(My children playing Ninja Turtles with a group of neighbourhood friends one summer afternoon. Nicholas, aged 9, is the boy in the middle wearing the aqua-green shirt. Son, Joshua, aged 5, stands next to him in the yellow shorts. Daughter, Sarah-Beth, 3 years old, is the little girl in the red dress. They had made their own masks, shields and swords.)
This past spring break, I found myself immersed and fascinated by my grandchildren’s play. One afternoon, the two youngest, gap-toothed eight and nine years olds, sat side by side with hand held video games. "They’re interactive", my son said.
In what language do they construct their inner worlds, their utopian places and sites of belonging, I wondered?
My mother had a rag doll. Literally. It was made of pieces of material from her mother’s rag bag. It had button eyes, woolen hair and a sewn on smile. She rocked it, sang lullabies to it, loved it with all the fervour of her burgeoning mother-heart. My sister, Amanda, eschewed all girly toys and played with meccano and lego, constructing the elaborate houses and castles of her dreams. My daughter, Sarah-Beth, composed with the magnetic coloured letters of a plastic alphabet. I can still her now, on her knees before the fridge, creating a litany of words. She also rarely went anywhere without at least one of her garish plastic 'My Little Ponies'. She was forever combing their tangled manes and arranging them in colourful rows and formations. My sons lived in an alternate universe of Transformers and leaping Ninja Turtles.
Something stirs in me from the well of my own childhood play. Besides my own well-loved baby dolls and my adored paper cut-out dolls, I remember the magic of marbles; crystals, peewees, King cobs, steelies. A many coloured collection of treasures kept in a drawstring bag, it might have been unearthed from some pirate’s cache. Mostly we girls just watched the boys play, but I had my own little stash, thrilling to the feel and look of the round weights in my palm.
I knew the rhythmic geometry of the yoyo, spinning globes with string inviting me to "walk the dog, rock the cradle, go around the world". I also recall with enjoyment the all girls' games of Jacks and hopscotch, and the large group games of 'Mother, Mother May I?' and 'Red Rover, Red Rover".
The virtual world of today’s games seems to make the earth miniscule and children giants. Yet, they are able to draw new boundaries, make reality oscillate in a new dimension.
Toys and children’s joy; inimitable, personal.
As a little girl, I knew the poetry of the jump rope. The rope coming round would invite me to risk a jump into the split second of – NOW. Here is the truth of playing. Enter the narrow gate of now, for there is no other time.
Need we ever go far beyond the poetry of children playing?