A couple years ago my kids let me know that “play dates” would now be called “hang outs.” They still planned to have friends over, yes, but the kids would now hang, not play. I braced myself for the end of play, and took small comfort that at least no one would likely prevent me from serving popcorn or brownies to our monosyllabic non-blinking blue-lit basement dweller guests.
Around this same time we underwent the task of changing the former basement playroom into more of a teen lair, complete with a drum set (my younger son plays), plenty of noise cancelling headphones for the drum set, and a sectional couch with plenty of seating for gamers and movie nights. I shed no tears bidding adieu to the kid rough and tumble pile-on days of misfit enormous plastic vehicles–especially now with the rec room carpet removed and unforgiving concrete floors finished. I strategized; knowing older kids still fight I mean wrestle, we needed Foosball or something large to take up all that concussion-potential landscape. Auspiciously, we inherited a ping-pong table.
We all enjoy the updated basement, and I’m heartened to report that play lives on in the double-digit “hang out” years. While make-believe makes very brief rare appearances, and Lego time seems to stay strictly a solo endeavor–when the kids bring friends over and I force them off of screens, they play card games, board games, and strategy games. On rare occasion they’ll even play 500 or toss a football outside–in the out of doors!– or bring a basketball over to the school (where they can also run around in the school forest).
One place the early teen play game remains tight is in the water. As a kid, I too spent hours in the pool improvising my epic complex social emotional water ballets (think an after school special, performed by one 11 year old, underwater in the free-swim area). A plastic raft served not only as a glamour mobile or see-saw for me and a friend, but an Olympic event for feats of water choreography.
Somewhere along the way I lost my interest in swimming beyond a length or two, which is why I took notice a few weeks ago at the Y watching the kids dunk and splash with their dad. It struck me–they still play. I heard joyful noises–and not bickering noises or gaming-rage noises. I saw open-mouthed smiles!! As much as the kids claim to love gaming, the faces they make while plugged into their headsets do not typically involve joy and open-mouthed smiles. But!
My kids still play. They call it hanging out, but they play.
And guess what? My ping pong game is improving.
This post is part of #30BrighterDays; a thing I made up to brighten each day of November