The seriousness of a child

Drew at plan in San Diego, California, in the spring of 1991.

Drew at play in San Diego, California, in the spring of 1991.

“Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.”

There’s a lot of talk about how childhood is magical and carefree, and I agree that it was (or is) a wondrous time for many of us.  Yet even with the most advantageous childhood, I think the first decade of life is also quite difficult.  As adults we may forget the utter powerlessness we often felt at having so many aspects of our lives decided without our input.

In particular, I can remember feeling frustrated that activities meaningful to me were often insignificant to grownups.  To a child, “fun” and “serious” are not mutually exclusive, but sometimes we forget that as we grow older. As a result, we may disregard the need to set aside unscheduled time to spend in preferred activities, not just for our children, but for ourselves.

It’s crucial, of course, to learn the inevitable lessons that come with maturity (how many of us were justifiably told “It’s only a GAME!” when we were in tears over losing at board games or ball games?) but sometimes we learn unintended parallel lessons that don’t necessarily serve us as adults.  Focused on productivity and controlled by clocks, we often multi-task ourselves in pursuit of the urgent or “important” to the point that we lose sight of more essential goals.

The state of optimal awareness that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and other psychologists have described as “flow” seems much more apparent in a young person absorbed in building with Legos or shooting baskets than it does in a harassed, hurried adult rushing from one obligation to another.  Not that we always have a choice about that.  But it’s worth consideration, if only to prompt us to re-think our schedules now and then, and assign a higher priority to those interests that captivate our minds in a way that all children seem able to understand.

What did you most enjoy doing in childhood?  What is fun for you?  I hope you will find some time, today or soon, to re-capture the alert focus of a child at serious play.

One year ago today

New possibilities


  1. Spontaneity is key. A mutual friend of a serious, efficient worker, while looking at his appointment calendar observed: “you have no room in your schedule for sponeity.” Jokingly, he took the calendar from her, flipped through a few pages, then pointed, ” See – here on Thursday, at 2:00 p.m. it says ‘Spontaneity’.”

    • That is so funny! It sounds like something you would see on Monty Python. Book me for some improvised, impromptu fun! But it has to be Tuesday at 2:00 pm for one hour exactly! And where can I buy some serendipity?

  2. I agree Julia, as we get older we do forget the beauty of childhood, or at the very least we put it aside. The hustle and bustle of “growing up” and finding our way in life puts our wonder years on the back burner. However I have found that my grand children have rekindled my spirit of wonderment. With them I can travel back to those years and be silly, play games, use my imagination for fun crafts. I even ride a bike now. I make sand castles at the beach and eat ice cream cones, I laugh at silly jokes. I played hop-scotch last week. I am now 70 years old and it’s all coming around again. :o)

    • Patricia, that is wonderful to hear! I must find some way to have more time with our grandson. The few times I have been with him I’ve been quite a silly child myself, singing Disney songs and pretending to fly with him, among other things. Aren’t grandchildren simply the best return on the considerable investment of parenting? 🙂 Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us here. I am thinking of you and praying you are finding comfort in the loss of your sister.

  3. raynard

    Julia, I can still remember playing with “My Tonka trucks in the backyard behind my apartment building. I also played with “popsickle sticks making dirt roads. Then it would be on to GI Joes and Hot wheels. One of my late brother in laws that I grew up with use to come down to my front yard and”aquire” my hot wheels. We went to the same schools , had some of the same classes until High School. I just reminded a friend I grew up with who found me on facebook about”getting my GI Joe’s head stuck in a wall and he came out “headless” I was 5 years old when I knew that I wanted to be a truck driver. It’s the dream that motivated me all those years and I was blessed to have done it for all those years. In the Army it was 21 years and after the Army it was 13 years. I believe it’s our duty to encourage young people in a positive way. Dont”overwhelm or overload, keep it ‘REAL and Simple. be blessed

    • Raynard, I remember Tonka trucks! I never had any, but they were definitely all the rage among my male friends. As for the popsicle sticks, we did all kinds of neat things with those. I used to love my brother’s Hot Wheels track that made the upside down loop and the cars would go fast enough not to fall off. GI Joe was the boy’s Barbie doll in those days (Ken was a wimp by comparison). How cool that you knew that early what you wanted to do, and were able to do it. I wasn’t much older than that when I first started saying I wanted to be a librarian. The school library was my favorite place on earth, and the librarian got to spend her WHOLE DAY there, surrounded by books! Sometimes our childhood dreams do come true! Thanks for being here.

