Category Archives: play – time continuum

A Gift for all Seasons

This Christmas season remember the priceless gift of time. It’s a surefire winner for all ages, particularly kids. At a constant exchange rate of 60 seconds per minute, it is the richest currency we have to share. For young kids parental presence in the best present that money can’t buy. This is one of those self-evident truths but I know from experience that it’s remarkably easy to lose touch and get whisked away in the hurly-burly bustle of daily life.

As a young kid growing up in the 50s and 60s, I was fortunate that my parents made time for family fun – walks in Toronto’s High Park and Edwards Gardens, trips to Niagara Falls, picnics at Bruce’s Mills. As we got older, friends were frequently invited on our adventures espousing the ‘more the merrier’ credo.

Niagara FallsNiagara Falls with Mom and Dad, circa 1960

Sunday evenings, after a busy week, we gathered around the old black and white TV to take in Walt Disney’s latest adventure. Then there was cubs, soccer, hockey, bottle drives, camping, skating and so much more. From a kid’s perspective, my folks made it all look so easy. They were always there to show us how, to support, to encourage, to comfort.

Dad and Me skating At a neighbourhood rink in Toronto circa 1965

As a young lad in Scotland, my Dad never saw skates never mind lace on a pair. This didn’t deter him from trying it out as an adult and getting proficient enough to help me get up on my wobblies and open the door to a childhood of winters filled with the fun and thrills of skating and chasing vulcanized rubber around a rink.

Now don’t get me wrong, I liked my presents under the tree too – army helmets, daisy air guns, eldon race sets, trains, dinky cars, hockey equipment and a veritable panoply of gifts through the years. These presents were an enjoyable part of my world but none of them could ever hold a candle up to my parents’ steady, unwavering and loving presence.

~Alex, & mum25Christmas morning circa 1966

A few days ago I asked our three young ones how they would like to spend their time over the holidays. It didn’t take them long to whip up a list. It warmed my heart that the activities are centered on us doing things together and embracing simple pleasures all easily attainable. Here’s a selection of what we’ll be doing:

  • play ponies with papa
  • go skating at the oval
  • go swimming
  • make cookies with maman
  • have a christmas party
  • play outside
  • watch hockey with maman
  • make puzzles
  • go sledding

We have a couple of snow activities in there which might be a bit of a stretch given the weather forecast for the next few days. We’ll do our best on that front…

Our kids are similar to kids the world over as The Other Letter, an IKEA video I came across recently illustrates.

As much as we love to spend time with our kids, we don’t see ourselves living for, or through them. We like to see it more as living with them. That means giving them the time and space to play by themselves, with each other and with friends. This gives them the opportunity to create their own adventures, their own worlds and establish the first stirrings of independence.

We consciously try not to overschedule and we encourage a bias for the outdoor world of play over the digital. Melissa Bernstein of the Melissa & Doug toy company shares some practical tips for holiday season play in this recent Huffington Post article.

Our skates are sharpened, our game playing skills are getting dusted off, an intergalactic mini sticks championship will be getting underway at the Eastern Passage Coliseum soon (aka the downstairs rec room) and we will be doing our best to give and get the most out of each 60 seconds per minute.

So let’s all check our time and unwrap it slowly – a playful presence is the greatest gift we can give…

“Because they want to live in nature”

It’s raining frogs and toads during our visit to Nova Scotia’s Kejimkujik National Park. They are everywhere – carpeting the forest floor and playing hide and seek in the shallow water along the lake shore. Some are getting an up close and personal experience with our kids. The ministrations of love and affection are sweet to hear but undoubtedly terrifying for the amphibian class (do they have ears our kids want to know?).

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We’re far from the city with nothing but flimsy nylon fabric between us and a heavenly night sky. The stars spill across the dark, a swirl of light, a timeless dance of now.

One of the many beauties here is that the days are unhurried and filled with simple pleasures. For the kids it’s pretty much eat, sleep, play, explore. And, at almost each and every step, there is so much to discover – acorns, leaves, chipmunks, pine cones, new camping friends. There are playgrounds too strategically positioned throughout the camping areas.

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Something happens to the temporal fabric here. There is a fluidity to the play – time continuum. Nothing empirical that I can put my finger on but I think we’ve all felt it. Our time perception behaves unexpectedly – a blurring, bending, compression and expansion.

Rustling leaves share secrets on the whispering breeze. Each moment is eternal. The adult clock is on a time out, a suspension of schedules, of punctuality, of linear progression. In its place, rippling concentric circles, a slipstream of possibilities.

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Then it dawns on me, this glimpse of unhurried, this gift of deep and light, of seconds falling uncounted is much more like the treacly time that sticks to kids when they are engrossed in play. What a great place to be. I reach back to childhood moments reveling in the impossible wonder of nature at Bruce’s Mills, Algonquin Park, Mile 91. They were rich times. Thanks to my folks who took us hand in hand to discover life off the beaten trail.

Walt Whitman nailed it way back when – before we plugged in, before ultra-urbanism, before the atomic clock.

THERE was a child went forth every day;
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became;
And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of the day, or for many years, or stretching cycles of years.

The early lilacs became part of this child,
And grass, and white and red morning-glories, and white and red clover, and the song of the phoebe-bird,
And the Third-month lambs, and the sow’s pink-faint litter, and the mare’s foal, and the cow’s calf,
And the noisy brood of the barn-yard, or by the mire of the pond-side,
And the fish suspending themselves so curiously below there—and the beautiful curious liquid,
And the water-plants with their graceful flat heads—all became part of him.

From There Was A Child Went Forth

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Our youngest Lila-Jeanne is desperate for the tiniest of frogs that she cups in her hands to migrate to Halifax. She is planning on how she will care for this little life. Nothing that we say dissuades her. Finally big sister Nellie-Rose weighs in and gets her on side with leaving the frog behind. She closes her argument with one simple statement. “Lila,” she says, “it’s because they want to live in nature.”

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We wrap up the trip early but there’s still time left for a little back country teeter-tottering before we hit the road for the city. Bumped up on top it’s a whole different world.

As we leave Kejimkujik a white tailed deer breaks through the trees. The doe stops in her tracks and looks at us – timeless.

I want to give a shout out tonight to a writer who has shared a ton of stories on outdoor play – Bethe Almeras, The Grass Stain Guru. Thanks Bethe for all your great words and ideas, keep ’em coming.