and lunges after them like he’s just discovered his pack.

Lesson 4: Caspar Babypants and the Blue Angels

We are at a Caspar Babypants concert in West Seattle. Wow! Wow! Wow! If you’ve never heard Caspar, (Chris Ballew, formerly of The Presidents of the United States) here’s a vid of “Stompy the Bear!”

Caspar Babypants is the magma of musical madness for those happy playsters who love to jump and spin, which is exactly what, I notice, r is doing now. Me too, and I’m really into it, almost dizzy enough to pass out, in fact, when I see my baby guru zigzagging his way out of the crowd and toward the street. Has r actually not had enough frenzy and wants more? The kid is as fast as a Red Radio Flyer wagon headed down Southwest Charleston Street, and I’m about to lose him. On the other hand, this grandma has lungs to die for. I take a deep breath, inhaling nearly half a cloud of air, and scream louder than the “Run, Baby Run” coming out of Caspar’s supersonic wonder amps, “rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!” which stops the tiny tyke dead in his tracks.  So dead, he lays down right there on the sidewalk and stares up into the sky where a flock of five  Blue Angels just happens to be jetting by.

aircraft-06 (1)


“Gooma down, tired,” r says sweetly, inviting me to join him on the concrete for a well-deserved rest after so much Caspar Babypants and Stompy the Bear. I sit beside him. Yawning, and stomping his green runners on a manhole cover, he reaches for my hand and then, smiling, r teaches me how to count. “Airplanes, one, two, one two. Brrrrrrm, brrrrrrm, brrrrrrm.”


8 thoughts on “Caution, Grandmas At Play

  1. I feel this is a meditation on the power of presence, and the holier than thou nature of random moments—tripping and stumbling nothing more than mere opportunities to either find out what’s next, or take note of another aspect of self—how we react, what we do, and what, pray tell, is flow? Am reading a very interesting book called “In the Shadow of the Buddha,’ about this brother, who worked in environmental politics mostly in Wyoming–ended up in Nepal, then ended up getting involved in Tibetan Buddhist culture, theory and practice at the deepest levels, ultimately seeking to build that bridge into the often disturbing realities of American politics–the glaring contradictions, the discordant harmonies of human relations, and planetary stewardship. As you allude to above, perhaps it begins with being able to know what’s growing in our backyards—then learning what’s needed to sustain that growth.

    Thank you for infusing my day with such poetics.


  2. Thanks, jd. Your comment reminded me of a quote from Thomas Merton: “It is true that we are called to create a better world. But we first of all are called to a more immediate and exalted task: that of creating our own lives.” It has always amused me that the Dalai Lama smiles and laughs so much, despite having gone through what would ordinarily wear down a person. He is clearly living in the Buddha’s shadow…or maybe glowing as the sun behind it now.


  3. So very lovely. I am a person who still plays… it is stifling when those around me label that, dismiss it, or worse: criticize it. There is so much magic and deeper meaning to be found in those precious moments when we just release our inner adult, and let our child play. What very sweet moments wiht your R. Precious indeed.


    • Thanks, Dawn. I’m so glad you’re one who plays. It feels good, doesn’t it? I am very lucky to have little r in my life and I shall miss him terribly when he moves to Fairbanks, AK, in a bit more than a week. On the other hand, I’ll just have to buy a good anorak and head north.


      • Oh no!! I totally forgot about that! 😦 Too sad… for you. I will come and play with you. I will lie down on the grass and make you look up at treesandcloudsandbirdsandshapes with me. I’ll sing silly songs for you and skip. And we can sit and write about it together. Enjoy your time with him, until then… xo


  4. A nice way to start Monday, remembering play! I play with my catz, two of whom seek us out like a dog does. Pawing and biting my shin (he just started this as I write this) until I figure it out and stop what I am doing. Play comes first for some creatures! Good post. Kate


    • Thanks Kate. Catz and pups definitely have the play thing down. At a West Seattle festival this weekend I watched a woman who had to be at least 90 going wild with a hula hoop. She was laughing her head off. She was the catzy to the max!


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