  4. sarvjit

    For children all the things that they do is their love and that’s why they are always happy. I remember this statement from Tagore – “From the solemn gloom of the temple children run out to sit in the dust, God watches them play and forgets the priest.”

    • Sarvjit, that is so lovely. I started reading Gitangali this morning and had a hard time putting it down. I had woken up feeling anxious about several things, and wanted something to soothe my mind. The free version I downloaded has a forward by W. B. Yeats (another great poet) and it’s lovely too, a fitting tribute to Tagore’s work. Here is a brief quote from Tagore that I read this morning and loved; it seemed so fitting for my experience, as I grew up in a faith that emphasizes singing as worship, and that was my favorite part of church (and still is): “I touch by the edge of the far-spreading wing of my song, thy feet which I could never aspire to reach. Drunk with the joy of singing I forget myself and call thee friend who art my lord.”

  5. I remember being frustrated, too, when adults were too busy. I admit I fell into the same rut when my kids were little far too often. Sigh. I hope to do better if I have grandkids!

    • Denise, from my very brief and limited experience (so far) I think play will come naturally for you with grandchildren. It seems to be one of the gifts of aging. Harry Chapin’s haunting song “Cats in the Cradle” has been a favorite of mine since long before I had children of my own, yet I too fell into the inevitable trap of staying busy with what was urgent. However, here and there we had sparkling moments of play that were as refreshing as they were rare. Perhaps the crushing demands of being a parent prepare us to be more thankful for grandchildren!

      • That song has always resonated with me, too.
        It’s a sorrowful reality that we don’t see ourselves repeating the very thing we didn’t like of our parents until it’s come and gone! Ack!

        • It’s uncanny how much like our parents we are sometimes, isn’t it? I saw a cute sign once that said “Mirror, mirror on the wall, I am my mother after all.” 🙂 Fortunately for us, that’s usually a good thing in many ways. If nothing else, at least we can understand our parents a bit better now than we could when we were young.

  6. Sheila

    Julia, so often I hear patients say that retirement isn’t what they anticipated or looked forward to. They thought it was going to be “happy and carefree” like childhood. Instead they seem to be overwhelmed with healthcare appointments and unpleasant commitments. It’s so important to put forth the effort and strive for better instead of settling for less. I agree about re-thinking schedules and priorities. Be interested in life and become interesting! 🙂

    • Sheila, I agree! And I have an almost superstitious belief that the more we enjoy and appreciate life, the more we will be given to enjoy and appreciate. Perhaps it’s not wholly superstitious, as Jesus seemed to be hinting at a similar principle in Luke 19:26. I hear a lot of emphasis on being good stewards of our gifts, but it’s often interpreted only as a call to work and produce. But maybe one way of being a good steward is to enjoy, appreciate and give thanks! Having said all that, my heart goes out to those who are struggling with health care. It can be an easy place to get bogged down in a “half-empty” mentality. Thanks for being here with a reminder to look UP!

  7. Larry

    “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” Matthew 19. What better example of what we are to be than what Christ wanted us to be. Be as a child, not an adult consumed with the world. Keep things simple as a child’s mind and not complex as an adult would want to expound and get philosophical about. May we all be so in our entire life. Next time you look at that grandson, remember these words! Be blessed and humble as Grady!

    • Thank you, Larry. I hope that you all are enjoying Sadie as much as we are enjoying Grady! I still think it’s so interesting that their names rhyme.

  8. When we let go of everything and concentrate on love, that is when we are like little children who have not yet learned of big bad wolves.

    • Yes, it’s wonderful to watch babies such as Grady, who see each person who smiles at them as a friend. It’s hard not to melt in the face of that kind of trust.

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